12 fundraising tips for nonprofits

Reading Partners share their tips for successful fundraising

Tips for fundraising

If done well, charity events can be a great tool for nonprofit fundraising and building a positive reputation. If done poorly, events can be costly and time consuming. We asked Reading Partners, who host a variety of fundraising events in their local networks across the US, for some top tips on running successful fundraisers.

In the SF Bay Area, Reading Partners’ Novel Night event brought in nearly $200,000 in sponsorships, auction items, ticket sales, and event donations. The Colorado Road to Reading breakfast raised $80,000 to support Reading Partners’ programming. Here’s how they did it:

1. Establish what you are fundraising for

Make it clear what your mission is and what you are trying to accomplish together. A shared purpose and goal motivates people to take action. So don’t lose sight of your cause. Furthermore, establish a specific, achievable fundraising goal for the event. 

2. Engage your board from start to finish

Chances are if your board is invested in every stage of planning, your event will be of high caliber. Not only is this a unique and creative task for your board to take on, but they’ll also be your best resource for landing sponsorships, selling tickets, and engaging important partners.

3. Choose the right partners and vendors

The right partners can not only make your event extraordinary, but can also help you save money. Find trustworthy, familiar partners whose values align with your work. If a vendor is inspired by the work your organization does, then they might be willing to offer a discount, in-kind contributions, or go further by becoming a sponsor.  

4. Hand pick your guests

“A fun, engaging, meaningful event is a great way to introduce someone to your organization.” says Amanda Fisher, director of external relations for Reading Partners Baltimore

Having the right people in the room can really make or break an event. The best events are not only fun, meaningful, and engaging, but also great networking opportunities. Make sure to invite your core group of funders and sponsors, their friends, some special guests (including celebrities and local leaders), and other members of the community. 

Other tips: Comp some tickets for important people who who might not otherwise purchase a ticket. Form a host committee. They’ll help engage more new networks and fill tables. Speaking of filling tables, include tables as part of your sponsorship benefits. 

5. Establish the right setting and ambience 

To establish the right setting, consider the question, “What is the feeling you want your guests to have when they enter the room and when they leave.” 

Choose a venue and location that’s convenient and enjoyable for your attendees. If they mostly work downtown, then find a venue downtown. Choose the right time of day and length: Our Colorado team hosts a breakfast event, while our SF Bay Area team prefers evening.

6. Make it interactive and fun

Find opportunities to engage and delight your guests. Fun activities can double as a source of added revenue, think: wine toss, auction, book signing, raffle, polls, text to give, etc. Sometimes a fun theme can be enough to set the tone for a really lively evening. Reading Partners Sacramento hosts a Trivia Night and our team in Baltimore gathers runners for the Sole of the City 10K, an already popular community event.

7. Stay organized: Have a plan A, B, and C

It’s so important to get the basics right. The event should feel seamless with smooth check in, clear direction, simple seat assignments. Your guests should feel comfortable, not confused. Be organized and have lots of support staff to help out. If something goes wrong, don’t panic. Have a backup plan or ask the right person for help.

8. Invite compelling speakers

Fill your program with some special guests: hosts, MCs, celebrities, auctioneers, etc. who will make your event extra special. Not only can these folks liven up your event, but they’ll likely draw even more attendees. 

9. Tell your story

Tell your story at every stage: event program, signage, during the program, on swag, etc. Your story will pull at the heartstrings and explain why the work is important—this is a fundraiser after all.

10. Auction? Yes, please!

Auctions or raffles can add a bit more complexity to event planning, but can pay dividends by bringing in revenue during an event. Our New York team saved time and some resources by hosting a silent auction online, while our SF Bay team hired an auctioneer to create a little friendly competition in the room. With the right people and a great cause, a pile of cupcakes can go for over $1,000—yes, this really happens!

11. Invite the press and photograph everything

Publicity can build awareness for your event and also build brand recognition post-event. Invite the press, distribute a press releases, and publicise your event. Of course you’ll need great photos to feature in your publicity so be sure you have a trusted photographer for your event who knows what shots to get.

Also, don’t overlook social media. It can be a huge help to run locally targeted Facebook ads to increase awareness and sales.

12. Thank everyone

Have an attitude of gratitude. You don’t get many opportunities to join your network of key supporters in the same room at the same time. This is the perfect space to personally and publicly thank individuals and partners who invest in your cause. 

Michelle Collier, Development Director of Reading Partners SF Bay Area says, “We made sure that this was an opportunity to say thank you to people who really impact our organization. We approached our sponsors and long term volunteers with gratitude and recognition.”

  • Thank everyone as you mingle
  • Give special thanks to your sponsors, board, and support staff during the program
  • Have thank you signage for key sponsors
  • Give personal gifts for key supporters who made the event possible
  • Don’t forget anyone and don’t forget important names
  • Send personal thank yous (calls, emails, cards) and an e-blast thank you after the event

Huge thanks to Sarah Balcazar, National Marketing & Communications Manager, Reading Partners, for writing this article for Project Literacy. Find out more about Reading partners here.