Nonprofit Fundraising, Part 1: How to Plan Your First Successful Event

This post is the first in a series pinpointing some best practices for you to follow as you prepare for your own successful nonprofit fundraising event.

You have the cause, the idea, and enthusiasm to run an event to raise money for your nonprofit.

Of course, running a successful fundraising event is easier said than done.

I know because I’ve organized and been part of over 100 golf tournament fundraisers to raise money for local nonprofits all the way to the Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline in 1999.

So no matter how big or small the fundraiser is, there’s one thing I always attribute their successes.

What do I owe to their successes? Proper planning, of course!

So what’s the very first thing you need to do?

The first thing you MUST do is plan well ahead of time (at least six months). This is crucial so you have time to line up the key ingredients for your first event.

Here’s what youll need to be thinking about at six months out:

  • What type of event will you hold? You want to have fun, of course, and draw lots of people. We chose golf fundraisers because they were popular and fun. It’s a great way for people to spend the day with close friends while raising money for a good cause. It’s very important to keep the type of event you choose engaging. Think of events people would want to be involved in and share with the people in their networks. The main draw is FUN, FUN, FUN. Keep your audience in mind as you make the decision.
  • When and where will you hold your event?  The good old adage of LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION is also an important thing to think about. The venue helps get people excited about your fundraiser. We would choose very nice golf courses for our events because most of the people playing didn’t get to play these courses on a regular basis. This made the fundraising event special for them. Also remember, you’re competing with other organizations looking for a great venue. This is why it’s important to start at least six months out so you can lock down a date and time at the venue of your choice.
  • Who can you get to sponsor your event? The short answer is anyone and everyone.  Start with your company, local businesses, and ask your registrants if their companies want to get involved. Beyond that reach out to local restaurants for gift cards or food donations. Remember, companies use this as advertising. Treat this like a business opportunity for them. Most companies, especially local businesses have a budget to do this every year. So the earlier you start mining for free stuff like goodie bags and food donations the better. Get creative about who you reach out to as well. Remember anything that is going to add value to your event is worth it.
  • Are you going to need prizes? YES! Prizes are almost as important as the venue. People really look forward to not only donating to a great cause but maybe winning something as well. Prizes and cool interactive experiences really get people excited and donating more money. At the golf tournaments we would plan contests for people to buy in to such as closest to the pin, long drive, 50/50 raffles, etc. We would start by asking local golf shops and area sales reps to try and pick up some discounted, if not free, swag to give away. Golf balls, umbrellas, bags, wedges and drivers all made for great prizes. Don’t forget to check with the venue either. They may donate gift cards or have something else to offer! The more fun stuff you have the more likely you will get next year too. Be creative and customize the prizes towards your cause. Anything goes here just start early.
  • Is there going to be food? People love to eat. Whether it’s breakfast (an easy buffet will do), lunch (keep it easy and flexible for a wide variety of diets), or dinner (people will always remember a good dinner, I still remember my Lobster Brisket Salad I had in 2002 down in Memphis Tennessee. If I lived around there I would be looking forward to that event year in and year out.) Local area restaurants are perfect candidates to cater your event.  This is a great way to get them some nice publicity. Look at food like you would sponsorships. You want quality at a discounted, if not free, price.
  • Will you need volunteers? Volunteers are important and will save you money. Reach out to friends, colleagues, and family members. Make sure you use social media to reach out to not only your contacts but to leverage your their contacts as well. Try to lay the largest net you can and make sure to inform people of the cause and ASK for help. Asking is a powerful thing!


In closing, your first nonprofit fundraising event is both an exciting and overwhelming time.  Start your planning process well ahead of time (at least 6 months out!) and follow this simple rule: keep your event fun. Remember people love a great venue, great food, and prizes!

If you keep this in mind with plenty of advanced planning you will have a great fundraising event! A great event is key to getting people to return year after year so your nonprofit can raise the funds to continue its mission.

What should you do now?

Get prepared. Preparation is the tough part, but once you have laid this foundation you can start getting ready for the fun stuff like promoting your event!

How can we help you plan for your fundraising event? What planning tips do you have? Tell us in the comments below.

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