Creative Events for Small Nonprofits to Earn Great Money

February 25, 2016
5 minutes

Fundraising events are the typical go-to events for small nonprofits. They are great ways to bring like-minded people together to have a memorable time in the name of your organization's mission.

These events come in all forms from parties and galas to family events, sporting events, concerts, product or service sales, and so on and so on. With all these options available, where does a small nonprofit begin to look? It really depends on which one will give you the best bang for your dollar. 

The goal is to find those events that will raise big bucks or an event that runs with little oversight and can generate money by practically selling itself.

Deciding on Which Event is an Event Itself.

When evaluating an event's true potential, look past its revenue (provided it is a revenue maker) and look for things like; how much time and energy will this cost us? Do I need to purchase permits, licenses, other fees, equipment, etc. to run this fundraising event?

Now take a look at the donor or attendee experience. Weigh out potential costs associated with this and begin planning at this point.

You are keenly aware that every dollar counts for something, and with that in mind, spending a significant amount of money on an event can get a bit intimidating. You don't want the event to cost more than what you made, so plan wisely.

It is much better to dive into a major fundraising event for your cause as the only other alternative is to permanently host candle making, garage sales, or plastic container parties, all of which definitely will not provide you with a stable annual budget.

This is why most nonprofits will do (as you will need to) one big event once a year. It needs to be done properly, done well, and with the whole organization giving everything they've got. 

Once this major event is done, your team will automatically move to the next but smaller event. It is at this point that you want to make sure the next events in line are the right ones to bring in value for the expense.

What does the right event for a nonprofit look like?

  • Helps raise 10-20% toward your annual budget
  • Generates at least 4-5 times what you've spent 
  • Renews your existing donors
  • Brings in new donors
  • Builds on existing relationships
  • Attracts corporate sponsors
  • Attracts volunteers to join
  • Sells out every year

Let's take a look at three major types of fundraising events that really work well for most nonprofits and if they are right for your organization.

Community-based / Fun Events

These are the widely published and promoted events that get people doing something active or having fun in support of your mission.

Community or Fun events build community relationships. For most events, participants will pay upfront one way or another in order to take part. Although you are not taking donations directly from them, you are encouraged to educate them about your nonprofit mission in hopes of adding them to your regular segment of supporters.

The great part about these events is that people will leave feeling great. That's a good thing for your organization as these people will talk about your event over the next few days to family, coworkers, friends, etc. 

These events are awesome for corporate sponsors. Those who support the event by providing money, equipment or services can have equal billing on any online or offline collateral and other marketing materials (t-shirts, banners, bookmarks, etc.) 

Some examples of Community-based Fun events:

Fun runs and walks

There can be great fundraising options for small nonprofits as the upfront costs are generally low. Fun walks do not require you to purchase special permits or close off streets. There are no elegant venues or expensive meals to offer or even elaborate decorations to put up. These events can appeal to the whole family, and you can even invite kids and pets to come.

If you were interested in a 5k run, it might require a bit more planning as you will need to purchase permits, etc. in advance.

Either way, the investment is definitely worth the return with these events, even more so if you can maximize using corporate sponsorships.

Those 'thon' events

bike-a-thons, dance-a-thons, golf-a-thons, etc. can also be run with minimal cost. The participants will be your fundraisers as they ask for pledges (home, friends, work, etc.) in support of the event. By harnessing the power of a friendly competitive event, your participants ultimately can raise more donations than normal. Social media use will also help to drive donations as you can livestream parts of the event as well.

Competitive Events

Dancing, singing, pet tricks, eating are just a few examples of competitions that can make for a great fundraising experience. There is a good chance you would also attract new people in your world.

Other events can be using Keynote speakers (celebrities, athletes, politicians, actors, etc.). Auctions are still a good way to run a cost-effective local event. This can be a stand-alone event or one that is incorporated into another larger event.

Heartstrings Events

These are events that are held to attract people who are already familiar with your cause and care deeply about it. These events have one main goal—asking attendees for support straight up.

Those who attend usually do so as they were invited by either your organization or by someone else representing your nonprofit. They may also be attending because they purchased a ticket, which would indicate that they already care.

Heartstrings events can be small or large, everything from a dining event to ballrooms, or other types of venues.

Your nonprofit can host an Open House to give people a personal tour experience with the nonprofit's mission. These can be one-on-one tours or in small groups. Always make sure there is someplace or some option that is an easy spot to make a donation.

Perhaps a cocktail party would work better. A small gathering may be best to host both current and potential major donors. You would give them an update, and hopefully, by co-mingling, the new guests may come on board as significant supporters long term.

A well-done gala will make you money, but it will require long lead times and human resources to produce. You will need to spend money to make money, but it can be a significant amount of money that you would never see over the course of a year had you not put on this event.

Final Thoughts

While we did say three types of events, I saved the best for last. This is your Signature Event. It is the one your organization identifies the most with. It doesn't have to be the biggest, but it is the one your local community ties the event to your nonprofit 100%. 

It might be a golf tourney, or a gala, or just a fun walk. Whatever it is, as long as it generates lots of buzz before and after the event, you've hit a home run! Over time, you will have donors, participants, and maybe even local or national celebrities waiting in anticipation for the day to arrive.

You have many options to choose from when thinking about fundraising events. Choose the ones that you can see will maximize your revenue potential. Plan it right, and it will make you money. Remember to always choose an event, if possible, that lines up with your nonprofit's cause. This will deepen the connection and increase donations. 

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