Being a nonprofit event planner requires you to wear different hats. There won’t be a single job description that perfectly encapsulates what you do for a nonprofit organization. You can be crafting an elevator pitch about an initiative one minute and planning the nitty gritty of an upcoming fundraiser the next. But no matter how stressful it may seem, being a nonprofit event planner is a pretty rewarding job.
As most charity or nonprofit organizations plan their events in-house, there’s usually one point-person in charge—the intermediary of staff, vendors, budgets and schedules. This is why numerous organizations are currently hiring for this role.
If you’re interested in nonprofit event planning and organizing charity events and fundraisers, keep reading. We break down for you what’s expected from the role, and we’ll give you a few ideas for the nonprofit events you may need to plan in the near future.
How do you plan a nonprofit event?
Putting together meaningful events requires careful planning. An event that is hastily thrown together seldom becomes successful. At worst, such events could damage your organization’s authority on a topic or issue.
Below, we outline the things that you need to consider carefully, so you can execute everything as efficiently as possible.
Identify your organization's goal
Your nonprofit organization’s goal must be at the forefront of your mind when putting together any event. Determine why you need to host the event in the first place. If you’re raising funds, you need to determine how much you need to make. That goal will help you plan the rest of the fundraising event.
If you’re trying to attract new donors or educate members of your organization about a new project, you need to prepare well-designed, informative materials. In a nutshell, the purpose of an event will determine its flow and overall experience. It is the starting point for organizing staff and resources.
Figure out the type of event
As a nonprofit event planner, you will plan different types of events. Fundraising galas, networking events, summits and annual conferences are some that might readily come to mind. They are also the event types that have been able to move in the virtual space.
As vaccinations roll out and the pandemic clears, virtual events will still have a place. In fact, they may increase. Many nonprofit planners are incorporating more virtual events into their marketing plans. They are more budget-friendly than in-person events. They are also a means of ongoing engagement with audiences and donors.
And where nonprofits are doing in-person events, they’re often augmenting them with a virtual component. Hybrid events like these require special attention to the two distinct audiences—the virtual and the present. But when done right, they can multiply an event’s reach thanks to digital promotion and access.
Indeed, technology has changed the way we look at types of events. Do they need to be annual, or broken out into multiple segments throughout the year? Or both? Once you’ve determined the strategy and purpose of your events, it will be easier to decide their format.
What sets this event apart from others?
Nonprofit event coordinators typically plan more than one event a year. They face two core challenges in this process: First, their event has to stand out from those of other organizations. This is especially true if they compete for donors with those organizations. Second, the event needs to stand out from the other events an organization has hosted.
Put yourself in your guests’ shoes. Some large donors, for example, expect to give on an annual basis. This aligns with their cultural year-end giving mentality. It’s also convenient for claiming deductions on taxes. You want to be careful and nurture these relationships. Meet them where they’re at, so to speak. Considering these factors, you might want to keep the gala an annual occurrence. Heaven forbid you cause donor fatigue with too many events!
Meanwhile, your trusted volunteers, supporters, activists and new prospects may gain a greater sense of community and belonging from a monthly webinar series. That’s just one example. Advocacy groups around the country engage in regular online workshops to train and mobilize their constituents.
Map out your audience, if you haven’t already. Which segments need more vs. less? Look at how competitors or role models in your field are distinguishing themselves in the virtual event space. If you’ve addressed the last three sentences, you’re well on your way to knowing—and not guessing—how to set your organization’s narrative apart, virtually.
Nonprofit event planning inspiration
The best nonprofit events inspire support and make an emotional impact on the guests. Below, we put together some event ideas that can get you started in your event planning.
Live Auctions – This is one of the most popular ways to raise funds for a cause. To make auctions work for you and your organization, you need to figure out what items will be appreciated by this particular crowd.
Fun Runs – Fun races are surefire ways to raise funds while also encouraging your guests to lead a healthy lifestyle. You can also add a fun element, like wearing costumes or maybe running at night with fun lights. If in-person races are not possible in your area, you may want to consider a virtual run.
Themed Dinner/Lunch/Brunch – Increase the fun factor by informing your guests to come in costumes in response to a theme. If in-person gatherings are not possible in your area, you can still make this work virtually. Simply have the food delivered to your guests before your virtual event.
Virtual fundraisers can be as explicitly promoted as such (as some year-end galas are), or they can be woven into any of the tactics in the section above. The point is that there are a range of options. Choose wisely from that salad bar #donorfatigue
With plan in place, you’ll find you can communicate your message through online platforms with a dose of creativity. The AFL-CIO, for example, produced (with the help of someone we know) a full-length, labor-lyricized lip synced video on day 2 of its virtual event last January. And just like in-person events, the most effective virtual fundraisers require thorough planning, collaboration, and ample financial support.
The event logistics for virtual fundraisers will be different. You might need to consult with a virtual event company. Instead of worrying about an event venue, you will need to redirect your creativity towards crafting a virtual venue. This includes mainstage design, branding and any elements that contribute to look and feel.
Just like a traditional event, virtual fundraisers still require a goal that’s specific, realistic, and measurable. Your event’s goal will be an important factor in crafting the overall design of your virtual fundraiser. For example, if you’re aiming for a huge amount, you need to plan and implement a virtual event that can accommodate many donors or perhaps charge a higher ticket price.
What qualifications do you need to be a nonprofit event planner?
As discussed in the beginning of this article, fundraising event planners need to wear many hats. So, one important qualification would be resourcefulness. Despite how the event is funded, most nonprofit event planners need to go an extra mile to reduce or supplement their event budget. You can expect to negotiate sponsorship, deals, donations, and even gifts in kind. You will also be negotiating with artists, performers, and event suppliers to keep their service fees low or even offer them for a cause. This naturally adds additional pressure to the job—something that event planners for corporate events or commercial events may not have to deal with.
In line with resourcefulness is frugality. This is perhaps the most important characteristic of someone who works in the nonprofit space. From a planning perspective, nonprofit event planners need to perform their role while spending the least amount of money possible. Commercial event planners at large brands get to work with huge budgets to make high-profile events happen. Nonprofits, on the other hand, are sometimes faced with events that cover costs and not much more.
Furthermore, you will need to perform extra administrative duties, like scheduling committee meetings, preparing meeting minutes, ensuring that each member does their share of the workload, drafting letters, following up on raffle or auction prizes, following up ticket sales, strategizing how to get more ticket sales, arranging the seating plan, making regular phone calls or emails to motivate committee members, and preparing and sending out post-event thank you letters, among others.