Planning a Fundraising Event

Planning a Fundraising Event


Planning a fundraising event can seem overwhelming at first glance, but it doesn’t have to be a challenge with these great tips and tricks on how to plan a successful fundraiser.

John:  Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Maureen Woodman, a wedding and event planner for on and off-site catered events at The Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. And today we are talking about planning a fundraising event. Welcome, Maureen.

Maureen: Hi, John. Thanks for having me today.

What Organizations Take On Planning a Fundraising Event?

John: Sure. Maureen, what are some typical organizations that might plan a fundraising event?

Maureen: I think a lot of times they could be involved in hospitals or schools, or a non-profit organization, maybe like the YMCA or something. Mostly, [we work with] individual causes like if it’s breast cancer or colon cancer or something, [or] if somebody got sick. We had an employee that actually fell down and he was paralyzed, so we do a lot of individual people circumstances [where] the community comes together and they’re looking for a place to bring everyone in to help this person.

Steps to Take When Planning a Fundraising Event

John: What’s involved in raising money for a cause like that and what steps does an organization need to take to plan a fundraising event?

Maureen: First, you’re really going to have to come down with your budget and try to figure out what you’re going to spend and what your goal is, and what you’re going to try to make. You’re going to have to have a ton of social media out there just to get an audience. You’re going to have to have a lot of marketing, and this could be posters or raffle tickets or printed programs. You’re going to have to really advertise hard to find your audience. I think that’s one of the first things that you do when you sit on a board that is trying to raise money.

Costs Involved for Fundraisers

John: What are some of the costs that are involved compared to how much money you’re trying to raise for the organization?

Maureen: A lot of times, people will try to come up with the ticket prices. All right, can we sell a ticket for $50? In the $50, they’re going to try to figure out, can I have some food, can I have some printed things, do I have entertainment, how much will a venue cost me? Then, they try to look around their board and try to figure out what they can get for donations. For example, sometimes, a venue may be donated. Sometimes, somebody may have a printing company that will print things at a discounted price, like Staples, for example.

A lot of times, Staples will give 10% to a cause if it’s something that Staples supports. When you’re trying to do that, you could exceed your ticket price with your spending. For example, say it’s costing you $110 to have everybody in the room and you’re only charging $100, and you don’t want to lose money. What they do is they come up with program books where they usually have companies buy ads for $100 and have everyone’s names go in the program book.

A lot of times, those programs books are really where the gravy is for the fundraiser. I don’t think a lot of people realize that until they actually try to do this.

John:  That’s really interesting. I would’ve expected that the cost of the ticket to get into the event would’ve been what goes to the organization, but you’re saying that that might be only just to cover the expenses of the event itself and then the advertising is where they get their money.

Maureen: Absolutely. A lot of times, they have tables available in the room where corporate people can buy the banner for their name to be sitting on the table and you charge another $100 for that, along with the booklet. I’m sure if anyone’s even been to a golf tournament, you support the golf hole and you see a little sign that says it is sponsored by John Hancock, and those are usually $500. That’s really where the money is made, not really on the actual event. I don’t think a lot of people going into this realize this. That’s why a board is so important.

When you choose a board for fundraising, you always want to have somebody from every sector of what you need, like someone that knows people, somebody that’s a money person, somebody that’s advertising, somebody that designs, and somebody that knows entertainment because you have to bring those people together to help the fundraising come to fruition.

Fundraising Event Venues

John: Right. What are some locations where you might hold a fundraising event?

Maureen: Of course, we have the Essex Room where we do a ton of fundraising. The room is 50 x 100 [feet]. There’s no partitions or anything in the room. It’s very easily set up for any kind of fundraising, whether it’s a sit-down dinner [or a] dance [where] you can dance with a larger dance floor, or [even for a] silent auction if you’re setting up a live auction with stadium-style seating. One of the really fun fundraisers that we do in Essex is for Wet Paint, where all the painters will come in the fall and you’ll see them all around the Route 133 painting the marsh.

That day, they come in, they put their easels in the function hall and they people will come in and have cocktails and drinks and they go around and bid to buy the painting that was created that day.

John: That’s really interesting. You mentioned casino nights as well, that would be a fun event.

Maureen: Sure. A lot of casino nights were done in the ‘90s. What happened [was that] a lot of the boards thought that gambling didn’t really go along with the values of the fundraiser sometimes. There was kind of a few years, there were people that were kind of frowned upon [for doing it]. Schools didn’t like it because it was conducive to gambling. Churches also didn’t like it because it had to do with gambling and then, they found out that they really made a lot of money and that you would hire the Knights of Columbus and they had a team, they would come in and they would set up all the card tables and people really liked it. Then, we had a run where we did a lot of Texas Hold ‘em fundraisers

John: They got really popular there for a few years.

Maureen Yes and it was really fun. You sold the ticket and half the money went to the winner and half of the money would go to the fund on the table after they won. Of course, there’s always 50-50 money raffles where people are selling raffle tickets at the actual event to make additional money and it seems like people liked that. They like the excitement of a raffle ticket at the event for some reason and then, you pull the winner that night.

Food for Fundraising Events

John: Okay. What kind of food do you offer at a fundraising event? Do you always have a fundraising dinner where everybody is sitting down eating, or is it just appetizers and things like that?

Maureen Again, over the past 10 years, there was definitely a pattern where people were theming out fundraising events, whether it was Mexican night or Italian night or seafood night because we are up on the North Shore, and the food might match the fundraiser. Then, of course, if it’s a sit down dinner with a band and the band is really the center of attention, you might have more of a formal dinner. But most of the time, the fundraisers really have passed hors d’oeuvres where people can kind of be up mingling and you’re trying to get them to buy, whether it’s a silent auction or the raffle ticket. You have more of cocktail table setup, not so much sit down and all kinds of hors d’oeuvres are being passed, because you want to give them something, but not too much food because again, the food will cut into your ticket price.

Other Things to Think About When Planning a Fundraising Event

John: Okay. What are some of the other preparations that need to go into a fundraising event that people might not think about?

Maureen I think that when you are choosing a venue, one of the biggest things that people don’t realize, you are looking for a venue that can really give you two to three days. One day for set up. If it has a high set up for these silent auctions, it’s nice to come in on Friday, have your event on Saturday. Then, a lot of people don’t come ready to bring their [things] home. You really need Sunday morning sometimes to load out. [Also] a parking lot is really important. You want to be able to pack your people. You want them to have easy access going in and out.

You want to make sure that the room has Wi-Fi so that you can set up all the audio visual, [and maybe] put up a screen. A lot of times, when you’re doing a fundraiser, there’s some kind of feeling that you are trying to get into the patron’s head [and figure out what] will spike them to pay more. If you can show it on the audio video, while they are in the room or you get a guest speaker that can talk about it, [you might to better]. I went to a really powerful one with ALS and it was actually his mother — I can’t think of her name right now but when she spoke, you just took out your check book. You couldn’t deal with it.

It was an amazing story. You also really need to have good audio equipment in case you do get a really good guest speaker.

John: Okay. That’s really good information and thanks again for speaking with me today, Maureen.

Maureen: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me.

John: For more information, you can visit the Essex Room website at or call in 978-768-7335.