Nonprofit Event Planning: 9 Simple Steps (+ Downloadable Checklist)

Planning an event in advance means reducing last-minute stress, having more time to make arrangements, and selling more tickets to your event. This guide will provide insights into everything you must know about planning a fundraising event and give you a downloadable checklist to get started!

8 minutes read
Nonprofit Event Planning: 9 Simple Steps (+ Downloadable Checklist)


Fundraising events are at the core of many nonprofits’ fundraising strategies. Although planning an event can be daunting, there is a reason many organizations rely heavily on them – they can be incredibly successful.

When done well, both virtual and in-person events of all shapes and sizes have the ability to raise funds and awareness for your organization. They make it possible for you to show your impact to a captive audience, through videos, a speech from a beneficiary, performances, and more, telling your story while garnering donations.

Your events also present an opportunity to publicly thank major donors and community partners and involve them as speakers, sponsors, or award winners. Events also entice potential donors to attend, especially if they are invited by a current supporter, helping you expand your reach.

Planning an impactful, exciting nonprofit event that brings in critical funds may feel overwhelming. But with the right strategy, timeline, and tactics, you can succeed.

4 Benefits of Planning an Event in Advance

The first rule of event planning? Start the planning process as soon as possible!

There are several reasons to organize your event well in advance.

1. More time

Start planning early to give yourself enough time to create the best event possible! When you have more time, you’ll be able to better formulate an ideal event concept, solidify a theme, and develop all of the necessary design elements and promotional materials.

2. Less stress

The most important piece of your event planning toolkit is your people. Give your staff and volunteers (and yourself!) as much time as possible to complete critical tasks. By avoiding the rush and stress that comes with last-minute planning and execution, you’ll achieve higher quality work and a better event (and happier team members).

3. More options

“The early bird gets the worm,” as they say! Whether you’re selecting your preferred date, reserving your favorite venue, or booking your ideal entertainment, speakers, or emcees, there are always more options available when you start planning early.

4. Fewer open seats

Make sure your potential attendees know about your event before their calendars fill up! The earlier you start planning your event, the sooner you can start promoting it. Launch your marketing plan well in advance when most people will still be available, and thus more likely to buy tickets and fill those seats.

9 Steps of Nonprofit Event Planning – Make Your Fundraising Event a Success

Between the beginning of planning and the start of your event – and beyond – there are many things you and your team will need to accomplish. We’ve broken tasks into 9 major steps that you can follow to make your fundraising event a success.

1. Form an event team

First things first, you need to form your event team or committee. Your team should consist of key staff members, as well as board members and volunteers, who are willing and able to dedicate a significant amount of time to your event.

Your team members should also have varied backgrounds and expertise, and you should assign each of them a role or task that aligns with their experience.

2. Identify clear goals and targets

Next, you and your team need to determine what you want to accomplish with this event. You should be as detailed with your goals as possible and include measurable objectives so you can easily see which goals are met.

These goals might include:

  • Overall donations, potentially directed towards a specific program
  • Total ticket revenue
  • A specified number of audience members
  • A number of new and/or recurring donors

When you define your goals, you should also identify your target audiences. A target audience is the group of people you’d most like to attend your event, and thus those who you will target with your marketing strategy. An audience consists of demographics such as age, household income, location, marital status, and more.

3. Select a concept and theme

If you are planning a completely new event, you now need to first decide on the kind of event you’d like to host. Will you plan a black-tie gala? Or a laid-back trivia night? What about a fun run or picnic? The possibilities are endless! Just remember to keep your goal and target audience in mind.

For example, Osceola Council on Aging holds the below March for Meals 5K run/walk to raise awareness and funds for their senior hunger and meals on wheels program.

nonprofit event examples

Try Donorbox Events

After you decide on an event concept – or if you have an existing concept from previous years – you ought to pick a theme. Your theme should make sense with the event concept and it should also be seen through your decor, your promotional materials, and even your program.

4. Construct an event budget

Before you take another step, determine how much you are able to spend on the event. Take a look at potential costs for entertainment, venue, printing, design, marketing, food, drinks, decorations, technical equipment, and more, to determine your event budget. Then, get it approved by your executive director or your board.

Pro tip: Finalizing a budget will be easier if your organization has hosted similar occasions in the past – just look at the actual spend from that event and adjust for this year. If you haven’t planned an event like this before, you’ll need to do a little more research and gather quotes from various vendors.

5. Pick a date

There are several things to keep in mind when choosing a date for your event. Check the calendar – you don’t want to plan anything too close to any major holidays or school breaks, as your audience may be busy or out of town. On the other hand, if you have a big anniversary coming up, or if there are any fun national days that coincide with your mission, those may be ideal dates for your event.

Check with other nonprofits in your area as well – especially those with a similar target audience and/or mission to your own – to see when their events are taking place. And if you are hosting an annual event, it is best to pick a date around the same time every year.

It’s also important to pick a date that is at least 12 months out whenever possible to give you enough time to plan and promote. And consider selecting a couple of backup dates in case your preferred venue or vendor is booked for your first choice.

6. Start booking vendors, entertainment, and more

As soon as your event date is decided, you must start reserving everything you’ll need. This includes your venue as well as your caterer, a rental company for tables, tents, chairs, photographers, and more.

You also need to book your entertainment as well as any event hosts or speakers as early in the planning process as possible. Not only will this help ensure their availability, but it also gives you the chance to include any big names in your event advertising.

7. Plan out ticketing details

Once you know what kind of event you are planning as well as details on the venue, entertainment, food, and more, it’s time to start planning out your ticketing details.

First, decide on the cost to attend your event. You may offer a fixed cost for all tickets, or provide ticket buyers with options based on seat location as well as items such as the inclusion of dinner or an open bar.

Next, determine how you will sell your tickets. Online event ticketing has become the ideal way to create event pages and sell and manage tickets, with several tools available – like Donorbox Events. Donorbox Events helps you create a simple-to-use event page within minutes. You can add event details, images, and videos to the page, and unlimited ticket types. Donorbox helps you input the fair market value and the tax rate to determine the tax-deductibility of tickets. Your staff can also track the purchasers’ details, sold tickets, and donations made from the event page at the backend. All this makes your online event management hassle-free!

Here’s an example of a ticketing form created on Donorbox for a premier event of a documentary-style movie created by For the Martyres.

nonprofit event examples

8. Recruit sponsorships and in-kind donations

To ensure as much money from ticket sales as possible goes directly to your programs, set up a sponsorship program and ask your board members and volunteers to reach out to area businesses, especially those that have partnered with your organization in the past. Create various event sponsorship packages and offer tickets, logo placement, ads in your playbill, and more in exchange for funding.

Check out the sponsorship ticket levels in the below event ticketing form. This way, you get to manage the general tickets as well as sponsorships in one place.

nonprofit event examples

Also, ask area businesses if they are willing to give in-kind donations. These in-kind gifts are typically tangible items or services that are provided for free, sometimes in exchange for recognition at the event. Local organizations may be willing to donate items for an auction, provide AV equipment, or even offer up an event venue or a block of hotel rooms for your VIPs.

9. Promote, promote, promote!

Remember, start promoting your event early and often!

Your goal should be to send save the dates to your guests at least six months in advance of the event. These save the dates can be sent via mail or an email campaign. Closer to the event, send formal invitations (if the style of your event calls for it).

Beyond “save the date”s and invitations, you need to use all of your marketing channels to promote your event. Buy digital and print ads through local media. Send email campaigns to targeted lists. Contact media with a press release. Share updates on social media. Whatever marketing your event team has the capacity, capability, and budget to do, you should be doing it!

Pro tip: When determining your marketing channels and messaging, make sure to keep your target audience in mind.

Nonprofit Event Planning Checklist (Downloadable)

All of the steps above, and many more, can be found in our free event planning checklist, as you can see in the glimpse added below. It’s a downloadable, step-by-step checklist that breaks down each task into manageable timeframes and makes your event planning easy.

Click here to download the event planning checklist today!

Screenshot of our Event Planning Checklist resource.


Additional Tips for Prosperous Nonprofit Event Planning

To take your event planning to the next level, here are a few additional tips that will help you create an even better event.

1. Keep your team informed

Host regular meetings with your planning team – starting once a month and moving to once a week as the event draws closer. During these meetings, share any necessary news and event details with the team, as well as ask each team member for updates on their tasks. This keeps everyone on track and allows you to identify sticking points early.

In the week or two before the event, create a manual for each team member that includes all of the vital information for the event. This may include venue maps, parking, vendor contact information, VIP guest names and details, any special details shared by the ticket purchasers, and more.

Donorbox lets you ask your purchasers to provide additional information regarding their preferences or anything else you may need to know. You can add this detail to your manual.

nonprofit event planning

Once you’ve prepared your manual, walk through this event manual with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page.

2. Use text-to-give

Looking for an easy, quick, and secure way to collect donations during the event? Text-to-give allows you to capture donations in the moment, no matter how much cash your supporters have on hand.

With Donorbox’s Text-to-Give add-on, donors simply send a campaign ID or custom keyword to a specified number (a shortcode number is also available for your donors’ ease of use) to receive a link to your branded, mobile-optimized donation form, where they can easily make a donation in just minutes. Look at this snapshot below – that’s how simple the Donorbox Text-to-Give process will look from your donors’ end!

Text-to-Give - how to organize a fundraising event for nonprofits

3. Say thank you

Your work doesn’t end when your event does. As soon as possible after the event wraps up, send thank you messages to your volunteers, your vendors, your entertainers, and – of course – your donors and event attendees.

By showing your gratitude, you will continue to build these important relationships and better ensure that each will contribute to your mission again.

Final Thoughts

Planning events takes time, but they can be well worth it. Use these suggestions and the free, downloadable nonprofit event planning checklist to help you plan a successful event that will raise both funds and awareness for your organization.

Looking for an online event ticketing tool that can help you get easily set up, sell tickets as per your pricing strategy, and manage all the details in one place? Donorbox Events is here to help! It streamlines ticket sales through simple ticketing forms that are just as easy for your ticket buyers to use as they are for you to create.

Donorbox has also helped 50,000+ nonprofits raise funds and manage their donors in the most effective way through its online fundraising tool. Know about our features (Crowdfunding, Peer-to-Peer fundraising, Text-to-Give, Memberships, Recurring Donations, and more) on the website here.

Read the rest of our nonprofit event-related blogs here.

For other tips and resources on nonprofit management as well as fundraising tools, ideas, and best practices, check out our Nonprofit Blog today.

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Kara has several years of experience in communications and marketing for nonprofit organizations, with knowledge in social media, email, public relations, event promotion, appeal writing, and more. She specializes in writing and enjoys sharing her expertise and advice with others.

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