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Event Fundraising: The Ultimate Handbook for Nonprofits

Event fundraising is a crucial aspect of the nonprofit world. Events have the power to generate significant donations and make a massive impact on an organization’s mission. However, executing a successful event can be a daunting task that requires careful planning. To ensure that your event is a success and consumes as little time and resources as possible, an effective plan is essential. The key to a ‘flawless fundraiser’ is preparation. 

While the popular phrase “build it, and they will come” may have worked for Kevin Costner in the movie “Field of Dreams,” unfortunately, that’s not how it works in real life. To ensure the success of your event, effective marketing before, during, and even after the event is essential.  

Marketing creates awareness among attendees and donors. It helps in conveying the event’s purpose, its intended outcomes, and what people can expect. With the right marketing strategy, you can encourage people to participate, share, and talk about the event, which will increase the chances of its success.

Marketing in Advance of the Event: Create the Marketing Plan

The Ultimate Nonprofit Marketing Handbook for Successful Event Fundraising

Fundraising events are simply incredible. The high-energy planning period, coupled with the excitement of bringing so many supporters together in one place, creates an electrifying atmosphere that is unmatched. However, the success of your event fundraising strategy is not solely determined by its planning and execution. A comprehensive marketing plan is an absolute must if you want to achieve your fundraising goals. 

If you are wondering where to start with your event fundraising marketing plan, we’ve got you covered! We’ve broken it down into five easy steps that will help you achieve success. 

Leverage Your Donor Data to Define Your Audience

Before you begin marketing for your event fundraising, you must first know your audience. Take the time to look through your donor data to get a more holistic view of your donors, and pay close attention to their signals:

  • Past event attendance
  • Giving history and frequency
  • Program or campaign interests
  • Previous communications

You can then segment your donors based on similarities to personalize your messaging at scale. A timely, personalized, and relevant message is more likely to win donors over than generic messaging. Here are a few ways to consider grouping your donors:

  • Previous event attendance
  • Age range
  • Donation frequency or size
  • Engagement with your organization

Let’s see it put into practice!

“Peggy, thank you for being a loyal supporter of our mission. We appreciate your monthly donations toward our child advocacy fund. We know how important this cause is to you, so we wanted to personally invite you to our Annual Funds for Kids Gala. Proceeds from the silent auction, live auction, and fundraising appeal will go straight toward the child advocacy fund. The link to register can be found here [insert link].”

Armed with the right data, you’re ready to take on steps 2-5 of building your event fundraising marketing strategy!

Craft a Compelling Message

Creating your pre-event messaging is a critical part of the planning process. It should not only build awareness but anticipation. Here are our top tips:

  • Be clear and creative: Include relevant details such as time, location, how attendees can participate, and who/what the proceeds will benefit.
  • Include a call-to-action: Whether you want your supporter to register for the event, make a donation to kick off the fundraising, or share with their networks, have a clear call-to-action in all your event messaging.
  • Prioritize personalization: Using your donor data, tailor your communication in a way that feels genuine and relevant. It’s the best way to build deeper donor relationships and drive attendance!
  • Create FOMO: Ever heard of Fear of Missing Out? Give donors a taste of what they can expect from your event, so they know they won’t want to miss out (hint: amazing guest performance, must-have auction item, new milestone for your organization).
  • Focus on impact: Donors want to see how their support is making a difference in the world. Incorporate impact statements, real-life stories, and images of your mission at work.

By mastering your messaging, not only will you save valuable time, but you’ll also establish a consistent and cohesive brand image. With a strong and clear message, you can capture the attention of your target audience and elevate your event marketing game to new heights.

Choose Your Marketing Channels and Create a Multi-Channel Approach

When it comes to event marketing, the key is to get your message in front of as many people as possible. But with so many different channels available, it can be tough to know where to focus your efforts. That’s why it’s important to diversify your approach and prioritize the channels that will have the biggest impact.

Website

Leverage your website’s homepage as a place to promote your fundraising events and reach donors who are already inclined to give to your cause. Be sure to include:

  • Welcome video
  • Relevant event information
  • Link to register (CTA)
  • Photos from past events

Social Media

Take advantage of this popular platform to put your cause and your ask out there. This low-cost marketing channel helps you expand your reach to as many supporters as possible. Here are a few keys to success:

  • Focus on storytelling
  • Use your event hashtag
  • Tag other influential supporters
  • Ask people to share
  • Be consistent

Don’t forget to go beyond your own organization’s social media accounts and ask employees, partners, volunteers, and other stakeholders to share on their personal pages.

Email

Leverage your internal donor base to market your next fundraising event via email. It’s tried and true! For a greater chance at success, be sure to have an engaging subject line and use persuasive messaging. Here’s our formula for success:

  • Email 1: Educate donors on what you’re looking for and why it matters
  • Email 2: Focus on the impact of your mission
  • Email 3: Create anticipation and FOMO

Traditional Advertising

Many nonprofits still find success through traditional advertising methods, including:

  • Direct mail
  • Print ads
  • Flyers
  • Radio or TV slots

Are you under the impression that traditional media is obsolete in today’s digital age? Think again! Traditional media still plays a vital role in marketing and advertising strategies. One key reason is trust. Consumers still trust what they read in print.

Another reason traditional media is still relevant is that the internet and social media can be crowded spaces for fundraising. It’s easy for your message to get lost in a sea of endless content. With traditional advertising, your message can stand out more effectively.

By diversifying the channels you market on, tailoring your messaging to your specific platform, and leaning into traditional media, you’ll be driving event registrations and achieving success in no time.

Tap Your Most Loyal Supporters

Let’s face it – every event has a lifecycle. After a few years, even the best gala, golf outing, or event fundraising campaign needs a boost of creativity and energy.

Based on research on social donor trends, we love the ambassador fundraising concept. Ambassador fundraising harnesses the potential of your supporters, champions, and influencers to inject vitality
into your event, expand your reach to new networks, and elevate your fundraising efforts to new heights.

How does it work?

  • Select your ambassadors: These should be people who have large networks and influence in the community
  • Set them up for success: Arm your ambassadors with mission messaging, impact statements, social graphics, and whatever else they may need to spread the word!
  • Make it fun: The best part of ambassador fundraising is the element of competition. Motivate your ambassadors with contests and gamification and watch their impact grow!

Build a Marketing Calendar and Timeline

Are you tired of lackluster event fundraising campaigns? Do you feel like you’re putting in all the effort but not seeing the results you want? The solution may surprise you. While marketing skills and expertise are essential, one of the most critical factors in successful event fundraising is time management.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning an event and overlook the importance of managing your time effectively. Taking the time to build out a marketing calendar can make all the difference.

Once you have your foundational pieces in place, including strong messaging and a clear understanding of which channels to market through, it’s time to dive into your marketing calendar. This allows you to map out your marketing efforts over time, ensuring you stay on track and make the most of every opportunity.

Your marketing calendar should include key milestones, deadlines, and specific tasks. By breaking down your campaign into manageable chunks, you’ll avoid the last-minute rush and be able to focus on the details that matter most.

Marketing During the Event: The Big Day is Finally Here!

The Ultimate Nonprofit Marketing Handbook for Successful Event Fundraising

Event day has arrived and all the hard work that went into your marketing plan has paid off. Your targeted audience has shown up, and they are ready to engage with your nonprofit. It’s an exciting moment, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that your marketing efforts can take a back seat now. In fact, they’re just getting started!

One of the biggest mistakes a nonprofit can make is to stop marketing during their fundraiser. Your event is the perfect time to showcase your mission highlights and capitalize on donors’ excitement. Think of it as the true kickoff for marketing your next event.

So, how can you continue to work your nonprofit marketing magic during your fundraiser?

Here are a few tips:

Photos

First things first, to keep guests engaged and to make sure they’re able to follow along with the event in real-time, it’s important to create a unique event hashtag. By promoting this hashtag before and during the event, guests will be able to post their own photos and contribute to the social media buzz. This will also allow your team to showcase the best guest photos, giving your attendees an opportunity to be featured on your official channels.

Another great way to guarantee fun and exciting event photos is by setting up a backdrop with props and enlisting the help of a photo booth photographer. Not only is this an inexpensive option, but it also provides guests with a designated area to take photos with their friends and family. 

Make sure to use the event hashtag to share some of the funniest and most memorable outtakes during the event. Encourage your guests to share their own photos using the hashtag as well, creating a community of shared experiences that will keep the excitement going long after the event is over.

Social Media

Once again, social media proves to be the unsung hero of nonprofit marketing, swooping in to save the day! To keep the momentum going throughout your event, make sure to consistently post on your social media channels and engage with your audience to ignite their excitement and foster a sense of community. Remember these invaluable top tips:

  • Schedule posts ahead of time: Your team will be busy running the show and engaging with guests.
  • Provide real-time updates: Update your followers about how much has been raised for your cause to amp up the excitement.
  • Encourage offline donations: Donors don’t have to be in the ballroom to participate. Encourage your followers to bid and donate!
  • Focus on the impact: Be sure to call out how the donations will impact your mission. 
  • Give a shoutout: Give your highest bidders and loyal donors their own shoutout on social! Deepening your donor connection is what it’s all about.

Media

The news media can be an event’s best friend when it comes to reaching a wide and unique audience. Check to see if local newspapers, television stations, or even radio stations would be interested in covering the live event or promoting it afterward. 

Invite them (well in advance) and offer one of the nonprofit’s leaders or board members to provide an exclusive interview.

By employing these nonprofit event marketing strategies, your team will not only build excitement at the moment, but you’ll be positioning your event to be even bigger and better the next time around.

Text & Chat

If you are using Text to Give or mobile bidding software, prepare for your guests to experience all-encompassing engagement throughout the event!

With this level of immersive participation, texting and live chat emerge as powerful in-event marketing tools that can work wonders for boosting participation and fundraising success. To unlock their full potential, try out these simple but effective tactics for leveraging in-event messaging:

  • Advertise when fundraising activities start and stop
  • Promote your auctions, raffles, or donation moments
  • Highlight live fundraising proceeds or real-time auction updates
  • Send last-call texts or chats to fuel last-minute giving
  • Promote in-event donation matches or fundraising challenges
  • Remind guests to update their profile information before checkout
  • Create custom calls to action that motivate donors to give

Quick and easy text messaging and live chat can really fuel and foster in-event connection (and giving) for all audiences.

Marketing After the Event: Your Job Isn’t Done!

The Ultimate Nonprofit Marketing Handbook for Successful Event Fundraising

As the last glass is lifted and the final trace of decoration is cleared away, it’s tempting to kick off your shoes and unwind, right? Well, yes and no. Sure, take a moment to savor all that you’ve achieved and bask in the glory of a successful event. But don’t forget that as a true fundraiser, your work is never done! 

In fact, the days and weeks following your event present a golden opportunity for taking your fundraising efforts to the next level and deepening donor engagement. Post-event marketing is an art form all its own, and when executed with precision, it can forge lasting relationships with donors. So as you prepare to dive back into the fray, keep these crucial tips in mind:

Follow Up Via Email or Direct Mail

Donor appreciation is at the core of deep donor connections. A simple thank you message via email or direct mail can make a lasting impact on your event attendees. But go beyond thanking your supporters – let them know their donation made an impact.

And be specific! For example: “With your help, we were able to provide dinner for 525 families in the Indianapolis area during the month of March.”

Update Your Social Channels and Website

Continue using social media channels to your advantage for at least 20 days after the event is over. Share photos and videos from the night, tagging guests and sponsors where appropriate to increase the likelihood of further sharing and engagement.

To truly capture the magic of your event and showcase its impact on donors, why not let the attendees speak for themselves? By adding quotes from guests and staff, you can infuse your post-event marketing with real-time insights and a powerful sense of personalization. Imagine featuring quotes like, “I was blown away by the impact of the work being done here,” or “This event truly made me feel like a part of the community.” These powerful endorsements can help deepen donor engagement and inspire even greater support for your cause.

Begin Marketing for Next Year

Don’t leave your donors and supporters in the dark after the event has ended. Keep the momentum going in your event fundraising strategy by including a “Save the Date” for your next gathering in your thank you messages and social media posts, along with a link to the event page – even if only a few details are available at this time. This tantalizing glimpse of what’s to come can help generate buzz and anticipation among your community, ensuring that they stay engaged and eager to participate in the next chapter of your journey. 

Alternatively, if the next event is still too far in the future to announce, don’t despair. There are still plenty of ways to keep your donors connected and engaged. Consider highlighting upcoming volunteer opportunities, or encourage them to become an ambassador for your cause. By showing your supporters that their involvement is valued and appreciated, you’ll build lasting relationships that can power your organization for years to come.

Conclusion

Congratulations on completing your very own Marketing Handbook for Successful Event Fundraising! Armed with these powerful strategies, you’re now equipped to conquer the fundraising world. Good luck as you embark on your journey to make a meaningful impact through successful events. Happy fundraising!

About the Author

Dawn Lynn Lego is Director of Brand Engagement & Channel Marketing at OneCause.

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