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How do I run a successful event fundraiser?

Marathon Runners

Raising Money from Events

Event fundraising revolves around giving a bunch of people an opportunity to rally around your cause at a specific place and time. Fundraising events come in many different shapes and sizes, depending on who you’re trying to reach, what they like to do, and how much money you plan to raise. Your event fundraiser might be a gala dinner, golf tournament, walkathon, bikeathon, danceathon, concert, lock in… the list goes on and on.

For many people, event fundraisers are the first (and even only) type of fundraiser that comes to mind when they need to raise money. Events might be a significant part of your fundraising plan right now, but events can take a lot of time to plan, can cost a lot of money to do right, and require many man hours in preparation, execution, and clean up.

Events can serve a purpose as part of your overall fundraising strategy. A well executed event can serve as a good cultivation opportunity for your more passionate and affluent supporters.

If you’re facing a budget crunch, think twice before adding another event fundraiser to your calendar. They can cost a lot to put on, typically around 50% of the total funds raised. Events can also eat up a lot of time, which can take you away from other more lucrative types of fundraising.

Other ways of fundraising can be more time and cost-effective, and new events often take several years before they become popular and successful. If you’re not already doing some form of direct person-to-person asking, you should start with that before you add another event to the calendar.

What brings money into your fundraising event?


Fundraising events that have broad audiences can bring in sponsors who get name recognition and marketing value from donating either cash or prizes to an event. An example of a sponsorship would be a car company that pays $5,000 to put a hole-in-one prize at your golf tournament. You’ll need either staff or very dedicated volunteers, as well as good-looking sponsorship materials to bring in this type of money. It’s time-consuming and very competitive. Look at your community calendar to see how many 5K runs are being held by charities. Every one of them are looking for sponsors.

Ticket sales / registration charges

When planning your event, your team will have to figure out the sweet spot for the number of tickets you’re going to sell, what you think people will be willing to pay, and how many people will be able to participate. Remember that selling tickets is WORK. You need to cast a wide net to try to get people to come. An event with nobody there is a double whammy. You don’t make any money, AND it kills the potential to try it again the next year.

Silent Auction / live auction

An old event standby is the silent auction or live auction. Typically, this part means people paying too much for items that were donated to the charity. An auction requires a double ask… you have to first solicit the items and then convince people to buy them.

Direct Ask

Many events, though not all, will include a program that describes the mission of the charity and asks the attendees to make a donation. These tend to be the central feature of black-tie dinners and other more formal type events. They also tend to bring in higher dollars, because the ask is tied to the mission of the organization, rather than to some ‘thing’ like tickets to your concert or a silent auction item. People tend to give more to the mission than they do for an item, so if you’re going to invest in an event, think more than twice before leaving this part out.


If you can secure a good enough prize, you might be able to hold a raffle as part of your event. Price the tickets according to the cost of the item. A car, for instance, might merit tickets of $50-100. One way that some raffles work is that ticket sales purchase the item being raffled, with the profit being the amount of money raised. This can be risky because you have to sell enough tickets to pay for the item AND raise money. The danger is that you’ll end up going in the hole. A raffle is also considered a form of gambling, so make sure to check your local laws and get any necessary permits.

Personal Solicitation 

A large amount of the money that comes from walks, runs, dance offs and other large sport based fundraising events comes from personal solicitations. Supporters of your mission will solicit individual sponsors – friends, family, and coworkers who will donate a specific amount if the volunteer reaches a specific goal. For instance, a person might find someone who will sponsor them by donating $1 for every mile run. These numbers donations are generally small, but they can add up if you can get a large number of people tapping into their personal networks on your behalf.

Looking for more articles on event fundraising? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com, via Creative Commons License, no rights reserved.
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