The Ultimate Nonprofit Event Planning Checklist

An event planning checklist can help streamline your next event's planning process and execution. Read on for a timeline and nine steps for event success.

Fundraising events are an excellent opportunity to secure gifts for your nonprofit's mission while creating a memorable experience for your donors. They’re also a chance to spread awareness about your cause to new audiences and take time to personally connect with your supporters.Strong donor retention is the result of holistic donor relationships. To foster meaningful connections with your supporters, it’s important to offer a variety of ways they can be involved with your nonprofit. However, between securing an event space, marketing the event, and shepherding attendees through your activities, nonprofit event planning can feel overwhelming at times. Having an event planning checklist ready can help streamline your campaigns. It will remind you of key steps in the planning process and seamlessly move you from your initial idea for an event through its successful execution. Below, we’ll cover the timeline you’ll need for nonprofit event planning, as well as nine steps to get your checklist started.

How Much Time Do You Need to Plan a Nonprofit Event?

The amount of time you’ll need to plan a nonprofit fundraising event will depend on your event type. Big events like formal galas or 5K charity runs typically require 6 to 12 months to plan. This allows for enough time to finalize sponsors, secure permits, and sell enough tickets. Smaller events like happy hours or volunteer days require less time to plan, typically around 1 to 3 months. 

Your past planning experience will also impact your event planning timeline. If this is your first time planning an event, you’ll need more time for making connections with potential sponsors, securing event space, and learning as you go. On the other hand, if you’ve planned the same event for the past ten years, you can likely speed the process up given established relationships you’ve formed with local businesses, caterers, and other event partners.

Overall, it’s best to lean toward more time than less when planning a nonprofit event. This will lower your team’s stress level, as you won’t be scrambling at the last minute to finalize details. It also allows for wiggle room in your timeline should something not go as planned.

9 Steps to Follow for Each Nonprofit Event

The steps you take to plan a nonprofit fundraising event will vary slightly depending on your event type. You can use the checklist below as a guide to get started and make sure you’re not missing any key tasks.

1. Set Your Event Goals and Budget

Before diving into the details of your event, start with a clear vision of what you want your event to accomplish. Having event goals and a budget from the start of your planning process will help with making decisions further down the line.

Gather your event planning team and answer the following questions:

  • How much do we want to fundraise during this event?
  • How many new donors do we want to recruit from the event?
  • Does our event have other goals in addition to fundraising, such as cause awareness or volunteer recruitment?
  • What is our target audience for this event? Do we want to cater to major donors, grassroots givers, or mid-level supporters?
  • Is there a particular project or initiative our nonprofit wants to promote during this event?
  • How many event attendees do we want to join?
  • What is our total budget for the event (remember costs for venue, catering, decorations, rentals, food and beverage, entertainment, and staff time)? What portion of these costs do we anticipate having donated or otherwise covered via sponsorships?

2. Map Out Your Event Details

Once you have a clear picture of your event goals, you can begin to map out your event details. This involves fun aspects like thinking about decorations or entertainment. But it also requires thinking through some of the more administrative details, like processing payments and identifying city codes you may need to follow.

As your team begins to map out the details for your event, answer the following questions:

  • What type of event do we want to host (e.g., gala, fun run, spaghetti feed, mixer)?
  • Does our event have a theme (e.g., roaring twenties, under the sea, flower festival)? 
  • Will we need to provide food for our event? How much? Who can we partner with to provide this?
  • Do we need an event space? How big? Do we know someone willing to donate space?
  • How do we want to decorate for our event? Do we want to create any special branding or a logo for the event?
  • What is parking and transportation going to be like at our event?
  • What is our event agenda? Do we need any speakers or entertainers? 
  • What date and time will our event be?
  • How will we accept payments at our event? 
  • What ways will event attendees be able to donate toward our cause (e.g., registration fees, peer-to-peer fundraising, silent auction)?

3. Plan Ahead for Your Data Capture Needs

Planning ahead for your data capture needs will make your life easier as your event gets closer. List out the kinds of data that will be helpful before, during, and after your event.

Before Your Event: You’ll want to know some basics about your attendees, such as their past involvement with your nonprofit, current giving level, and specific interests. These data will help your staff properly steward them during the event. For example, if a major donor is attending your event, you may want to have a designated gift officer ready to check-in with them throughout the experience to ensure they’re having a great time.

During Your Event: You’ll want to collect contact information for any new donors so you can follow-up with them afterwards. You’ll also want to take notes about any attendees who request additional information about upcoming volunteer opportunities or new initiatives you’re spearheading. You can use Instil’s mobile-friendly platform to collect data on-the-go at your event.

After Your Event: You’ll want to be able to pull reports on how much you raised, which event activities were most popular with attendees, and how many new donors you recruited. You’ll also want to be prepared to send any post-event surveys to gather additional information on attendees’ experiences.

4. Secure Event Sponsors and In-Kind Donations

Securing event sponsors and in-kind donations can keep your event costs low, allowing you to fundraise as much as possible. For example, you may want to ask local hotels and other venues if they’ll donate space for your event. You can ask grocery stores, bakeries, restaurants, and catering services if they’d be willing to donate food or beverages. A screen printing company may be willing to donate special t-shirts, signage, or other swag for your event.

Event sponsors can also help drive donations from attendees if you’re able to offer a matching fund for any gifts made throughout the event. For example, a local credit union may be willing to match all event donations dollar-for-dollar up to a certain amount (e.g., $10,000). Attendees may be more willing to give if they know their gift will have double the impact during the event.

As you work to secure sponsorships and in-kind donations, follow these steps:

  • For each line item in your budget, list businesses to reach out to ask for in-kind support
  • Create a separate list of potential sponsors for a matching gift or general funds
  • Assign each member of your event planning team a set of potential sponsors to contact
  • Check in weekly on your team’s progress

5. Set Custom Ticket Levels

Custom ticket levels let donors give and participate in your event in a way that works best for them. For each ticket level, you can offer different benefits. For example, a general admission ticket to your benefit concert may simply offer entry into your event, whereas a VIP ticket provides the attendee with special seating and table service.

Custom ticket levels also help you note who might be your next major donors or verify which supporters make up your cohort of mid-level givers. These groups are more likely to splurge on extra benefits at your event and be willing to donate more to your cause. If they select higher ticket levels, make a note about that in your donor database to guide future stewardship efforts.

As you set your ticket prices and benefits:

  • Take time as a team to think about how many ticket levels you want to offer for your event and what will differentiate each level from the others
  • Try to have your ticket levels match the overall theme of your event, such as through their names or the benefits they offer
  • Consider how you might limit the amount of tickets sold at each level to drive momentum via “limited edition” benefits

Customizing your ticket levels is easy using Instil. Instil will let you select however many levels you’d like, include information about their prices and benefits, and limit the number you sell at each level. Ticket sales will automatically be added to each donor’s profile to maintain a holistic overview of their relationship with your nonprofit.

6. Brand and Market Your Event

To get people excited about your nonprofit event, you’ll want to make it recognizable. Take time as a team to come up with specific branding for your event, such as a:

  • Catchy name
  • Distinct color palette
  • Special logo
  • Consistent font
  • Specific hashtag

Use this branding in all your marketing materials. Create a list of outlets through which you’ll spread the word about your event, and then begin your promotion. You may want to leverage:

  • Social media
  • Email newsletters
  • Direct mailers
  • Local news and radio channels
  • Volunteers for word-of-mouth advertising
  • Community bulletin boards
  • Local event listservs
  • Joint efforts with your sponsors

If you use consistent branding, people will recognize your event more quickly when they notice it pop up through multiple channels. Seeing it in different outlets will build hype around the event, as supporters note how many people are talking about it.

7. Recruit and Train Volunteers

Events take a lot of effort and your small nonprofit staff may feel stretched thin trying to fill multiple roles. This is why volunteers are critical for successful nonprofit events. They can fill in any gaps to help your event run smoothly.

Start by making a list of the roles and responsibilities you need to fill for you event, such as:

  • Set-up and clean-up crews
  • Registration and welcome table staff
  • Food and beverage servers
  • Rovers for attendee questions

Next, train your volunteers for success. Make sure they know:

  • How they should talk about your event
  • What tasks they need to perform and when
  • Where they should be stationed throughout the event
  • Who to go to for any troubleshooting

Start recruiting volunteers as early as possible so you’re not scrambling at the last minute, and make sure they’re trained at least a week in advance of your event.

8. Host Your Event

After all your planning, the time will finally come to host your event. Your day-of responsibilities will depend on your specific event type, but some general tasks to remember include:

  • Check-in attendees and greet VIP guests
  • Ensure easy signage for restrooms, dance floor, registration, and other key event areas
  • Talk to any press who have attended to share information about your cause
  • Verify that speakers, volunteers, and other staff know where to go, what to do, and when
  • Keep attendees updated on progress toward your goals, such as using a fundraising thermometer to visualize the impact of their gifts

Finally, remember to enjoy the event! Take photos, socialize, and build community with your supporters.

9. Follow-Up With Event Attendees

Nonprofit event planning actually continues even after the event has ended. Post-event steps are critical for cultivating new donors and continuing to strengthen relationships with long-time supporters.

After your event:

  • Send thank-you notes and donation receipts to all attendees
  • Make phone calls or more personalized outreach to major donors
  • Send thank-you notes to your sponsors and in-kind donors
  • Let attendees, sponsors, and your wider community know what they helped you achieve during your event by sharing its impact through emails, social media posts, and press releases
  • Send a survey to attendees to gauge participants’ experiences and use their responses to plan your next event

Host a Successful Nonprofit Event With Thoughtful Planning

Nonprofit events are the perfect opportunity to raise funding for your cause, form connections with new supporters, and strengthen relationships with existing donors. They can be fun and memorable, but also require upfront planning for success.

Instil offers a comprehensive solution to make your nonprofit event planning easy. Reach out for a free demo to see how we can help you leverage donor data during your planning phase, capture key stewardship moments during your event, and customize your ticketing and marketing for maximum impact.



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