finding success with fundraising events: start and end with budget in mind


Fundraising events are a key source of revenue for a lot of nonprofits. They provide an opportunity to raise money for your programs, increase understanding of your mission, and generate press to reach greater audiences — all while having a great time.

From walks to galas, golf tournaments to award ceremonies, there are many different types of events you can fundraise through. Regardless of the format you choose, what’s most important is that the event will be beneficial for your organization. It’s one thing to have an awesome theme, and another to host an event that leaves guests inspired to give, share your story, and support your continued success.

A driving factor that can help guide all elements of your event planning is your budget. You don’t have to break the bank to put on a successful event, but you do have to be thoughtful and diligent through every step of your planning.

Budget Building: Thinking Through Your Event Line By Line…

In order to create an accurate budget, you need to look at money coming in and money going out. Consider all ways your event could bring in revenue. Some ideas:

  • A silent or live auction

  • Phone or online donations

  • Ticket sales

  • Non-restricted cash or check at your event

  • Selling ad space in your event program

  • Opening up sponsorship opportunities

  • Selling goods at your event

  • Hosting a cash call

The list goes on…

Now, estimate how much you think you’ll make in each category. You want to be realistic while still challenging yourself. That number should be looking really great — but it’s time to consider the cost of hosting the event.

How much does the venue charge? How about food and drink, decor, and entertainment? And what about printing of programs and signage, service providers and rentals, advertising, and favors?

That may seem like a long list, but there are additional expenses to remember as well — like truck rentals, vehicle mileage, staff hours, and volunteer support to set-up and tear down your event. Some of these can be hard to put a dollar amount to but are nonetheless valuable to think through. Do a little research on what your event will need and map out costs for everything.

At The Cause Collaborative, we help our clients put on memorable event experiences, and we’re not just bringing creative decor ideas to the table. We know that the farther in advance you can plan, and the more you can think through each step and process, the greater your ultimate impact. Some tips to make budget planning easier:

  • Track all expenses in a shared document with your team

  • Check in on progress made against your budget, so you stay accountable (and don’t blow your budget)

  • Build in some room for error, both in terms of time and monetary resources

  • Remember to mention to vendors and partners that you’re a nonprofit — businesses that align with your mission may be more than willing to offer a discounted rate

ROI: Is Your Event Worth It?

Now that you have your breakdown of costs and anticipated return, how can you tell if your event is worth it? ROI is a fairly easy equation to evaluate the percentage of profit your event is estimated to make:

ROI = [(Total Event Revenue - All Event Expenses) / All Event Expenses] x 100

Using this equation is helpful when determining if your event will be profitable and to what extent.


It’s Not Always About the Dollars

Raising money is often an event goal for nonprofit organizations, but what if it isn’t your primary goal? What if you’re striving to get more members, better awareness, or volunteers? Considering all of your goals that you’re hoping to achieve with your event and weighing their level of importance helps to focus in on the purpose of the event and how to effectively get there.

When your goals aren’t dollar driven, it’s still important to make them measurable. Here are a few ideas for measurable goals:

  • % increase in attendees from last year to this year

  • % increase in survey response from last year to this year

  • Amount of members/volunteers signed up after the event

  • Amount of new social likes/followers since before event promotion

  • Press coverage earned

Post-Event Evaluation

You built a budget, you set your goals, you nailed the event. Now it’s time to look at the results. Did you reach your goals? If so, what helped set you up for success? And if not, what was holding you back and keeping you from attaining them?

Setting goals is only helpful if you review them, learn from them, and implement change. When it comes time to start planning next year’s event, be sure to look back at previous years’ budgets and goals before building new ones.

Interested in learning more about measuring event success? Let’s connect!