Fundraising Event Planning: A Step-by-Step Guide to Success

Image source: Planning a fundraising event can be an exciting opportunity to raise funds for your organization. However, it can also be time-consuming and expensive if not properly executed. In this article, we will...

fundraising event planning checklist Image source:

Planning a fundraising event can be an exciting opportunity to raise funds for your organization. However, it can also be time-consuming and expensive if not properly executed. In this article, we will provide you with a comprehensive checklist to ensure that your fundraising event is a success.

Six Months Out (or More)

Define Purpose

Before diving into planning, it is crucial to define the purpose of your event. Is it solely for fundraising, or do you also aim to educate donors about your organization? While multiple goals are acceptable, having a clear primary purpose will help guide your planning process and keep you focused on the big picture.

Set Goals and Objectives

Determine specific goals and objectives for your fundraising event. How much money do you intend to raise? Will the funds be allocated to one area or multiple areas of your organization? Keep your fundraising goals in mind as you set your budget.


In larger organizations, an entire event planning department may exist, making the task more manageable. However, for the rest of us, it takes a team effort. Recruit a committee to oversee different aspects of the fundraiser, ensuring clear roles, objectives, and expectations.

Target Your Audience

Consider your target audience when determining who to invite or sell tickets to. Decide if your event will be family-friendly and tailor your theme, food, and activities accordingly. If you are inviting your donor portfolio, consider encouraging them to invite their friends as well.

Estimate Attendance

Based on your invitations and knowledge of your donor base, estimate the number of attendees. This estimate will help determine ticket pricing and the size of the venue you will need. If your event is annual, estimating attendance becomes easier.

Set a Budget

Outline a realistic budget and work within its parameters. If it is a first-time event, educated guessing may be necessary. Seek advice from similar organizations to get a sense of costs for venues, food, speakers, entertainment, and décor.

Set Cost Per Ticket

Determine the amount you wish to earn per ticket, which will help establish the price per ticket and the number of tickets you need to sell. Consider offering different ticket levels and entry points, such as a dinner ticket or a ticket for drinks and an after-party. You can also provide VIP tickets with special perks like valet parking and priority seating.

Find and Book a Venue

Once you have determined the size and scope of your event, search for a venue within your budget that aligns with the atmosphere you want to create. Booking well in advance is essential, especially if you plan an outdoor event that may require additional permits.

Communicate Details

Ensure that everyone involved in your organization is aware of the fundraiser. Add the event to your organization's calendar, and invite donors and notify the public in a timely manner.

Recruit Corporate Sponsorships

Consider partnering with corporate sponsors who can sponsor a table or underwrite part of the event. These partnerships will directly impact your budget and allow you to allocate more funds to other areas, such as food. Determine how you will recognize sponsors, whether through programs, stage recognition, or signage.

Select a Theme

Decide on the tone and theme of your fundraiser. Formal or casual? Themed or unthemed? Themed events can be fun but may require more planning and resources. In some cases, keeping it simple and maintaining consistency year after year can be more effective.

Determine Branding

Create a corresponding graphic or use your nonprofit's logo to promote the event. Ensure consistency with your branding while adding visual interest.

Book Any Security

Assess whether you will need security officers at your event and make arrangements accordingly within your budget.

Sign Vendors and Entertainment

Identify and book speakers, bands/DJs, entertainers, photographers/videographers, and caterers. Establish clear goals and expectations for the event and communicate them to the vendors. Sign any necessary contracts and pay deposits when required.

Event Planning

Fig. 1: Event Planning

Three Months Out

Plan Parking

Consider the parking arrangements for your event. Hire or recruit volunteer parking attendants, and provide attendees with a parking map beforehand. Valet parking can be an excellent option for formal events.

Don't Forget Facilities

Ensure that the venue's restroom facilities can accommodate the number of attendees. If needed, make arrangements for additional portable restrooms.

Create a Plan B

If your event is planned for an outdoor venue, have a backup plan in case of inclement weather. This could involve setting up a tent or securing an alternative indoor venue.

Order Flowers

If flowers will be part of your event, decide on the types of flowers and place an order. Opt for seasonal flowers to save costs, while greenery can be a budget-friendly alternative.

Plan the Menu

Finalize the event's menu with the caterer. If providing printed menus for tables, decide on the layout and font. Consider printing them now or setting a reminder to do so one month before the event.


Start advertising your event three to four months in advance to ensure it grabs people's attention. Promote the event through social media, email newsletters, and save-the-date invitations.

Set Up Online Registration

If possible, create an online registration system to streamline RSVPs and payments. Managing these aspects in one system will simplify the process.

Verify Attendees

Have a system in place to track attendance and payments. Decide whether to mail or email tickets and plan how to handle unexpected attendees on the night of the event.

Target Invites

Tailor your advertising efforts to target your specific audience. Different demographics require different approaches. Convince people that your event is worth their time and money.

Invite Major Donors

Personally invite your major donors to attend the event. Assign a staff member to call and extend invitations. Make them feel appreciated and valued.

Touch Base with Speaker/Entertainment

Stay in touch with the event's speaker or entertainment to ensure all expectations are clear and preparations are on track.

Schedule Volunteers

If necessary, recruit volunteers to assist with the event, both before and during the day. Provide them with name tags, shirts, and food as a gesture of appreciation.

One Month Out

Confirm Agenda

Finalize the event's agenda and timeline, ensuring that all key participants are aware of the schedule and expectations. Provide them with a point of contact for any questions or concerns.

Send Invitations

Mail formal invitations four to six weeks before the event, including an RSVP method with a deadline of two weeks prior. This will help you gauge attendance accurately.

Plan Ambient Music

Decide on background music if not being provided by a band or DJ.

Confirm Sponsorships

Verify all corporate and private sponsorships and inform sponsors how they will be recognized.

Volunteer Sign Up

Fig. 2: Volunteer Sign Up

Two Weeks Out

Organize Payments

Plan the payment methods for vendors, performers, photographers, and service staff.

Confirm RSVPs

Double-check attendance numbers with the venue and caterer to ensure that you have enough tables, chairs, and food. Expect some people not to show up while others may come without RSVPing.

Finalize Plans

Meet with your team lead or committee chairs to review and fine-tune each aspect of the event timeline. Fill in any gaps and ensure everyone is on the same page. Develop backup plans as necessary.

Plan Final Communications

Meet with the band, emcee, entertainment, and volunteers to provide them with maps and an updated event timeline.

Print Guest List and Name Tags

Confirm and print the guest list and prepare name tags. Have extra blank name tags available for last-minute guests.

Finalize Seating

If you plan to assign seating, confirm the table arrangement and seating chart.

Plan Clean-Up

Create a cleanup plan and communicate it to your team. Clarify the responsibilities of the venue and your team in terms of post-event clean-up.

The Day Before

Set Up

If possible, set up the venue the day before or early on the event day. Ensure that all signage, tables, and registration areas are in place.

Do a Practice Run

For large or complex events, consider doing a practice run to familiarize yourself with the layout and ensure everyone knows their roles.

Confirm All Details

Double-check all major and minor details, such as flower and décor deliveries, food orders, and speaker or entertainer travel arrangements.

Double Check Weather

Monitor the weather forecast and have a contingency plan in place for outdoor events. Provide umbrellas and additional parking attendants if needed.

Event Day

Finish Set-Up

Complete any remaining setup tasks that were not completed the day before.


Ensure that all staff, volunteers, and vendors have copies of the schedule, instructions, and contact phone numbers in case they need assistance.

Settle Up

Pay vendors promptly and express gratitude for their services.

Set Out Parking Signs

Place parking signs to guide guests to the designated parking areas. Block off any restricted areas to prevent unauthorized parking.

Complete a Volunteer Check

Connect with volunteers to ensure they have everything they need for a successful event. Provide them with any necessary instructions or updates.

Give a Warm Welcome

Greet guests with a warm smile and let them know you appreciate their presence. Make them feel valued and part of the event.

After the Event

Write Thank You Notes

Express gratitude to participants, sponsors, donors, and volunteers. A simple note or phone call can go a long way in showing appreciation for their time, energy, and contribution to the event's success. Remind them of how their support has made a difference.

Complete a Full Analysis

Analyze the event's costs, revenue, and time investment to determine the fundraising achievement. Assess whether the event met your goals and consider how to proceed with future similar events.

Remember, planning a fundraising event requires careful consideration, a well-executed plan, and a dedicated team. Stay focused on the bigger picture, monitor your time and expenses, and maximize your fundraising efforts.

Andrea Johnson, a native Texan living in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband and two daughters, is passionate about running, photography, and good chocolate.