🚀 The Event Playbook: Proven strategies to level up your next event!

🚀 The Event Playbook:
Proven strategies to level up your next event!

Event planning for nonprofit organizations.

Event Planning for Nonprofit Organizations: A Primer

Plan engaging, mission-advancing nonprofit events—from imaginative themes to meticulous budgets to smooth execution—with this comprehensive primer guiding you through best practices for awareness-raising, fundraising success.

Event planning is a crucial activity for nonprofit organizations to generate awareness, raise funds, and fulfill their mission.

As a nonprofit event planner, careful coordination and creativity are required to create engaging events that successfully bring people together around your cause.

This guide will explore best practices and considerations for nonprofit event planning to help your organization effectively plan and execute events successfully.

Events help nonprofits raise money, spread awareness, and bring people together to support their cause. 

With some creativity and smart planning, nonprofits can put on fundraisers, community events, and other happenings that excite people about their mission.

This article will walk through top tips for nonprofits to plan awesome events. We’ll cover things like:

  • Setting goals for what you want your event to achieve
  • Brainstorming fun event theme ideas that fit your nonprofit’s focus
  • Building budgets that track costs and fundraising dollars
  • Recruiting eager volunteers to help out
  • Promoting on social media and other channels so people attend
  • Following up to thank everyone involved after it’s over

Planning takes work, but it’s worth it. Events let nonprofits make meaningful connections in the community.

People who attend learn more about the organization. And funds raised at the event help the nonprofit keep helping others all year round!

Let’s jump in to start planning your next crowd-pleasing nonprofit event.

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Set Clear Nonprofit Event Goals and Objectives

Setting clear nonprofit event goals and objectives is the key first step to hosting a successful event.

As an event planner, clearly defining your goals at the start guides decision-making throughout the planning process and sets you up to accurately measure the success of your event after it’s over.

Types of Nonprofit Event Goals

There are a few common types of goals that nonprofit events aim to achieve:

Fundraising Goals

  • Generate donation revenue through tickets sales, auctions, donation appeals during the event, etc. Set specific financial goals for the total amount you want to raise.
  • Increase membership sign-ups. Offer discounted memberships as part of registration.

Awareness Goals

  • Increase visibility for your cause and work. Drive more website traffic, social media followers and shares.
  • Secure media coverage before, during and after the event.

Community Goals

  • Foster a stronger community around your mission by bringing supporters together face-to-face.
  • Strengthen existing relationships and establish new contacts.

Education Goals

  • Inform and inspire attendees to take action in support of your cause.
  • Share knowledge through speakers and multimedia to motivate change.

While it's fine for a single event to have multiple goals, try to limit yourself to only 1-3 primary goals to maintain focus in your planning.The other goals can still be secondary targets.

S.M.A.R.T. Objectives Framework

With your high-level goals defined, the next step is to set S.M.A.R.T. objectives for each one:

  • Specific and clearly written out
  • Measurable with quantifiable metrics
  • Achievable within your resources and budget
  • Relevant to your stated goals
  • Time-bound with deadlines

Here are some examples of S.M.A.R.T. objectives you could set for the goals mentioned earlier:

  • Raise $10,000 in donations by December 31 (end of year-end campaign)
  • Gain 500 new social media followers across channels one month post-event
  • Recruit 10 new regular volunteers to join the organization from event outreach

Be sure to establish success metrics early on for objectives related to fundraising, awareness, engagement and education so you can track them throughout planning.

This will allow you to gauge progress and make any necessary adjustments to hit your targets.

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Event Format Considerations and Creative Ideas

Event formats and creative ideas are important considerations when planning a nonprofit event.

The goal is to choose options that align with your audience, resources, venues, partners, and metrics for success.

Event Format Factors

When deciding on an event format, think about factors like:

  • Your Target Audience – What are their demographics, preferences, values? Understanding your attendees will allow you to cater the event properly.
  • Existing Events – Research what related events already exist. This competitive analysis will help you differentiate.
  • Internal Resources – How much staff time do you have? What skills and volunteers are available? Match formats to capabilities.
  • Venues – What venues match your capacity needs, amenities, and budget? Site logistics impact options.
  • Partners – Are their sponsorship or vendor opportunities? Partners can provide funding and activities.

Creative Nonprofit Event Ideas

Below are some creative ideas to inspire you:

Popular Formats:

  • Gala Dinners – Elegant seated meals with programs. Often include auctions, keynote talks, awards, and entertainment.
  • 5K Runs/Walks – Athletic participation events with good sponsorship opportunities from health-related brands. Encourage camaraderie.
  • Auctions – Leverage exclusive, VIP packages and experiences for fundraising potential. Reveal through paddles or mobile bidding.
  • Guest Lectures – Thought leaders, celebrities or subject experts speak about relevant issues. Good for awareness and engagement.
  • Movie Screenings – Partner for a percent of proceeds. Entertaining option that attracts families. Add theme trivia and concession stands.

Creative Twists:

  • Carnivals – Family-friendly format with fun atmosphere. Have nonprofit booths alongside games, rides, food and music. Flexible for awareness activities.
  • Masquerade Ball – Increase mystique and elegance for arts nonprofits with costumes, decorative masks, and a speakeasy vibe. Host near Halloween for added intrigue.
  • Battle of the Bands – Showcase local music talent while engaging youth audiences. Have artists promote on social media for further traction. Charge admission or build in voting donations.
  • Pet Adoption Day – Partner an animal shelter for life-saving adoption events. Have family friendly activities, doggie meetups. Tugs at heartstrings.
  • Camp Out Fundraiser – Outdoor activities like camping, hiking, stargazing promote environmental causes. Fun for advocates; sponsorship potential.
  • Pop-Up Shops – Sell mission-branded gear like shirts, mugs or fair trade accessory items. Low overhead to raise awareness.
  • House Parties – Intimate “friendraiser” gatherings grouped by neighborhood. Storytelling by impacted people packs emotional punch. Low-cost to execute.
  • Comedy Show Fundraiser – Host a night of comedy with local comedians. Entertainment draws new faces. Upsell VIP seating or virtual attendance.
  • Fitness-a-Thon – Spinning, yoga, Zumba. Participants get sponsors for charity fitness activities of their choice. Engages exercise community.

Get creative by fusing mission-aligned elements into standard formats.

  • For example, an environmental nonprofit could host an Earth Day festival filled with eco-activities and education.
  • Or a health nonprofit may hold a wellness fair with yoga, cooking demos, etc.

The key is finding creative ways to experiment while still serving your mission and audience.

Think outside the box about what will resonate and attract your target attendees.

Easy starting packages • Advanced options • Proven results

Building a Realistic Nonprofit Event Budget

With a format selected, building a budget is critical for successful nonprofit event planning. Carefully track all potential expenses and fundraising to cover costs.

Typical Nonprofit Event Expenses

Expenses vary greatly by event scale and components, but can include:

  • Venue – Space rental fees and minimum spends
  • Catering – Food, drink, servers, and rentals
  • Entertainment – Speakers, musicians, hosts, etc.
  • Staffing – Temp event coordinators and labor
  • Marketing – Graphics, printed materials, advertising
  • Rentals – Furniture, linens, glassware, etc.
  • Decor – Floral, lighting, draping backdrops
  • A/V – Sound, lighting, video, live streaming
  • Supplies – Signage, name badges, giveaways

Track every detail and build in contingencies for unexpected overages.

Revenue Streams

Factor fundraising potential into your budget across streams like:

  • Tickets – Model sales scenarios with tiered pricing
  • Sponsors – Secure cash and in-kind donations
  • Auctions – Value exclusive experiential packages
  • Appeals – Share key stats and stories to inspire
  • Grants – Research relevant event funding sources

Managing the Budget

Use spreadsheets to continuously update your budget as new details emerge during planning.

Track income goals versus actuals and adjust expenses to avoid surprises.

Maintain budget discipline across your event committee.

Get approvals for any modifications to protect the bottom line success.

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Recruiting and Managing Nonprofit Event Volunteers

Volunteers are vital for executing smooth nonprofit events while controlling costs.

Their enthusiasm and support further strengthens the positive impact of your event when you manage them effectively.

Volunteer Needs

First, identify the key volunteer roles needed, like:

  • Set up/tear down crew – Prep venues before and after event
  • Registration & check-in – Greet and process attendee arrivals
  • Greeters & ushers – Welcome and direct people onsite
  • Auction/appeal assistants – Facilitate giving interactions
  • Photographers/videographers – Document event happenings
  • Activity leaders – Lead sessions like yoga, face painting
  • Floaters – Fill gaps and assist where needed

Then, determine the number of volunteers per role required to ensure ample coverage based on expected attendee volumes and the size of your venues.

Recruiting Volunteers

Recruit volunteers by tapping free channels, including:

  • Your existing contacts database
  • Social media campaigns – Event pages and posts
  • Website and email newsletters
  • Printed flyers posted around the community
  • Online nonprofit volunteer boards

Share exciting event specifics and expected impact stories to inspire volunteer sign ups.

Handle applications through online forms to easily track confirmation responses.

Managing Volunteers

To reduce event day chaos, focus on thorough planning and communication with volunteers:

  • Designate captain roles and a point person for questions. Makes leadership clear.
  • Share detailed timelines, venue maps, role checklists ahead of time. Allows preparation.
  • Schedule a walk-through and Q&A session the week before. Resolve confusion.
  • Have a dedicated check-in area with signage and t-shirts indicating volunteer roles. Supports organization.
  • Capture photos and video testimonials throughout the event for future volunteer recruitment and appreciation.

Additionally, create systems that make it simple for volunteers to check-in, understand assignments, know schedules and venues, and get questions answered.

Enable self-sufficiency through shared documentation.

Providing robust communication and executing organized, intentional coordination will help your volunteers thrive in their roles.

They will have positive experiences supporting your important mission and wish to participate again in future events.

Take the time upfront to strategically assess needs, recruit purposefully, outline details, clarify expectations, and empower volunteers through each phase.

This leads to seamless execution where volunteers perform impactfully as nonprofit event partners.

Showing gratitude after continues positive momentum for sustaining community involvement over the long-term too.

Effective Nonprofit Event Promotion and Marketing

Promoting your nonprofit’s event effectively is crucial to drive high attendance and fundraising potential.

Develop a multi-channel outreach strategy with clear calls-to-action tailored to each platform and target audience.

Promotion Channels

When creating your promotion plan, consider online and offline channels like:

  1. Your Website. Dedicate an event page with all the key details, schedules, sponsorship information, and registration flows to convert interest.
  2. Email Newsletters. Send a series of emails to your list leading up to the event, from the initial save the date through follow up recaps after.
  3. Social Media. Do countdown posts and Instagram takeovers showing behind-the-scenes planning updates to build community excitement.
  4. Press Releases. Share notable event specifics, special guests, and impact goals with media outlets for potential coverage.
  5. Print Materials. Post eye-catching posters, signage, direct mail pieces with context.
  6. Radio Spots. Short 30-60 second recordings on local stations can be surprisingly affordable to reach broader audiences.
  7. Local Listings. Get included in community event calendars and sections so residents can discover your event.
  8. Paid Ads. Consider boosted social media posts, pay-per-click ads, retargeting ads to customize event outreach to those most likely to attend.
  9. Influencers. Activate activists and community leaders to share event details with their own engaged followings for further reach.
  10. Hashtags. Drive discovery of and social conversations around your event via relevant hashtags.

Mix and match the relevant promotion channels and messaging tailored to each unique audience.

Always lead with your calls-to-action for easy next steps to learn more, register, donate, volunteer, sponsor, etc.
And importantly, closely track interest and engagement across channels over time to see what resonates best.Then you can refine and double down on those high-performing platforms in the final weeks before your nonprofit event to maximize turnout.

Stay organized with a full promotions calendar detailing all activities, assets needed, costs, and owners.

Schedule email deployment, social media content creation and posting, ad placement, and more over time leading up to event date for optimal impact.

Thoughtful sequencing and integration across online and offline mediums, tailored to target groups, will craft compelling awareness and effectively promote your nonprofit’s important event.

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Event Follow Up and Stewardship

The nonprofit event doesn’t end once the decorations come down.

Thoughtful follow up is essential for event planners to steward relationships cultivated with attendees, volunteers, vendors and sponsors.

Measurement and Analysis

Start your post-event process by compiling metrics on how your predefined goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) were met.

Survey attendees, volunteers, and your internal event team to gather qualitative feedback on what aspects went smoothly and areas needing fine-tuning at future events.

Review vendor invoices and expenditure documentation to tally final expenses versus original budgets allocated.

Follow Up Communications

Analyze the amalgamated data to reveal clear event successes, shortcomings, budget overages or unexpected cost savings.

Identify key takeaways to inform improvements for future iterations based on the constructive post-event review.

And share high-level analysis with important organizational stakeholders for transparency.

Stewardship and Relationship Building

Within the first 1-2 weeks following the event, prioritize sending prompt personalized thank you notes and emails recognizing the efforts of core partners – namely volunteers, vendors, sponsors, special guests and speakers.

Include photographic highlights capturing them in action when possible.

For general event attendees, craft and distribute a dedicated email recap covering key event metrics and outcomes.

Remind them of how funds raised advance your nonprofit mission.

And present easy next steps for further engagement like donating, volunteering, or advocating as meaningful ways to stay involved after the event spotlight fades.

Final Thoughts

Planning events for nonprofits takes a lot of work.

But it’s important if you want to raise money, spread the word about your cause, and get people excited to help out.

First, be super clear on what you want to achieve with your event.

  • Do you want to make more donations?
  • Get more volunteers?
  • Or just let more people know about your nonprofit?

Pick 1 or 2 big goals to focus on. Then, get creative with fun event ideas!

Do a carnival, dinner party, concert, sports tournament – anything that will pump people up about your mission.

The event should match what your nonprofit does. Make sure to plan your budgets carefully too.

Track every penny that will get spent and raised. Get donations from companies to help keep costs low.

You might need to adjust along the way to hit your fundraising goals.

Recruit excited volunteers to help put on the big event.

Give them checklists and have leaders so everyone knows what to do. Saying “thanks” afterwards is super important too to keep them happy!

Lastly, tell everyone about your awesome event on social media, emails, posters, everywhere!

After it’s over, share photos and numbers on how it went.

Use what you learn to make your next event even better!

With some hard work, your fun nonprofit events will totally rock and make a difference!

Bring Your Nonprofit Event Visions to Life

If you have big ideas for your next must-attend nonprofit event but aren’t sure how to pull them off, we should talk.

For over 20 years, our team has specialized in seamlessly organizing creative and meaningful events that spark lasting community connections while smashing fundraising goals.

We know the obstacles nonprofits face and have proven solutions.

Book a free strategy session to brainstorm inventive formats tailored to your audience and objectives.

With clear goals, smart strategies and our full-service event production guiding the planning, your visions will come alive into memorable events driving awareness and funding your vital mission.

Let’s connect to make your upcoming event dreams a reality!

We & Goliath

We & Goliath is an award-winning, top 100 worldwide event agency known for increasing conference attendance by 7X and profits by 3X through beautifully designed virtual, hybrid, and in-person events. Since 1999, their team of innovative strategists and creative designers has worked with global enterprises, SMBs, non-profits, and other organizations to engage audiences and exceed expectations.

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