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3 Facts You Need to Know to Plan A Profitable Fundraising Event

Expert fundraisers know that to maximize contributions, they must diversify their fundraising tactics. Special events are one method many turn to.

Unlike an email or direct-mail appeal, events incur hefty out-of-pocket costs and tens to hundreds of planning hours. What’s more, many have low profit margins—meaning small errors can result in missed goals, at best, or a negative return, at worst.

Here are three of the most important facts nonprofits with different budgets and goals need to know to plan successful events—and how software can help.

Fun Runs and Walks Are Top Performers

Survey takers say fun runs and walks are the easiest to plan, no matter a nonprofit’s size, and have a moderate to high return on investment. These events consistently perform well because they frequently rely on peer-to-peer fundraising and pledge programs, which tremendously multiply donations.

Ease of Event Planning vs. ROI, by Nonprofit Size


(Note: In our survey, we defined fun runs and walks as races that did not require special permits or road closures: for example, elementary school students using the school’s track, or groups using an existing park or community trail for a run/walk event. Higher-profile marathons and games were included in the “sporting event” category.)

If Brand-Building Is the Goal, Consider a Concert or Gala

We also asked survey-takers about which events are best for increasing brand awareness. Concerts or other live entertainment events, along with fun runs and galas, garner the most votes.

Brand-Building Effectiveness, by Event Typebrand-building-effectiveness

Keep in mind that concerts and galas are relatively difficult for small and midsize nonprofits to plan, coming with upfront costs that can be a major expense. For small organizations, unless the budget allows for it and building publicity is more important than collecting donations, stick to a fun run or walk—which is budget-friendly and generates both publicity and a solid return.

Software Enables Planners to Do More With Less

The good news: The majority of those in our sample track event data and use a formal system to manage details and measure results. The bad news: Most do this using spreadsheets.

Top Tools for Tracking Event Data


While well-designed spreadsheets are both useful and inexpensive, we find nonprofits that use specialized fundraising software—such as event planning software with online registration functionality—are more efficient. When administrative tasks are automated, fewer people can accomplish the same tasks in less time. In a resource-limited nonprofit, this is often game changing, and can mean the difference between falling short of goals and significantly exceeding them.

No matter what event or software you choose, it’s wise to heed the advice of certified fundraising expert Katherine Wertheim: Produce transformational, not transactional, events. To turn attendees into long-term supporters, guests should leave not only knowing about your event, but also about your nonprofit, its cause and why they should care. Accomplish that, and any event can be successful.

Janna-Finch-headshot The preceding is a guest post by Janna Finch, a senior market research associate at Software Advice, where she researches topics, technologies and trends related to the nonprofit software market. Her work has been mentioned on Nonprofit Hub, Community TechKnowledge, NTEN and other industry publications and blogs.
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