How to organize special events to raise funds for your NGO

Upasana Joshi About Upasana Joshi

Upasana Joshi is a development professional with over six years of experience in project management, community mobilization, donor engagement and fundraising. She has worked with International Agencies like International Union for Conservation of Nature and World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Currently she is working in the capacity of an independent consultant and supporting grass root agencies in project development, project implementation and resource mobilization.

Fundraising strategies that were effective a decade back cannot be put to use today, and therefore NGOs should update themselves to cope with changing fundraising techniques and methods. As an NGO practitioner you might be well accustomed to raising funds through proposal writing, door to door collections, corporate partnerships, direct calls etc., but these days there is a growing trend to organize special events for fundraising.

This guide will help you in organizing special events to raise funds for your NGO.

What is a Special Event?

Special Event is an outreach program that serves multiple purposes for an organization. It can help raise awareness for a cause, act as a fundraising event, allows donor to engage with the grants beneficiary, and raise the spirit of giving. Special events have been used by organizations for many years to help raise awareness or money for a cause. For most part of history they have been fashioned as Evening Tea Parties, Lunch and Dinner parties, which were employed extensively by political parties, unions, etc. to gather support.

Of late charitable organizations have been using this outreach event to great effect. Special events have also evolved in the last couple of decades and now include Art Exhibitions, Marathons, Professional Sports, Movie premiers, etc. There is no rule as to what event can be considered a special event; you can put your innovation and creativity in planning the special event. Just remember that the event should be fun and exciting for the audience and at the same time help you achieve your planned output i.e financial support.

How to Organize a Special Event?

A large number of components are to be effectively finished for your special event to be a success. Let us divide the entire process into three major components:

  • Planning the event
  • Preparations for the event
  • Organizing the event
  1. Planning the event: The entire process of organizing a special event can get too complicated if things are not planned properly. For the event to be successful you will have to take care of each and every minute detail very vigilantly. No matter what size of event you plan to organize, the most important element for its success will be planning. The moment you conceive the idea of organizing the event, you should immediately sit down to chart out the entire plan.

Take your diary and note down everything that you think will be required for the event. This will include answers to the what, why, how, for whom and when of the event. Thoroughly look through the points and see if organizing the special event is the best possible solution to achieve the given objective. Discuss with important team members about the purpose of the event, the dates, the target audience etc. and take their feedback. If you are certain, then start drafting the plan for execution.

A typical plan should have the following details in place:

Goal: To ensure success and to guide your team, it is important for you to have a predefined goal and objective for the event. Make sure that the goal is in line with your organizations mission and vision. For instance you work for cancer patients the goal of the event should be associated with the cause.

Example: Raise money to cover the cost of treatment of 100 children suffering from a health disorder.

Type of event: Now that you have a purpose in place you should decide the type of event. It is to be noted that the type of event should complement the cause for which the Special Event is being organized. Careful alignment of the purpose and the type of event will help in creating a deeper impact among the participants and deliver a lasting impression for the cause and your organization.

Example: A Health Awareness marathon to raise awareness about cancer and the money raised through it will be directed towards the treatment of the identified children. Or

For Cancer Awareness, a Cancer Research Charity Photography event which highlights the Cancer patients’ journey punctuated by hope and despair.

While deciding upon the type of event you should also exhibit sensitiveness towards the cause. For instance if your event is for feeding the hungry and deprived children, do not organize a lavish gala dinner, instead plan a event where participants donate food which is then given to the needy.

  • Date and Venue: Choose a date that gives you enough time for making all the preparations and also ensures maximum participation in the event. Always keep a few tentative dates in your plan and finalize the date once you get a suitable place to organize the event.
  • Budgeting: Finances of the event should be carefully planned and budgeted. Budget should include the cost to be incurred in different heads of the event and the estimated earnings that will be used to cover the cost of event and also surpluses for cause. The team can also opt for opening separate bank account for the event. All financial work should be allocated to the finance and account team, who should maintain all records for audit and future references. 
  1. Preparations for the event: Once the planning is done you should start making arrangements for the event, which will include:
  • Team Formation: A successful event is backed by capable and well organized teams. Identifying key members of the organization and delegate responsibilities to them. Depending on the scale of the event you can form as many teams as you feel will be required. Most often the following teams can be made to  carry out the work;
  1. Core Management team: To decide on the cause, event and Goal. The team’s role is to have an overview of the event and create synergy and coordination among various teams. The team should essentially contain the senior members of the organization and if possible representative from different teams, this will help in creating synergy and ironing out conflicts.
  2. Event Planning Team: The event can be anything from a dinner, wine tasting, marathon, art exhibition, cultural event. There needs to be a team that is experienced in handling the event type. For Example if the event is marathon then they should be well versed with the topography, liaising with local authority and arranging refreshment stalls.
  3. Invitation Team: The purpose of this team is to identify, invite and host the audience. The team should be able to identify the correct set of audience which identify with the cause and assist with the goal. The team should also engage with the audience at the event and convey the impact that the event is creating. The team can also help create organizations brand among the audience and engage with them even after the event.
  4. Marketing Team: Marketing and branding the event is critical for its success. The message of the event should reach the largest possible audience in the most effective way. Selecting the message and the medium of it propagation should be the key responsibility of this team. The team can also double up as a sales team for the tickets, coupons, or other things that are being sold to raise money.
  • Target Audience: Now that the event is planned, the audience needs to be carefully chosen. The right audience can help the cause and the wrong one can render the event a failure. The audience or the invitee should be able to relate to the cause and find the event to their taste. It would be ill advised to invite people who do not identify with the cause or cannot contribute towards the Goal.

Example: A Dinner event hosted to raise funds for restoration of Church should focus on well to do Christian families as audience.

Example: Cleanup drive in a residential locality should have young individuals and students as participants of the same locality.

  • Marketing and Branding the event: Creating a positive media image through diligently prepared marketing communication is a determining factor in successful event management. The communication should be crisp and emphasize on the cause. It should be able t make an emotional connect with the target audience and motivate them to participate with enthusiasm in the event. The medium of propagation for the event should be carefully chosen. It should be able to reach the targeted audience effectively. This is one of the most important element for the event.

E.g. If the target audience is schools student then radio and pamphlets are effective mean to reach them.

E.g. For a Fine Art Exhibition the communication should be personalized invitation to the Target audience.

  • Taking necessary approvals from authorities: Take all necessary permissions from government authorities for organizing your event. If you plan to organize a marathon get the approvals from the police department and the transport department.
  • Logistics Arrangement: Get all the bookings (travel and accommodation) in advance.
  • Promotional material: All the promotional material should be printed and shared with your participants. Depending on the kind of event get necessary stationary, pencils, brochures, magazines etc. printed well in advance.
  • Sponsorship: Sponsorship is important so that all costs associated with the event can be covered. Your outreach officer can communicate and network with local corporations, schools, hospitals etc. to support your event in whatever way they can.
  • Standard Pitch: Prepare a standard pitch for the event. The pitch should convey to the audience the purpose of the event, the proposed impact and the beneficiaries. Share the pitch with the volunteers and staff members so that everyone within the organization is on the same page.
  1. Organizing the event: Now is the day for which you had been working for the last many months. You might be exhausted with all the preparations but now is not the time to rest. Remember to follow some tips to make the event a huge success:
  • Be energetic and enthusiastic: All your team members should be energetic on the day of the event. It is important that the event is made fun for the participants, which will be possible only when your team remains enthusiastic.
  • Greeting and welcoming the participants: Make sure that your team is present in the venue well before time. You and your team members should welcome the guests and introduce them about the event.
  • Identify a master of ceremonies/spokesperson: It is important for you to have a master of ceremonies, who will be responsible for welcoming the participants and setting the tone for the event. This should be followed by a brief presentation about the organization and the purpose of the event. Make sure that you choose a person who has great communication skills and can effectively convey the purpose of the event. It will be the responsibility of the spokesperson to keep the participants involved in the event.
  • Promotional material: Keep all the promotional material available on the day of the event. Place all the material on a table so that you can exhibit you reports, brochure and participants can understand your organizations mission and vision.
  • Network with people: Make sure that all the guests are well attended and they don’t feel left out. Network with people during the refreshments, lunch or other breaks.
  • After Event Communication: Once the event is successfully completed, an open line of communication should be kept with the audience. The more point of contact are created the better it is for the cause and the organization. The participants should be kept informed of the impact that their participation created and how much progress has been made on the cause. If budget permits souvenirs, memorabilia or newsletters should be shared with the participants. These small gestures help create a committed set of participants who not only participate repeatedly but also bring in more people who also empathize with the cause.

Just like other fund raising methods, you will have to customize the steps to suit your organization. By following the broad outline and steps in the guide you can successfully organize a special event that will help you in raising awareness and funds for your NGO.

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