How to Host a Successful Fundraiser

Host a Fundraiser

A few weeks ago I was given the amazing opportunity to attend the 20th Annual 49ers Academy Fundraiser. Silicon Valley has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and it’s only going up. This unfortunate reality leaves many East Palo Alto families struggling to make ends meet. The Academy was founded in 1996 with the goal of providing under-privileged students with the skills and opportunities necessary to graduate from high school and make a positive difference in the world.

Whether it’s an extravagant gala or a happy-hour get together at the local bar, you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to really pull in the cash. Many factors will vary based on size and type of event. However, there are a few key elements that lead to a successful event. Here’s how to get the most bang for your buck when hosting a fundraiser.

Budget Accordingly

Budgeting for a fundraiser has its advantages. First and foremost, a lot of items you can receive as donations instead of purchasing them yourself. Event space, food, booze, entertainment, gifts, prizes, etc… these are all items you can take in as donations for your event. Depending on who you’re hosting, you can leverage advertising opportunities to these various sponsors. This will save you tons of time and money when planning the event.

Next you’ll need to create a cash budget for other expenses. You’ll want to keep this nice and tight since you want to come out far in the green once the fundraiser is over. Once your budget is set, you should immediately start reaching out for cash donations. As the cash comes in, you can adjust your budget accordingly.

Host Committee

Always look to surround yourself with a winning-team. A fundraiser needs to be run like any other event, corporate or not. Promotion is key to it’s success. You and your team need to work tirelessly pitching the event to family, friends, co-workers, corporate partners, and other networks. In addition to pitching, your team needs to inspire them to give. This team is called your host committee. Here are some needs to keep in mind when assembling your host committee:

  • Time commitment: First and foremost, your core team will need to donate many hours of their time. Be very clear on the expected time commitment and only look for individuals willing to fulfill it.
  • Role players: Think of this event as a mini-business venture. When you assemble your team, you should look to fill certain roles. For example, if you’re not a finance whiz, you’ll want to find a team member who’s well versed in financial accounting to look after the budget and books.
  • Network/Reach: Think six degrees of separation here. Every new member of your host committee extends your reach tenfold. Look for individuals who have access to and are well connected to powerful networks.
  • Resources: Think of all potential resources that could be beneficial to your event. Look for individuals who can potentially provide those resources. For example, if you have a buddy who owns an event space you should try and bring them onboard.

Most organizations and events use these committee’s in different ways. Some look for long-term commitments, some are only used once or twice. Regardless of the situation, make sure to surround yourself with a team of winners.

Opportunities to Give 

This is one of the most important aspects of running a fundraiser. It’s not so much about how many opportunities to give you offer, it’s about which ones you choose to offer. First off, you should definitely offer traditional methods by allowing individuals to donate via checks or an eCheck. Selling tickets at and prior to the event is a great way to generate cash as well. Offer exclusive amenities for VIP tickets that you can sell for a much higher price in addition to general admission.

My favorite giving opportunity is a live auction. If executed properly, the auction will be both entertaining and highly lucrative. Lets use 49ers Academy Fundraiser auction for example. First, you need to find an engaging auctioneer. The auction at the 49ers Academy Fundraiser was led by a woman named Abra Annes, a philanthropic consultant and founder of Generosity Auctions. Abra’s organization is one of the leading charity auctioneer and nonprofit consulting firms in the San Fransisco Bay Area. She did not disappoint.

Right off the bat, Abra auctioned off a signed one dollar bill for about a thousand dollars. She clearly knew how to engage her audience and knew how to break out the check books. The crowd was clearly entertained and tens of thousands of dollars were raised that night from the auction alone.

If you run out of signed dollar bills, you should look to local businesses or your host committee for contributions to the auction. Ideally, every auction item should be contributed, that way you get the most bang for your buck.

Follow Up 

The final step is the follow up. Although you don’t plan on hosting another fundraiser, following up is still absolutely required. First off, you should reach out to each and every donor and or sponsor personally to thank them for their contributions. If you do plan on hosting another event, use this as an opportunity to cultivate follow-up meetings and continued dialogue with the donors.

Once all the thanks have been given out, make sure to document the event on your website or wherever applicable. Let your donors know exactly how their contributions were used and make a personal connection between them and whomever they supported. If you can make a personal connection between a donor and a donee, you’ve done a great job.

Events like these take time in order to be successful. But if you follow the tips above, you’ll surely have a successful fundraiser and make a positive difference in your community.