planning an event? put purpose first


Coming into this job, I didn’t know what “mission-driven” really meant. It was something I quickly learned by watching my team. Not only did they come up with amazing “big picture” event ideas, but these ideas tied back to the goals, values, and mission of the nonprofit organization. After assisting in the planning process and seeing the events in action, I realized just how crucial this aspect is when it comes to nonprofit events.

When planning an event, it can be easy to just think of a theme and skip over the storytelling aspect — but for nonprofits and mission-driven organizations, the story is arguably the most important part. If you have a fundraiser on the docket, take a moment to sit down with your team and brainstorm what message you hope your attendees walk away with. Then use this idea to guide the rest of your decisions — from your save the date to take home gifts.

Although a Disney-themed event could be fun to attend, if it has nothing to do with your organization or cause, your story can get lost. With an event theme that’s not aligned with your mission, you risk having guests show up and completely miss what it is they’re supporting (which won’t exactly help your cash call). However, don’t think a mission-driven event can’t include a fun theme!

For example…

Take inspiration from an adventure-themed movie by having your guests embark on their own journey, gaining a new perspective on your cause. Transform your venue into another world and invite guests to look deeper to discover the true meaning of your mission. Throw in some nostalgia through campfires and s’mores while bringing your guests together in support of each other and the cause at-hand. Event themes are endless, but it’s how you adapt those themes into something more meaningful that counts. Here are just a few specific questions to keep in mind:

  • Will you show a video at your event? Videos and photography are essential to evoking emotion and getting guests to feel something. Showcase the outcomes your organization makes possible, so they can visualize what exactly their funds would support.

  • Is there some sort of interactivity you can incorporate? You could use the power of Virtual Reality or other interactive technology to give guests a glimpse into the lives of those you help, or how our community would benefit if you were able to expand your services.

  • Can you customize your CTA (call-to-action) to your organization? Every nonprofit can ask people to give, but is there something specific you can spotlight in your silent auction or cash call that advances your mission? For example, at a fundraiser for Endless Highway that we helped put on last year — Bringin’ Back the 80s: Throwin’ it Back to Advance Barrier-Free Inclusion for All — guests were invited to give money towards five custom racing wheelchairs so young athletes could train and compete.

There’s Magic in the Details

Maybe your theme doesn’t directly tell your nonprofit’s story, but instead some small elements are used to elevate your message and open guests’ minds or pull on heartstrings. For example, use flowers to represent growth, lounge furniture to reflect comfort and warmth, or interactive pieces to get guests fully engaged in the content you’ve developed. Regardless of what ideas are brought to the table, it’s important to relate them back to the initial goal that came from your brainstorm.

Remember What Matters Most (Your Mission)

Keep in mind, every mission-driven event doesn’t need a crazy theme. You can tell the world exactly what your organization does and why, but don’t stop there! Share the success stories of people who have benefitted from your cause, or show a video of testimonials from your supporters. Make your event about more than just the fact that your organization needs donations to keep the doors open. Tell the audience why it’s important to donate to your organization this year, so you can continue making a difference in the community.

Completely stumped on how to best transform your event to tie back to your mission? Need help integrating stories into your amazing theme? Head over to our case studies to see what we’ve done for regional nonprofits, or email me at to think it through together!