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Fundraising Training Exercise: Planning a Fundraising House Party

Excerpted from Train Your Board (And Everyone Else) to Raise Money

At some point in our lives, most of us have organized a party. This strategy takes something we already know how to do and adds a fundraising component. House parties are fun, relatively easy to organize, and a good way to recruit board members and other volunteers to help with fundraising. As with anything else, good planning saves time and aggravation, increasing your odds of success.

Why Do This Exercise?

Because parties are fun and, when well-organized, can be lucrative

Use This Exercise When

You’re looking for a more intimate (and less exhausting) alternative to the giant gala fundraising event

Time Required

90 minutes


The leadership team for your fundraising campaign: some combination of board, staff, and volunteers. This exercise is best done with a group of four to eight people.


A space large enough to accommodate several pairs or teams of three working together


Facilitating the Exercise

  1. In advance, photocopy the House Party Overview handout. Share the handout and discuss it with the group to ensure everyone understands the basics of a house party:

    • It's an intimate gathering, rather than a large public event.
    • These parties work best in a private home.
    • There are several models for raising money (or not) using house parties. As you plan your party, you'll need to choose the model that works best for you.
  2. Ask your colleagues to gather in pairs or groups of three. Instruct them to review the fundraising options for a house party and create a list of pros and cons for each option, with one person in each group taking notes:

    • Collect a fixed price in advance
    • Ask at the event
    • Treat the party as a free friend-raiser or cultivation event—with the option of following up individually with those who attend
  3. After five minutes, reconvene the full group to review the list and decide which approach will work best for your party. (Note: The ask-at-the-event model is a little more challenging to organize but tends to raise the most money.) Your job is to facilitate the conversation and seek a consensus. If people have strong disagreements, suggest the following: "Let's organize more than one party using different fundraising models and then compare the results to see what worked best."
  4. Talk with the group about the concept of "party hooks." The most basic hook is the chance to support a friend (the host) and learn more about an interesting cause, but there may be others. Will it be the food? The location? A chance to discuss a timely issue? A chance to meet a celebrity? The chance to make new friends?

    For example, when Andy worked at Native Seeds/SEARCH, a regional seed conservation organization in Arizona, their fundraising house parties featured gourmet menus based on traditional native foods: a unique, tasty hook. These menus were included in all event invitations.

  5. Ask the small groups to gather again and brainstorm possible hooks for your house party. After about three minutes, reconvene the full group to discuss the options and decide on a hook.
  6. On one sheet of flip chart paper, write the words:
    6 weeks out
    5 weeks out
    4 weeks out

    Write them with enough space between each week to fill in the details.

    Prepare a second sheet as follows:
    3 weeks out
    2 weeks out
    1 week out

    And a third:
    Day of event
    After the event

    Use the same spacing as the first sheet, leaving room to add details.

  7. The full group brainstorms a list of tasks needed to organize a party—identify a host or host committee, prepare invitations, arrange for food, and the like—while the facilitator writes these tasks on the flip chart under the relevant week. Most of these tasks are self-evident, because house party planning builds on common wisdom. Anyone who's ever organized a baby shower, anniversary event, or birthday party will have a good sense of the work to be done.

    When the flip chart pages are filled in, your calendar is complete. You can use this calendar to create a spreadsheet to guide the work of the party planning team. You can also keep the large calendar handy to post at planning committee meetings to stay on task.

  8. To debrief this exercise, use some combination of the following questions:

    • What's one thing you've learned from past experience that we need to remember as we're planning this party?
    • What are our next steps?
    • Who will do what? By when?

An excellent resource is The Fundraising Houseparty, by Morrie Warshawski,

Training Tip

The success of this exercise depends completely on who participates, so make sure your planning team includes a few people who love everything about parties: planning them, attending them, talking about them, analyzing what makes them work. Their enthusiasm will be infectious.


The preceding is a guest post by Andrea Kihlstedt. She has served the nonprofit sector for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, trainer, consultant, teacher, writer, and speaker. She has trained nonprofit boards and staff throughout the United States on effective major gifts fundraising, capital campaigns, and how to ask for gifts. Kihlstedt is cofounder (with Gail Perry) of Capital Campaign Magic, providing online learning about capital campaign fundraising.

Fundraising-Training-Exercise-Planning-a-Fundraising-House-Party_Andy_Robinson.jpgThe proceding is a guest post by Andy Robinson. Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada and is the author of six books. His latest include How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, and Great Boards for Small Groups.

Topics: Fundraising