4 Questions to Ask Before Kicking Off an Annual Fundraiser

Annual Fundraiser

Galas, Dinners, and Fundraisers, oh, my!

Annual fundraising events can be a great asset to organizations. They can help nonprofits raise awareness in the community while engaging people in their cause. Well-executed annual events can even build credibility to an organization’s overall image and brand. But, let’s face it, events are not a one-size-fits-all road to fundraising success. A lot goes into coordinating an annual event, and not every nonprofit may be properly aligned to begin hosting a signature event.

So, how do you know if your organization is ready to take the plunge into the annual event limelight?

Before your nonprofit jumps on the “annual fundraiser train”, it is critical to evaluate if a signature event is right for YOU. Ask these four questions to get your organization on the right track:


  1.    How has your organization performed on past fundraising events?  Before taking the annual event leap, first evaluate how past events have performed.
  • Does your organization consistently struggle to reach its event goals?
  • Do each of your events require one heroic effort after another to pull off?
  • Is there expectancy that your nonprofit will raise money with every event?
  • Have your events turned into an entertainment channel, hiding away your mission?

If your team is struggling to recover from burnout after each event, or if your mission is lost in the entertainment limelight, then it may be time to reevaluate your purpose for hosting an annual fundraising event.

In Terry Axelrod’s book, Missionizing Your Special Events, the Benevon founder forces readers to take an honest assessment of their organization’s special events status and shows how to use your organization’s mission to drive your fundraising initiative.

Planning annual events can be a lot of fun, but your organization must have a clear idea of what the end result needs to be. Which brings us to the next point…


  1.    Why is your organization considering an annual event?  Do not be surprised if you have multiple reasons for wanting to host an annual event. As stated earlier, annual events can be an exceptional opportunity to cultivate supporters, grow your donor base, and to celebrate your organization’s mission and success. However, you must be brutally honest when assessing WHY you are considering this endeavor. If there are only a few key players within your nonprofit pushing for this to happen, or if the idea has been generated because members of your board have seen other nonprofits successfully host annual events, then chances are your event will not be successful.


It is critical that all facets of the organization are aware of your event objective and are onboard for the long-term commitment. Without a clearly defined purpose and objectives, things can snowball quickly.


  1.    Does your nonprofit have the organizational capacity to host an annual event successfully?

Many nonprofits dive into annual events without properly assessing their organizational framework. Are you already extending your resources to capacity? Before committing to any event, look at what your organization realistically has the ability to do.

Sure, nonprofits have every-growing list of things to accomplish. But, you  must examine all of your resources as part of your strategy for a promising endeavor.

Charity Navigator reports in their listing of the 10 most inefficient fundraisers: “Excellent charities succeed because they do not tie up all of their resources in fundraising.”

Each nonprofit has a unique blend of components working together to achieve the organizational mission. First, analyze the budgetary, volunteer, fundraising and marketing commitments your nonprofit will have to make and then map out ways to maximize your fundraising efficiency.

  • If your staff is already working at capacity, does your organization have a volunteer base that can work as your fundraising staff and assist with the event?
  • Will you make the most on your return if you hire an event consultant, or are board members willing to take an active role in the planning and implementation?
  • Does your organization have up-to-date materials for media engagement, event sponsors, and procurement activities, or will you need to dedicate resources for this?

What makes a nonprofit stand out is the ability to utilize its limited resources in the most effective and efficient manner. Therefore, it is crucial to examine your ability to effectively reach your event objectives within your organizational capacity. If your resources are currently extended to maximum limits, your annual event is set for disaster before the planning process has begun.


  1.    What is your opportunity cost to hosting an annual event?

 Finally, like anything in life, when you decide to pursue one activity, you forego the ability to do another. This is also the case in hosting annual events. Therefore, it is important to identify what your nonprofit will be giving up in choosing to start an annual event.

What else would your fundraising staff and volunteers be doing with their time and energy?  Is your new event the best approach for cultivating the maximized giving potential of your donors, or will this take  donor giving away from other fundraising endeavors? To make this cost-benefit analysis, keep your resource capacity and event purpose in mind.

For each nonprofit, the analysis will be different and specific to what you are looking to achieve by hosting an annual event. After all, it will be those within your organization who decide if this provided the most bang for your fundraising buck.

In the end, success is all about numbers. You want to provide cold hard data to your board, donors, and members of the community to show that you have not only created an event to remember, but your new happening was also the best use of your time in reaching your overall objectives.



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About the Author

Tonya Bulboff is a marketer by profession and a data cruncher by heart. A lover of not-for-profit operations, she has developed expertise in the non-profit sector through working with Pittsburgh based organizations in business startup, event coordination, and development.