How to Prepare for Your Nonprofit Fundraiser

Although events vary greatly in size and complexity, and although we’ve pulled off adequately successful events in two or three weeks, try working against a six-month schedule. The following outlines a scheduling checklist for a gala dinner. It can easily be modified to fit other types of events.

The first three months

The first three-month period is, not surprisingly, the slowest part of event planning. You may wait several weeks to hear back from an invited celebrity, and you may need several more weeks to find a replacement if you get turned down.

  • Develop the plan and recruit the event’s leadership.

  • Secure entertainment and a location.

  • Select a theme and a caterer.

  • Send a save-the-date postcard and e-mail announcement.

  • Create an event webpage and social-networking site.

  • Apply for any necessary permits (for charitable gaming, serving alcoholic beverages, street closures, and so on).

Months four and five

As the event draws nearer, you let others know about the upcoming event and begin contacting volunteers.

  • Recruit an event committee or a core group of volunteers.

  • Visit the site at which the event will be held, checking out all the regulations and recommendations for its use.

  • Solicit in-kind contributions of materials you need for the event.

  • Send initial news releases announcing your speakers, celebrities, and/or event leadership.

  • Call all potential committee members.

  • Develop your invitation design. All the text on the invitation should be ready for final design, printing, and online posting by six weeks before the event.

  • Select your menu and start working on decor ideas.

  • Mail and e-mail the invitations.

Four weeks before the event

Spend the month before the event generating excitement and finalizing the details.

  • Build interest with frequent website and social-media updates featuring photos and news bits.

  • E-mail a second batch of news releases.

  • Make phone calls to the media and to invitees to confirm coverage and travel plans.

  • Design the printed program to be passed out at the event.

  • Assist honorees with their speeches (if necessary).

  • Gather the elements — baskets, banners, confetti, and so on — needed for decor.

In designing your event’s promotional materials, you want the look of the invitation, program, event web page, signage, and audio-visual templates to be consistent. Schedule time to solicit logos from corporate sponsors and double-check spelling of donors’ names and how they want to be recognized.

The week before the event

Don’t get too stressed in the days before the event. You should have only a few last-minute details to attend to.

  • Confirm the number of guests you expect. A few days before the party, call everyone who has made a reservation and confirm whether he or she is coming. A few people will have changed their plans, and you don’t want to pay for uneaten meals or run out of food.

    When ordering food from your caterer, assume that under normal circumstances, 5 percent of your expected guests won’t attend. If the event is free, 10 percent of them won’t attend.

  • Plan the table seating at the event (if necessary).

  • Prepare place cards and table cards.

  • Decorate the site.

You may think that nobody can rain on your parade, but have emergency backup plans anyway. What if your performer is ill, a blizzard shuts down roadways, or your permits aren’t approved on time? You need to quickly move, replace, reschedule, or cancel your program. The faster you can communicate any changes, the better your constituents feel about sticking with you and your cause.

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