5 Creative (And Effective) Event Ideas to Entice Your Donors
Fundraising events are more than a method of raising money for your organization. Events are powerful tools that can serve many purposes at once, from raising funds to promoting awareness of your cause. Encouraging donor involvement through enticing and creative planning is key to the success of your next event.
Whether your organization is long-established or newly formed, here are some event ideas that can entice new and returning donors:
- Wine Pulls
- Behind-the-Scenes Tours
- Educational Events
- Holiday Parties
For newer organizations, these events may have prohibitive out-of-pocket costs. When you begin event planning, ask local businesses to become sponsors to ease these costs. Even if a business can’t provide direct funding, they may be able to provide in-kind donations ranging from free or discounted food, beverages, linens, raffle gifts and more. For guidance on how to ask for sponsors, check out these sponsorship letter templates from Fundraising Letters.
Creating a well-rounded event that hits all the marks can be tricky, but they’re well worth the effort.
Event Idea #1: Auction
Auctions are a classic fundraising idea used by organizations of all sizes to raise money and boost engagement.
Many times the items in an auction can actually add marketing value to your organization as well. Museums planning this event might decide to auction off memberships or activities to lucky buyers. This markets their membership opportunities to those who might be interested in buying (even if they don’t have the highest bid).
Generally, there are two different ways to run an auction fundraising event: on-site or online. Each offers unique benefits and challenges:
On-site auctions are a great way to gather people for face-to-face interaction and mingling. They can offer networking opportunities as well as the option to combine the auction with another event (such as a silent auction held at an awards dinner). However, on-site auctions limit the number of possible bidders to the number of event attendees.
Online auctions expand your audience to anyone with access to the internet. The larger audience can help drive prices higher, especially as people see themselves being outbid in real time. And, because bidders don’t have to fight lines at auction tables to view the items or pay for event tickets, they may bid higher. However, online auctions don’t offer the organization or the bidders the opportunity for face-to-face interactions.
A third option that harnesses the benefits of both options is incorporating an online element into an on-site auction. You can advertise the auction items online before the event to drive prices higher with a broader audience. People can bid online before and during the event from wherever they are including the comfort of their homes.
An important benefit of online bidding is that you’ll have access to information about every bidder. This includes not only their contact information but also a good idea of what they’re interested in based on the items they bid for. For example, everyone who bid on a behind-the-scenes tour (see event idea #3).
To help ensure a successful auction, be sure to select a full-featured auction management software solution that can handle any kind of auction process from beginning to end.
Event Idea #2: Wine Pull
Wine pulls are a great standalone idea as well as additional fun element for other events! In a fundraising wine pull, which is similar to a raffle, attendees buy tickets that allow them to pull a bottle of wine from a large collection of wrapped bottles. (Wrapping the bottles adds an element of surprise and ensures that all kinds of wine have an equal chance of being chosen.) At some wine pulls, organizers offer additional prizes by adding a “You’ve won!” note inside the wrapping.
Here are the general steps for planning this kind of event:
- Gather the wine. Partnering with a local vineyard or wine vendor is a great way to get a good price on a variety of bottles. (Consider offering sponsorship opportunities in exchange for a donation or significant discount.) As a rule of thumb, plan to provide around one bottle per every three guests. Adding a few premium bottles to the mix increases excitement for the pull.
- Cover or decorate the bottles. Ensure the surprise factor and make sure that people can’t identify the type of wine by looking at it! If the event is themed, decorate the bottles to match the theme of the event.
- Decide how much the wine pull tickets will cost. Choose an amount greater than the average price of all the wine, but lower than the premium bottles in the mix.
- Sell event tickets online. You may decide to include an add-on option during the ticket sales so that guests can pay for their wine-pull ticket ahead of time. This will cut down on lines to buy tickets to pull a bottle at the event itself. Because some people will wait to purchase the ticket until the event, make sure you have a mobile POS system that allows you to collect credit card payments and donations quickly and easily.
- Invite guests to select a bottle. It’s always exciting to find out what you picked and whether you won an additional prize!
Make sure to use event management software that makes it easy to register online and purchase additional chances to select a bottle.
Event Idea #3: Behind-the-Scene Tours and Programs
Behind-the-scenes tours allow guests to see the inner workings of your organization! Visitors are often interested to learn how art is stored and curated, how historical artifacts are preserved, or how animals are fed and kept healthy. You can entice even more participants with special hands-on activities, such as:
- Scuba diving or snorkeling at an aquarium
- Preparing meals and feeding animals at a zoo
- Learning how to perform daily activities from another century at a history museums
- Hands-on experimentation at a science museum or technology center
Use your ticketing software to upsell other opportunities during the registration. For instance, you may offer a discount membership to registrants who book a behind-the-scenes tour. If you have access to a comprehensive software solution with many native features, you’ll have end-to-end support for planning and promoting tours, add-on options, discounts, memberships and more.
To learn how a fully interested software solution can help your organization, check out this guide about aquarium management software by Doubleknot. Although it’s geared toward aquariums, the concepts can also be applied to other admission-based nonprofits like museums, nature centers, zoos, and more.
Event Idea #4: Educational Programming
No matter what kind of organization you work at, chances are very good that there are other groups in the area who share the same values and mission. Hosting events like classes, seminars, and symposia can provide your constituents with a unique educational experience and spread awareness of your organization to new groups of visitors.
Associations are an often-overlooked partner for education programs. While many offer educational opportunities through their association learning management system, they may still greatly appreciate the value of an in-person, hands-on experience in your organization’s unique setting.
Don’t forget that these events are also a great networking opportunity for your team! You may find an entirely new group of potential donors who are already passionate about your cause.
Event Idea #5: Themed Parties
Events and parties with special themes that correlate with the season (such as holidays) or events like the Academy Awards or sports championships are always popular! Holiday themes are a longstanding way to encourage year-end donations. But, since almost every nonprofit holds a year-end donation drive, consider expanding your event calendar to include unique and overlooked opportunities the rest of the year! For example, consider:
- Winter celebrations. Identify a new spin for year-end events that’s related to your mission. For example, history museums and historic homes can throw holiday parties with food, activities and gifts from different cultures and/or time periods. Remind people that they should donate before the year’s end in order to receive their tax deductions!
- A #GivingTuesday event.
Encourage more #GivingTuesday donations with an event to commemorate the day. In addition to donations, offer community service opportunities to help your organization or your community.
- A #GivingTuesday event.
- A Valentine’s Day event. When the winter holidays are over and spring is still far away, a Valentine’s Day party can be just the right thing to bring people together and chase away the doldrums.
You could also use themed parties as an opportunity to promote one of your organization’s own special giving days, anniversaries, and other special occasions. No matter what you’re celebrating, it’s bound to be a hit.
If none of these fundraising ideas struck your fancy, check out other ideas in this Auctria article. No matter what event you choose, be sure you select the right solutions to help you manage planning, communications, sponsorships, registrations, and donation. The right software will provide your team with more time to create a unique and successful event!
Special thanks to David Mimeles from Doubleknot for expert advice on how to boost attendance. David is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing at DoubleKnot.