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How to Make Your Nonprofit's Special Events More Profitable

Your nonprofit is planning a big fundraiser and you want it to be special. Remember, however, the idea is to raise money rather than throwing an amazing party. Here are some ways to keep that goal in mind while still creating an event people will want to attend. 

Focus on your goal

Start with your total fundraising goal, which should include funds received from event attendees, sponsors and any pre-event appeals. Your financial objective should be realistic, based on your nonprofit’s experience with previous fundraising events. But consider a stretch goal, say from 5% to 20% higher than last year, to energize staff and motivate supporters.

Then, estimate expenses for such items as facility rental, food and beverages, prizes, invitations and decorations, and speaker and entertainment fees. You may also need to pay for permits — for example, to charge sales tax or host a raffle — and might want to buy special event insurance coverage.

Special events have become part of the ongoing revenue stream of today’s nonprofits. In making the commitment to run a fundraising event, keep the following tips in mind so you don’t over-commit your organization’s financial resources.

- Lisa Wills, Partner
Scrutinize expenses

Look closely at your list for expenses that can either be eliminated or cut. Say that you held last year’s event at a luxury hotel. This year you might consider a new venue that’s willing to discount the space for the opportunity to host your community’s movers and shakers. Even if you receive sponsorships and discounts, be sure to include the original expenses in your budget should you need to pay the full amount for a future event.

And don’t be afraid to try something different. If you usually host a black-tie affair with a multi-course meal, consider holding a more casual event this year, such as a cocktail party with a silent auction. As long as the event is well planned and publicized, attendees will probably be just as generous.

Importance of sponsors

Good sponsors are critical. Not only can they help defray expenses with donations of goods and services, but they can also raise your nonprofit’s profile by introducing your name and mission to a new audience. But be careful not to promise too much in sponsor benefits, such as free advertising or endorsements of the sponsor’s products — it could lead to unrelated business income tax problems.

Target well-known names with a connection to your nonprofit. For example, a pet food company makes an ideal sponsor for an animal welfare charity. A successful self-empowerment author might be a great fit for an association meeting of salespeople.

Watch expenses

As you plan your special event, the most important thing is to keep a laser focus on costs. Although you want your fundraiser to be fun and memorable, the real purpose of the event is to raise money. And you probably won’t do that if you lose track of expenses.

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