Special Fundraising Events

Avoiding common pitfalls
Planning your event
Marketing your event
Coordinating event volunteers
Registering participants
Final preparations

Avoiding common pitfalls

This is the first step to special events, heading off trouble before you've devoted a single minute, or a single penny, to your fundraiser planning. Save your resources...you're going to need them!

The stakes for special-event fundraisers are high: Your event can either be a rousing success, or a big-time failure. Here are four mistakes that novice fundraisers often make, and the questions you need to ask to avoid them:

  1. Costs are too high
    Unlike other types of fundraising, special events generally require an investment up front – for balloons, catering, invitations, door prizes, and so on. Set a strict budget so that no one gets carried away, and always shop around to compare prices. Rely on people power: Handmade items, donated services and donated supplies will help keep your costs manageable.

  2. Prices are too low
    Some planners underestimate the "fundraising" aspect of an event – don't forget that the goal is to raise money! Whether you're selling raffle tickets, auction items, or seats at a banquet, make sure your revenue will cover costs and bring in a substantial profit. Otherwise, it's not worth the trouble! Talk to other organizations in your area to find out what the going rate is for fundraising events. And finally, don't feel guilty about your prices; people are willing to pay more when it's benefiting a good cause.

  3. Not enough tickets are sold
    For many events, volume is important. Don't just hope for the best...set a clear goal, and devise a plan for reaching that goal. (Use sales incentives if you have to!) You can generally expect each salesperson to sell just ten tickets, so a large sales force is the key. Give people enough time to really spread the word, and back them up with a high-energy publicity campaign.

  4. Expectations are unrealistic
    Special events will not cause thousands of dollars to magically appear. Successful planners know what to expect, and every dollar they earn is the result of careful planning and hard work.

Those are the major mistakes you want to avoid. How do you avoid them? Make sure to examine the following considerations before you start planning your event. After all, choosing the right event for your community is half the battle!

  1. Human resources
    How many volunteers can you reliably depend on for both the planning and the event itself? What are their interests and availability?

  2. Financial resources
    How much start-up money do you have available? How much can you afford to spend on your special event? What's your fundraising goal for the event?

  3. Project image
    What's your group's style? Do you want the event's tone to be serious or playful? Sophisticated or low-key? What activities are off-limits, such as alcohol or gambling? What activities are a good fit with the image you want to project?

  4. Audience
    Who is likely to attend? What are their interests? What's their social life like? (e.g. singles, busy professionals, parents with young kids, etc.) When are they generally available? What are they able to pay?

  5. Timing
    How much lead time do you need to plan the event? Is it dependent on a certain holiday or season? Are there competing events taking place at the same time? (Competing events include not only other fundraisers but also school vacation breaks, the wedding season, feast days and other community traditions.)

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Planning your event

In this key stage of the guide to special events, we'll help you build a solid foundation for your special event fundraiser, one that will maximize your resources and ensure success.

We're not going to lie...special events take a lot of work. But fortunately, the advance planning that you do right now will save you loads of headaches and fix-it work in the months ahead. Complete these six tasks, and you'll be well on your way toward a successful event:

Choose your event

Previously, we had you ask a range of questions about your project and your community to gauge which events might be a good fit. It's also important to consider your goals: Is it more important to raise publicity and awareness, or just cash? Sit down with your committee and weigh the pros and cons of different events. For instance, a 5K run or gala auction can raise lots of awareness and cash, but it also takes a lot of work. A bake sale or a car wash may not raise much cash at all, but it's low effort and can be repeated several times.

If you really want to stay ahead of the game, set up a complete fundraising calendar with several different types of events; spreading your fundraisers out can prevent donor fatigue.

Tip: Don't force an event on a reluctant group. If you're the only one excited about a particular event, you'll probably be the only one planning it. If you're having trouble reaching a consensus, keep brainstorming and discussing until you find the right event.

  • Set specific event goals
    Once you've chosen one or more events, it's time to set concrete goals. How much money do you need to raise? How many new volunteers would you like to recruit? How many new organizations or businesses would you like to involve? Decide what success means, and how you will measure that success following the event.

    It's also a good time to set limits. For instance, how many hours do you want to spend on planning and preparation? What's the spending limit on set-up materials and services? Make sure you have a system for tracking the time and money spent on the project; it can be a wake-up call that you need to re-think your planning process.

  • Set an event mini-budget
    Establishing a mini-budget is just like making a real budget. First, make a list of all the supplies, services, fees, and other items that you need to pull off your event. Research prices in your area, and add up your costs. (You'll try to get as much donated as possible, but for the sake of your budget assume that everything will be purchased.) This will give you your expenditures.

    Next, calculate how much money you plan to bring in. Be specific: how many tickets will you sell, and at what price? What will a plate of food cost, and what's your goal for a head count? What about a cash bar, or sale of snacks and promotional items? Knowing your expenditures will help you determine a fair price for your goods or services. This is your revenue.

    Finally, subtract your expenditures from your revenue. This is your profit. If you look at the number and say, "That's it?", then you either need to reduce expenditures, raise revenue, or both! Don't pour hours of time and energy into something that will give weak returns.

    Click here for a budget worksheet.

  • Pick a date and build a timetable
    Staying on track and on schedule is a huge factor in special event success. How much time do you need to plan your event, and when do you want it to occur? Something as large as a golf tournament or benefit concert can take up to a year of planning, whereas a dog wash or truck touch can be up and running in a couple of weeks.

    After you've chosen an event date, work backwards to set specific deadlines for key milestones like sending invitations, booking a location, registering volunteers, hiring catering, receiving item donations, and so on. When there are financial or logistical consequences for missing deadlines, be sure to communicate that to your team. Delegate tasks clearly.

    Finally, keep your timeline handy and refer to it often. Use it to generate weekly or monthly to-do lists, and celebrate completed tasks along the way.

  • Select a location
    Location, location, location. As a community-build organizer, you want your event to be easily accessible to as many people as possible. What kind of facility fits your event? How much space do you need? Where will people park, and how will you accommodate people with disabilities?

    Survey all the possible locations to compare availability, price and suitability, and try to work out a discount or donation whenever possible.

Get organized

The devil is in the details! We recommend setting up folders where you'll store important records and documents for the following subjects:

  • Location: rental contracts, audio/visual information, parking info
  • Food: catering estimates, menus, volunteer commitments, allergy/special request info
  • Supplies: cost estimates, quantities
  • Marketing: flyers, invitations, programs, press releases
  • Committee: contact info, meeting notes, correspondence
  • Budget: receipts, invoices, donation letters

Now that you've got the basics down, it's time to start drumming up excitement in your community. Spread the word by marketing your event.

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Marketing your event

In this portion of the guide to special events, we'll show you how to get everyone talking about your upcoming event. That's the key to a great turnout!

At KaBOOM!, we love special event fundraisers because they bring communities together to have a great time while benefiting a great cause. In order to achieve that, you need to attract a lot of people! And the more people you reach now, the bigger a pool of volunteers and supporters you'll have come build time.

Here are three easy steps to finding a crowd for your special fundraiser:

  1. Identify groups of people who may be interested in your fundraising event or the playspace project...or both! For instance, maybe you're holding a neighborhood dog wash. You'll want to contact dog owners, dog walkers, veterinarians, pet rescue groups, shelters, and dog breeders. That's in addition to the usual cast of parents, teachers, playspace donors, neighbors, and local politicians and celebrities.
  2. Identify local methods for getting the word out. We've seen communities post their information in the following places:
    • School newsletters
    • Church bulletins
    • Flyers on telephone poles and car windshields
    • Cable-access TV
    • Free public service announcements on local radio
    • Community calendars in local newspapers
    • Service club bulletins/newsletters
    • Letters home with students
    • Marquees
    • Community bulletin boards
    • Project websites
    • Websites of sponsoring organizations or businesses
    • Information booths at fairs/carnivals/sporting events
    • Flyers on pizza boxes, in stores and restaurants, and around offices
    • Door hangers
    • Phone tree: Everyone calls three friends

    When posting information, make sure to include the basic what, when, where, and why of your event. And let people know how to donate to the project in case they can't come!

  3. Talk to your planning committee about coordinating media coverage of special events and the playspace build. You don't want fundraising events to compete with each other or with the build for media attention! You also don't want to reinvent the wheel; if someone on your team already has a good relationship with a local media outlet, ask them to solicit coverage for your special event. Remember, exciting photo ops and local celebrities are a great draw for reporters!

Can you feel the excitement building? It's time to focus on people power by coordinating event volunteers.

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Coordinating event volunteers

In this portion of the guide to special events, we'll harness the hidden talents of your community to pull off a spectacular special event.

Large special events call for a large pool of committed volunteers. Having help not only relieves some of your planning burden, it also gives a people an active role and a stake in the playspace project. And it's fun! Here's a list of common volunteer jobs for special-event fundraisers:

  • Overall event coordinator
  • Food coordinator
  • Registration manager
  • Parking organizer
  • Clean-up crew
  • Decorations coordinator
  • Entertainment coordinator
  • Event accountant
  • Graphic designer (for decorations, flyers, programs, etc.)
  • Logistics and licenses chair (facility, food/liquor licenses, etc.)
  • Publicity coordinator
  • Security personnel
  • Host/Master of Ceremonies
  • Secretary
  • Coat check
  • Technical equipment specialist
  • Ticket sellers
  • Ushers
  • Waiters/waitresses
  • Babysitters

For a formal event, it's a good idea to create a brief job description for each volunteer position. Include the time required, necessary skills, benefits to the volunteer, and whether there will be any required meetings, training sessions or a practice run.

Where can you find volunteers? Visit our Recruiting Volunteers homepage for the complete resource on human resources. If you're ready to move along toward your special event, start: registering participants.

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Registering participants

In this section of the guide to special events, we'll help you get an accurate head count so you know exactly what to expect. It's all coming together!

Maintaining an updated list of participants is a simple but very important step in the event planning process. Here's how to do it:

  1. First off, put one person in charge of maintaining that list, and make sure all registrations go through him or her.
  2. Second, determine what type of information you need. Of course you'll need the person's name, contact information and payment status, but you may also want their organizational or business affiliation. What about their t-shirt size, food preferences, special dietary needs, and accommodations for disabilities? Do you need to know how many cars to expect?
  3. Develop a registration form that gathers the information you need, and determine how you will accept registrations. Do you have the capacity to take online or email registrations? What about a dedicated voicemail box where people can leave their information? Can you accept credit cards? Who should checks be made out to, and where should they be sent? Can people fax their registration? Who should they contact if they're having trouble? Think about times when you've tried to register for an event. It can be frustrating! An easy and simple registration process can greatly increase your event participation.
  4. Develop a system for confirming RSVPs, whether it's a formal invitation or a quick phone call just before the big day.
  5. Make sure you have a plan for handling last-minute registrations and walk-ins. Setting up several registration tables at the event can prevent bottlenecks.

At this stage, your event is approaching! We'll wrap up last-minute planning items as you enter the home stretch. Continue to final preparations.

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Final preparations

In this section of the guide to special events, we'll guide you through the final lap of event preparations. Remember, this experience will help you troubleshoot for your really big event, the playspace build!

If KaBOOM! has a mantra, it's this: Plan, plan, plan, and then execute your plan. It's no different when you're entering the final stages of special event preparation. The tips below will help you prepare for anything:

Confirm deliveries, donations, and vendors

When your event is four to seven days away, confirm the arrival of all important supplies. Make sure you have an emergency or cell phone contact for each of your suppliers in case something goes wrong, and get the name of who's responsible.

Make an event script

Our best advice for any event, including the build itself, is to create a detailed, minute-by-minute schedule of activities. It should contain all the information you need, at your fingertips. Organize it by time and by task, and include the following information:

  • Activity or task
  • Person responsible, and their contact info
  • Times (including pick-up and deliveries)
  • Vendors' names and contact info
  • Equipment and supplies needed for each activity
  • Location of activity

Stage a walkthrough

Sometime in the week before your event, preferably the day before, gather together all your volunteers and stage a 'dress rehearsal' of how the event will go. Review your event script, and make sure everyone understands their role. Go over anything that still needs to be done, and make sure someone has it covered. Strongly encourage clarifying questions during this meeting...once the event is on, it will be too late!


The main event coordinator should be free of all major responsibilities during the event itself. It's his or her job to 'float' around the event, greeting participants and troubleshooting volunteer tasks. Most importantly, it's the event coordinator's job to set a relaxed, confident and fun tone for the day's activities!

Be prepared

Despite our best attempts, it's simply impossible to plan for everything, so we recommend having an emergency box of supplies. Yours may include the following:

  • Tape
  • Pens
  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • White or colored paper
  • String/cord
  • Cell phone or walkie talkies
  • Extra name tags
  • Extra registration sheets
  • Extra event script
  • First-aid kit
  • Bullhorn or extra microphone
  • Cash for emergency errands
  • Candles
  • Rain ponchos

And it's finally time...good luck! Once you're finished with your spectacular special event, take time to celebrate.

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