Taking the Fear Out of Fundraising Events

 In Fundraising

Fundraising events can be daunting at their worst, or they can be an extremely successful vehicle for raising significant unrestricted dollars for your library—and much more. If you are implementing a comprehensive development plan, think of a special event as the icing on your fundraising cake!

What Can a Fundraising Event Do for Your Library?

Regardless of the money it raises, a fundraising event can be beneficial from a number of perspectives. It can:

  • create a new pool of donors for your library;
  • raise the visibility of your library and your library fundraising organization in the community;
  • engage volunteers and board members in planning a successful fundraising event;
  • offer prime opportunities for recruiting corporate sponsors; and
  • energize your library fundraising organization (Friends or foundation).


Types of Events—The Cooler the Better!

Until recently, the majority of library fundraising events were book sales, but libraries and library support organizations are rapidly becoming more creative in conducting fun, entertaining, and profitable special events. Some of the events being held across the country include:

  • lunches, galas, or multiple-day events featuring national and local authors;
  • trivia contests or scavenger hunts in the library;
  • themed events (e.g., mystery dinners) in the library;
  • silent and live auctions as part of an event;
  • golf tournaments;
  • crossword puzzle tournaments;
  • “women’s only” and “men’s only” events (e.g., a “Girls Night Out in the Library” or “Fantasy Football in the Library”); and
  • special events with music—energetic activities (and an open bar!) designed to attract young adults.

With a creative planning team, the possibilities for unique, fun, and profitable events are endless. The most important consideration is that the event is appealing to your target audience. Take some time to search online for unique library fundraising events. You will quickly see that great, successful events are being hosted across the country by libraries large and small.

The Challenges

There is no question about it; there are pros and cons to conducting a fundraising event. Before you decide to jump into an event, take these issues into consideration:

  • Fundraising events may not make a lot of money, especially at first. Most organizations plan to lose a small amount of money, or break even, with their first event.
  • Fundraising events need dedicated volunteers to be successful. Conducting a fundraising event should not rest on the shoulders of library staff.
  • A fundraising event can draw money away from other fundraising efforts such as annual campaigns but, planned well, the event should actually enhance your fundraising efforts.
  • There can be uncontrollable risks involved in hosting a fundraising event—from bad weather to a special guest who gets delayed. Good planning from the start is critical to address the “What ifs?”

Ten Tips for Success

Really successful fundraising events come from following simple guidelines that are tried and true. Consider these ten tips when you decide you want to plan your event. (Let’s make that eleven!)

  1. Start out with a great concept! No one wants to attend an event that is ho-hum, even if it’s for a good cause. Create an event that is classy, fun, and distinctive.
  1. Plan, plan, plan. Every aspect of your event—from concept to celebrating success, should be driven by a detailed written plan complete with a timeline and assigned responsibilities. (Note: If you’re not using it already, Basecamp is a great tool for event planning.)
  1. Check your community calendar for competing events or special holidays to make sure that your event is on a date when your target audience will be available.
  1. Establish an event budget. Remember it takes money to make money. Set a financial goal and project expenses related to the event.
  1. Recruit a planning committee that is willing to think outside the box. Define the committee’s roles and responsibilities. Enlist a committee chair who is well-connected to the community.
  1. Create a committee culture of ownership, creativity, and fun. This will ensure that your members are committed and will do all they can to promote your event, including inviting their friends and family!
  1. Consider hiring an event coordinator. If you are planning on hosting a big event, the cost of hiring a coordinator can be a priceless investment. Event planners are experienced at keeping events on track and avoiding pitfalls.
  1. Brand your event. Give your event a catchy name, and create a logo that will be distinctive and memorable. Be consistent in using your event’s name and logo in all print materials.
  1. Recruit corporate sponsors. This is a great way to defray the cost of your event. Businesses (large and small) like to be associated with popular events—and a media sponsor is a terrific partnership! It is a great way for a business to get their name out in the community and corporate sponsorships can often come out of marketing budgets.
  1. Publicize your event in more ways than one. In today’s communication-crazy world, you have to compete with messages and information coming from every direction. Use your website, social media, print media, and direct mail to get the word out about your event. A must-have, if you can make it happen, is a media sponsor who can give great visibility to your event. Create a marketing plan that includes as many ways as possible to get your event on people’s calendars.
  1. Bonus Tip! Give your event three years to be really successful. It takes time for an event to gather a following and become a “must do” activity. If you have a solid event concept and give up after the first year, you have not given it enough time to build a base of support and loyalty. This requires a real commitment—but it is one that is worth making.

Planning Your Event

The best way to ensure that a fundraising event is successful is to pay attention to every detail. Planning a special event should begin six to twelve months prior to the date, depending on the size and complexity of the event. Your first task is to recruit a planning committee that will handle everything from recruiting corporate sponsors to managing event logistics:

  • Establish a planning committee schedule of meetings and make sure that all committee members have the meeting calendar. Create agendas for each meeting and send them to each committee member with meeting reminders a week in advance of each meeting.
  • Identify all the major tasks that you will need to accomplish to make your event a success.
  • Create a detailed work plan with tasks, timelines, and responsibilities. Make sure that everyone knows their assignments. The work plan should also include a countdown for the final week before your event since that is when all the details come together.
  • Track event sponsors and guests. Create a database that includes critical information including response to corporate solicitation, invoices sent, invitation replies, acknowledgements/thank-you letters sent, and so forth.
  • Hold a post-event session with your planning committee. Your final task should be a wrap-up and a celebration. It should also provide an opportunity for debriefing the event. Ask and answer key questions such as: How did the event go from a “big picture” perspective? What worked really well? Were there glitches and how could they have been avoided? Were there complaints or criticisms from corporate sponsors or guests (make sure to address any issues personally and in a timely fashion)? How can we do anything different next year to make our event even more successful? Make sure someone notes all of the debriefing comments and files them for next year’s event planning!

The Final Word

There are so many community events being held that it is essential to make your event a truly special one. Avoid these common mistakes and you’re well on your way.

  • A ho-hum event with no cache, class or pizzazz
  • Insufficient resources (volunteers, staff, budget, and partners)
  • No one in charge
  • Lack of attention to details
  • Failure to have a good time

If your fundraising event is creative, well-planned, and has a special feel to it, it is destined to be successful year after year. Think big and bold and have a good time making it happen!

Read about The Friends annual fundraising event Opus and Olives.

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