Nonprofits that host events have a lot to think about. Besides the logistical concerns, you always want to ensure that your donors leave feeling energized and excited about your community. Plus, you have a fundraising goal to meet!

So much of your event’s success relies on the behind-the-scenes management. From the initial planning meeting to cleaning up confetti after the event, your level of preparedness will determine how smoothly the event will proceed.

That’s why we’ve put together a guide to event management for your next event! The guide is written in question-and-answer format to make it easy for your event planning team to put into practice.

The questions we’re going to answer in this guide will get you started on the right path, whether you’re hosting a fundraising event for the first time or are re-evaluating your strategy as your nonprofit grows:

1. What are my goals for this event?
2. What kind of event should I host?
3. How should I set up registration?
4. What will encourage donors to attend?
5. What should my next steps?

Ready to make your next event your best yet? Let’s get started!

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1. What are my goals for this event?

Nonprofits host fundraising events for any number of reasons, depending on factors ranging from the time of year to the size of the nonprofit.

The primary reason to organize a fundraising event is in the name: to raise money. Specifically, you might want to fundraise for:

  • A specific campaign.
  • Your annual fund.
  • Community, civic, or social need.

There are also secondary reasons not directly to fundraising that you might decide to host a fundraising event. These reasons could include:

  • Celebrating the conclusion of a successful campaign.
  • Honor major donors or retiring staff members.
  • Incentivizing participation in a peer-to-peer campaign.
  • Gathering valuable data about your donors.
  • Dedicate a new building, project, or scholarship.
  • Encouraging a sense of donor community.

You should be able to identify your primary and secondary event goals with your planning team as the first step in the event management process. Your goals will dictate each of the other steps in the event fundraising process.

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2. What kind of event should I host?

Once you know what your goals are, you can decide which kind of event you should host!

You have plenty of options for fundraising events. Some will take longer to plan, and some will require specialized software or a large number of volunteers.

Some of the more popular options and what they can accomplish are:

  • Fundraising galas: These high-earning events appeal to your donors’ love of getting dressed up, enjoying a great meal, and even hitting the dance floor for a good cause. If you think this blowout fundraising event might be the one for you, read the Donorly post about making the most of your gala.
  • Charity auction: Often combined with a fundraising gala, a charity auction is a great way to encourage donations before and at your event. Since charity auction items are donated, you get all the profit from the bids. For more information, check out these tips to running a smooth charity auction!
  • Donation only event: Also often combined with a gala, a donation only event is simple. A nonprofit just broadcasts a donation appeal during a fundraising gala and lets the donors lead the charge. These events are rising in popularity because they are easy and mobile-friendly, with the right mobile donation forms.
  • Charity run, walk, or ride: On the other end of the elegance spectrum are charity runs, walks, and rides. Nonprofits can raise money from these events by launching peer-to-peer campaigns for the runners. These types of events are particularly popular for benefiting health-related causes, such as medical research funding.
  • Golf tournament: If you have access to a golf course, you have an incredible opportunity to take advantage of one of the most profitable fundraising events. OneCause has a free charity golf tournament checklist that explains how to make the most of this type of fundraiser.

In addition to figuring out the main event, you should also consider other ways to raise money. If you're hosting a charity walk, for example, you might want to sell t-shirts before the big day. That way, people can come showing their support and get excited about attending. Combining fundraising events is great way to maximize your teams time and raise the most potential funds for your organization. 

With hundreds of different fundraisers to choose from, you can find the winning combination that works best for your nonproift's needs.

Not sure which event is right for your nonprofit? You can always send out a survey to a select segment of your donors to ask them what they would like to attend. Use these survey responses in conjunction with talks with your board and logistical discussions with your team.

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3. How should I set up registration?

No matter what kind of event you decide to host, you will need some way to maintain a reliable attendee list and collect any ticket payments.

With the right online event registration software, you create an event microsite to house information about your event and display your RSVPs. You can also implement software solutions that allow for multiple levels of ticketing, ticket packages, discounts, coupon codes, and reserved seating.

But that’s not all you might want your registration software to do. Fundraising event registration presents an opportunity to gather essential information about your attendees that helps you reach your event goals.

For instance, you might ask your registrants to provide:

  • Full name
  • Birthday
  • Contact information
  • Employer’s name
  • Preferred communication channels

It’s not just the information they provide that helps you fill out your donor profiles, though.

Let’s look at an example of a nonprofit that wants to partner with a local elementary school to host a school auction with the goal of engaging younger donors with children. This nonprofit wants to ensure that all marketing materials and follow-up information about the auction and related campaigns are targeted toward this demographic as closely as possible.

This nonprofit can analyze the days and times of day that registrants in their targeted age range submitted their registration information. By identifying the days and times their target donors are most open to engaging with the nonprofit, the nonprofit can send messages at those days and times in the future for a better chance of engagement.

There are many ways that nonprofits can use information gathered by online event registration software to make their future events better. But to use that information, you need software that will record it! Make sure your solution can provide the kind of data you need, both on the forms themselves and behind the scenes.

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4. What will encourage donors to attend?

Of course, a fundraising event can only be successful if people actually attend. You might need some ideas for incentivising your donors to show up.

Sometimes, nonprofits offer discounts for tickets that are purchased a certain period of time before the event. These discounts encourage early registration, which is beneficial to your planning process. They also encourage overall attendance, since lowering the ticket price for any reason means more donors can attend.

On the same topic, you can also offer VIP packages and other special incentives for higher ticket levels. Major donors in particular might not take the time to attend unless they feel they’re getting a high payoff. Creating incredible live auction prize packages is a surefire way to catch their attention.

If your nonprofit has a membership program, there a number of additional incentives you could incorporate into your event planning. Membership programs help you identify your most engaged supporters, and they typically provide you with more information than most other kinds of donors.

For this reason, it’s easier to target event invitations to this subset of your donor base with the knowledge that they are most likely to accept in the first place. Consider the following event incentives you could offer as part of your nonprofit membership program:

  • Members-only discounts
  • Vouchers for your gift shop or free merchandise
  • Special buttons or ribbons
  • Their names printed on the program
  • Points in your membership rewards program
  • Free guest vouchers for friends

Offering a free guest ticket is a particularly effective event attendance incentive that pays off in the long run. Non-members who attend an event with members and get to experience all the benefits of your program are more likely to join after the event. You show them why it’s worth it to join!

Bonus! For more ideas about boost member engagement with fundraising events, check out Doubleknot’s guide to member engagement!

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5. What should my next steps be?

Event management doesn’t stop after you turn the keys back to the venue staff.

After your event, you should always:

  • Update donor profiles. Your event fundraising software solution might automatically integrate with your CRM and fill in event attendance information. If you have to do it manually, don’t wait! Prioritize this activity after your event.
  • Send thank yous. Your attendees took time out of their days to support your mission by attending your event. Be sure to thank them for their support, addressing them by name and specifically mentioning the amount they were able to contribute, if possible. And don’t forget to thank your volunteers, too!
  • Share results. Attendees want to know how successful the event was! Share how much you raised, how many people attended, any milestones that were reached, and any other impressive statistics from the event.
  • Ask for feedback. Send out a survey asking attendees what they liked about your event, what they would like to see next time, and who or what made a significant impression on them. Use constructive feedback to get better next time, and play up your positive feedback the next time you host an event!

You should also keep your event attendees in a separate segment within your CRM, at least for the short term. By attending an in-person event, these donors are demonstrating a higher level of interest and support for your mission than other donors who did not attend.

As such, these donors should be your top prospects to ask for an increase in their next donation.

Let these questions and answers guide you through your next fundraising event, and you’re sure to meet your event goals!

Author Bio


The preceding is a guest post by Joshua Meyer, who brings more than 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as director of marketing for OneCause. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.