"Special events are demonstrably the least efficient way to raise money, " cautions P. Burke Keegan, author of Fundraising for Non-Profits. A fundraiser takes weeks or months and an army of volunteers to plan. Overhead expenses may haemorrhage the modest event-planning fund. However, with judicious solicitation of sponsors and enthusiastic planning, a fundraising event raises community awareness, wins new converts to the cause and generates revenue in spite of itself. Set brutally honest goals, but remember to have fun. A special fundraiser is, after all, special.
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Assess the strengths and availability of key volunteers. If the core group does not have the time to spearhead a large community event, plan something less ambitious.
Choose the format for your fundraiser. Black tie events and auctions attract community celebrities and deep pockets, but carry a large overhead. Street parties or fairs feature attractions for all ages. Attendees can spend a lot or a little. Choose a street party if the group boasts an army or volunteers or other groups willingly join forces. Bake sales require minimal start-up expense, but generate less media attention.
Name potential guests. An expo or fair setting is viable when you can name 25 per cent of your guest list. Choose a black tie or high-end event when you can jot down at least half of the names on your guest list from the ranks of regular boosters and friends.
Set a date. A lead time of nine months to one year suits a formal affair. For bake sales and smaller scale events, give volunteers six to 12 weeks to plan.
Goal plan. Make a list of deadlines for rental commitments, letter mailing and other tasks that help the event take form. Assign critical decision-making tasks to core volunteers and recognise where additional help is required.
Recruit additional volunteers. Once the event's framework is set, enlist help. Divide jobs into those that require either short- and long-term commitments. Remember to sign up volunteers for the day of the event. You need traffic directors, registration table volunteers and more.
Find sponsors. Solicit reliable donors to underwrite event expenses, such as food, security detail or hall rental. Mention sponsors in advertising campaigns, within programs or on event T-shirts. Use in-kind donations such as bottled water, tent or chair usage to further offset costs.
Contact the media. Local papers often offer complimentary calendar listings for local and charity events. Send press releases to newspapers, columnists and radio stations. Do not neglect to mention the event to those who come in contact with many people. Chat up the president of your homeowner's association, and mention it to your pastor, hairdresser and favourite server. Canvass community notice boards. For a street fair, introduce yourself to owners and staff of surrounding businesses.
Sell tickets and solidify commitments. Visit your most loyal supporters to take reservations. Ask the police chief or school principal how many plates of brownies you can expect them to place on the bake sale table.
Thank volunteers. Prior to the event, choose and plan a form of post-event recognition aside from a verbal "thank-you." While some appreciate awards or certificates, one of the most important ways to show respect and gratitude, according to Jeanne H. Bradner, author of Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today, is to "let the volunteers know about the outcomes from the program." A pizza and soda afterglow or a picnic provides opportunities for both communication and recognition.
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