How to Fundraise Without Breaking the Bank

If you’ve ever wondered how fundraising works, this guide will walk you through the whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys, all without blowing your budget. We’ll also help you learn how to host a fundraiser as well as build brand by selectively giving away, raffling off or selling branded merchandise.

Define Your Purpose

So first off, what is a fundraiser? Often we think of them as events purely directed toward charity. While this can earn you major brand recognition and public image points, fundraising events can also have other goals. For instance, perhaps you’re trying to raise money to move to bigger premises so you can serve for people, or are trying to launch a sustainable product initiative and need capital to do it.

Before you move on with your event, you’ve got to decide its purpose. What to you hope to achieve with the proceeds of your event? People will want to know the specifics of what you’re going to do with their money before they give it, so get clear.

Also keep in mind that you don’t need to fundraise just for money. There are many other types of currency you might ask people to donate: volunteer time, donated goods, or attendance at big events are just a few that come to mind. And many charitable events set multiple goals, for instance if you wanted to raise both money and volunteer time for a grand opening.

Set Your Fundraising Goals

Effective fundraisers know what they’re working toward. Knowing your goal allows you to calculate many other factors of your event, including:

  • How many people will be invited
  • How large the premises for your event will need to be
  • What features your event should have to attract the requisite numbers of people (speaker, auction, casino night, etc.)
  • How many gifts or party favors you will need to order for all the guests
  • How much food you should plan for

Note that you should not make this decision. Rather, to have a truly successful and budget-effective fundraiser, you must spend time calculating exactly how much money you need to meet your goal. Need a little more help thinking through your goal?

Check out these 7 fundraiser setting goals:

  • Set a specific goal for your fundraising campaign.
  • Check that your goals pass the SMART test.
  • Segmentation is the key to engagement.
  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What do I want them to do?
  • What is the best way to reach my audience?

Choose Your Fundraiser Type

There are as many different types of fundraisers as there are people who throw them, but if you’re new to the biz, stick with proven models. Fundraisers you’ve doubtless seen through your schools, your kids’ schools, your work or well-known charities include canned food drives, car washes, bake sales, concerts in the park or auctions.

While you can certainly choose one of these types, there are many other types of fundraiser as well. Base your event type on what you hope to accomplish. If all you want to do is raise funds for a good cause, then the above events might work well for you.

If, however, your goal is to raise brand awareness as the same time you’re raising money, you might want to ensure people spend more time with your brand. That means renting out a hall or pavilion and inviting people to an event where they’ll be immersed in your business and what you do for several hours. This is a perfect time to auction off or give away branded merchandise such as glassware, reusable grocery style bags or corkscrews.

Even if your event is drive-by in nature (i.e. bake sales and car washes), you can still hand out branded goods. After all, a reusable bag receives almost 6,000 brand impressions in its lifetime. This is a great way to get it into the hands of people who can start marketing your business for free.

Build Your Prospect List

Time to get out there and drum up some prospects! While many people give to charity, you’ve got a much better shot with some than with others. As The Fundraising Authority explains, your likeliness of encouraging people to give is directly correlated with how close you are to them. So while you have a great chance of convincing your spouse and immediate family, you’ve got less of a chance with friends and work colleagues, even less with neighbors and almost none with strangers.

What’s a businessperson to do? Well, it’s time to build relationship with a prospect list of people you could invite to your fundraiser. Once they know you, you can reasonably expect them to come and donate. There are multiple ways to do this:

  • Using a blog to sign up subscribers
  • Sending out direct mailers
  • Making connections at trade shows and other events
  • Building relationships with clients and customers after they purchase products and services from you

Once you’ve grown your list of contacts, it’s time to send out invitations via email, mail or personal invite. Make sure to ask that people RSVP by a certain date so you have enough time to plan. Also, you should keep track of RSVPs so you know who is coming, how big a venue to book and how much of everything to order.

Set Up Your Event

Of course, you can’t host an event without actually throwing the party itself. That means renting a space, planning for food and drinks (if you’re going to provide them), and preparing your swag ahead of time.

Once your guest list is set, you can choose a place to host your event (even if that place is simply your own premises) and connect with caterers. If you’ve never done the latter before, it can be a little scary: How will you know what questions to ask? What if you mess it all up and the food turns out terrible? How many people should you interview? Do you need to do a trial run? … and so on.

If this is you, check out this handy guide to choosing an event caterer, which covers visualizing your event, doing your due diligence and signing on the dotted line. Be sure to order a little extra, in case you get more guests than you expect, and solidify your plan with the caterers the week before your event once you have a firm number.

Make sure you prep your goodies ahead of time too. If you’re a winery looking to fundraise for a charitable cause or your own vineyards, for instance, you might consider giving out fancy Field & Co. Cambridge Sherpa Blankets or Small Wine Bottle Bamboo Cutting Boards. If you’re a brewery, pub glasses might be more your style. Hosting an auction? Consider making gift baskets out of a variety of branded merchandise, which people can bid on or win in a raffle. Whatever you do and whomever the proceeds will benefit, this is a chance to showcase your brand to the utmost, so don’t waste it!

Thank Everyone Afterward

After the fundraiser is over, reach out to everyone who came and donated money, time or simply their presence with a personalized email or letter. Doing so not only makes them feel special, it increases the chances that you’ll get such donations again.

Note that you should not thank people with gifts. Because gifts cost money, some people construe this as a “waste” of the funds they just helped you raise; it’s not financially savvy. Plus, researchers say gifts also increase feelings of selfishness and reduce altruism, resulting in decreased donations next time. Bummer, right?

So even if it’s well-intentioned, skip the impulse. Instead, thank them earnestly, tell them how the money will be used, and give them ways to follow up with their donation. You might, for instance, include a link to a webcam in the African village the money is benefiting. Or you might give them more information on how to donate again.

Whatever you do, make sure they feel appreciated and loved; that will be enough to cap off your budget-friendly fundraiser.

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