A group of friends planning events together.

May 9, 2024 | Categories DonorPerfect Fundraising Software, Event Management, Featured

Stress-Free Event Planning for Small Fundraising Shops

I have five hours a week and no budget. Here’s how I fundraise.

When I worked as a professional fundraiser at larger nonprofits, I got to help plan and participate in impactful, effective, and – dare I say – fun fundraising events. I loved wearing (thrifted) fancy dresses to fine arts galas, chatting with athletes and donors at climate-controlled tailgates, and “volunteering” for cleanup duty so I could squirrel away leftover hors d’oeuvres.

But now that I fundraise as a volunteer for a community choir, events are a completely different experience. Who can I recruit for help? How can I raise enough money to justify hosting an event without throwing my sanity and hobbies out the window? And who’s going to pay for everything?

If you’re a volunteer or professional fundraiser for a smaller or newer nonprofit, these questions might be on your mind, too. Here’s what I’ve learned from my real-world experience.

Gather your crew

Many hands make light work! As a millennial with lots of student loans, I’ve recently started exchanging professional services with friends so we can help each other out without going broke. It helps us feel connected, useful, and valued without feeling put upon. If you can recruit volunteers from your nonprofit or your friends and family to pitch in one small task each, you can save yourself a lot of stress.

Worried about asking too much of your personal network? It’s a common and understandable fear, but don’t let it stop you from asking entirely! Find quick and easy ways to get help with your event that don’t take extra training. Try to keep each task to around 30 minutes, and distribute tasks as widely as possible.

Here are some ideas for fast tasks that feel good to complete as a volunteer:

  • Brainstorm event theme ideas and big-picture thoughts
  • Share a crowdfunding page on social media to drum up support ahead of the event
  • Put together centerpieces with thrifted/loaned vases and supermarket flowers, reusable paper or wooden bouquets
  • Set up or tear down tables and chairs
  • Act as IT support during the event
  • Put together a playlist if your event calls for music
  • Make thank-you calls to event attendees afterward
  • Create templated event collateral, like programs or invitations

Pro tip: Don’t forget to treat your volunteers the same way you’d treat your donors for their gifts of time and expertise! Make sure to give each person who helps a heartfelt, meaningful thanks.

Image of a note that reads, "Thank you for all that you do!"

Get creative

I asked a generative AI tool to create scenes of a fundraising event, using this prompt:

“Please create a scene of a successful fundraising event. Include happy donors, staff, and volunteers raising money together for a good community cause.”

And here’s what I got:

An image of a fundraising event generated by Artificial Intelligence.

Even AI has a bias toward busy parties attended by well-dressed people. If this is how you envision fundraising events, throw that thought out and try thinking with a blank slate! Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Un-gala with an informal dress code and finger foods
  • Virtual town hall or trivia night
  • BYOBoard game night
  • Movie screening and discussion
  • Mini house parties/salon-style events scattered across your community
  • Picnic or cookout at a local park
  • Bonus: do any community music ensembles perform at your local parks or libraries? Connect with them for some audience-building/fundraising event collaboration ideas!

In short, wherever people can gather and have fun, you can have a fundraiser. 

Use AI tools to create your action plan

While it doesn’t have a great imagination (or any imagination, for that matter), generative AI can take a lot off your plate. If you’re inexperienced with event planning and aren’t sure where to start, you can get a personalized game plan using free AI tools and adjust it to meet your needs and preferences. Here’s an example of how I’ve asked AI tools to help me plan:

The prompt:

Create a timeline and assigned task list to plan a happy hour fundraising event for a community choir on or around June 3, 2024. The main planner has 5 hours per week to spend on choir activities, and there are 3 other reliable volunteers each with 1 hour per week.

The result:

“Here’s a suggested timeline to plan a happy hour fundraising event for a community choir on or around June 3, 2024, considering the available time from the main planner and volunteers:

April 30, 2024 (9 weeks before the event on June 3)

  • Main planner: Identify potential venues and gather information on availability, capacity, and pricing (2 hours)
  • Volunteers: Research potential entertainment options (music, performers, etc.) and gather quotes (3 hours)

May 14, 2024 (7 weeks before the event)

  • Main planner: Finalize the venue and secure a booking (1 hour)
  • Volunteers: Finalize entertainment plans and confirm bookings (3 hours)

May 28, 2024 (5 weeks before the event)

  • Main planner: Develop a budget and pricing structure for tickets/donations (1 hour)
  • Volunteers: Create a marketing plan and design promotional materials (flyers, social media posts, etc.) (3 hours)

June 3, 2024 (4 weeks before the event)

  • Main planner: Launch ticket sales and begin promoting the event (1 hour)
  • Volunteers: Distribute promotional materials and manage social media promotion (3 hours)

June 17, 2024 (2 weeks before the event)

  • Main planner: Coordinate with venue regarding logistics (setup, staffing, etc.) (1 hour)
  • Volunteers: Continue promoting the event and monitoring ticket sales (3 hours)

June 24, 2024 (1 week before the event)

  • Main planner: Finalize event logistics (schedule, volunteers, supplies, etc.) (1 hour)
  • Volunteers: Assist with final preparations as needed (3 hours)

June 3, 2024 (Event Day)

  • Main planner: Oversee event execution and manage volunteers (5 hours)
  • Volunteers: Assist with event setup, operations, and breakdown (3 hours)

June 10, 2024 (1 week after the event)

  • Main planner: Evaluate the event’s success, thank donors and attendees, review finances, and document lessons learned (2 hours)
  • Volunteers: Provide feedback and assist with any remaining tasks (3 hours)

This timeline allocates the available time resources effectively and allows for a structured approach to planning and executing the happy hour fundraising event. Remember to adjust the timeline as needed based on actual progress and any unforeseen circumstances.”

Thankfully, I won’t need to accomplish every task on this list. But it took me from having nothing to having a robust template in a matter of moments, and it’s much easier to edit than it is to create!

Want more guidance on how to use AI in your fundraising efforts? Get the guide, AI for Nonprofits, yours for free! Want to put AI to use right away? Write your next fundraising communication with the DonorPerfect Fundraiser Bot!

The AI for Nonprofits guide with a preview of the inside.

Commit to quality follow-up

Stay on top of the momentum your event creates! Make sure to include thanking all donors and attendees in your timeline and planning. You can call, send an email or video message, mail handwritten notes…anything goes as long as you deliver a genuine message of gratitude.

Don’t forget to include ways for your newfound donors to stay connected! Do you have a newsletter they can subscribe to? Another upcoming event or volunteer outing that might interest them? Capture their contact information now, while you’re on their minds and they’re thinking fondly of their event experience.

Not a DonorPerfect user? Request a demo to see how you can raise 25% more in your first year with us!

DonorPerfect users: did you know that you can send thank-you videos to your donors directly from your DonorPerfect system? Check out DP Video here!

Not a DonorPerfect user? Request a demo to see how you can raise 25% more in your first year with us!

An example of the video message email.

Events are a great way to build community and recruit new donors, volunteers, and champions for your cause. But they’re certainly not the only strategy! Want to learn more about how to acquire new donors who are passionate about your mission? Take our five-question quiz for personalized steps you can take toward your nonprofit’s growth.

Get Your Guided Growth Plan

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Meet the author: Emily Zacek

Emily Zacek joined the DonorPerfect team as a copywriter in January, 2022. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 with degrees in flute performance and organizational studies, and her undergraduate thesis focused on labor activity trends in American arts nonprofits. She brings a...

Learn more about Emily Zacek
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