This post is by Brady Hahn, the founder of Non Profit Effect. In this 8-part series, Brady will teach you how to increase your fundraising and better prepare your nonprofit organization for events in 2012. Catch up on parts onetwothreefourfivesix, and seven of this series.

Throwing a successful fundraiser is more than just selecting a date, time, place and sending out an invite. It has to raise money.

As a final post in this 8-part series, I want to share my top tips for throwing the perfect fundraising event(s) that will please sponsors and engage attendees.

Simple can be successful. Causecast hosted “Cause on the Rocks” where 100% of proceeds from one signature drink went to charity.

Has your organization struggled to break even on their gala due to unexpected expenses? Have you had a great party, but heard crickets when it comes to engagement with sponsors? Or have you hosted a fabulous donor circle and thought you could do more? Well, you’ve come to the right place!

Hosting a perfect event is all in the details.

  • Have a Plan: Look at your 8 Essentials from the first post. What is most important to your organization that your event(s) should represent? Now go through the 8 Essentials specifically for your event. This will give you a roadmap for the event planning process.
  • Know your budget: Take a moment and imagine what the event looks like and jot down all of the details. Make this list as robust as you can, and then reach out for pricing quotes on all of your deliverables. Chances are you will be over budget and that’s pretty normal at this stage. Now you need to go through and clean up the list, get a new quote and see where you’re at. Repeat this exercise as many times as you need until you determine if the event is right or not.
  • Design for your organizational needs and not for your sponsor prospects: So many organizations fall into this trap where they think they have to create programming or events to attract certain sponsors, donors or grants. It’s just not true and extremely dangerous! You need to have that “This is me, take it or leave it” attitude and send a clear message if you want to attract the right people and companies to your organization. So remember to trust your gut. If you don’t feel confident and secure walking into a situation, then don’t!
  • Start Planning Early: As I have mentioned before, you should be planning and having sponsorship conversations all year long, it is far easier to be creative over time, but impossible to have creative freedom if you leave things down to the wire. Planning for an event is the same. If you have an event that works and know you will be hosting it again, lock in your date and venue as far in advance as you can and start rolling out the details month by month. Most people don’t like selling things that don’t exist, so build the foundation early and start talking to sponsors about it!
  • Understand Your Network & Community: Your organization is unique, and a golf tournament or formal gala is not going to be appropriate for every organization. Use your imagination, but don’t be afraid to keep it simple. Simple can still equal success. If your crowd likes cocktails, Causecast did a great event series called “Cause on the Rocks” with the Viceroy hotel where they offered one signature cocktail with 100% of proceeds going to the partnering charity. The rest of the drinks were simply a cash bar, so the host vendor makes money and you can negotiate the venue for free.
  • Work on Increasing Money Raised Over Time: With anything, it is hard to stay on budget and break even, let alone make a profit. One dirty little secret I have learned on the inside is that a lot of fundraising events don’t make money. Events are a lot about trial and error, but events should never be thrown at the expense of the organization. If it’s your first year doing an event, find a sponsor to back the hard costs until you can make it sustainable. If you’re struggling under the weight of an event that you just can’t turn around, then let it go. You’ll find another way to raise that money because by canceling, you’ll gain the staff and financial resources to do so.
  • Make The Event Educational: People love to party for a purpose, but the key is to presenting information about your organization (who you are, what you do and why) before, during and after the event. This is why organizations like The Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica or Charity Water are so successful. They have a simple call to action, share stories and photos of how they are making an impact and most importantly, they show why your participation is important.
  • Most Importantly, Share Your Fundraising Goals & Make the Ask!: People love a challenge and hate awkward situations. Be sure that your fundraising goals are aligned with the event you are hosting and appropriate for the audience you are hosting. If you work in educational programming for low-income youth, a dinner for their families and parents is not a place to ask for $1,000 gift (and yes, I have seen this happen). Share your fundraising goals early, offer a donation button on the invite and get people excited about getting involved!

Thanks so much to those of you who have followed the series over the past 8 weeks. I have loved meeting so many great nonprofiteers and hope that this process has gotten your year off to the right start. Be sure to tweet me @bradyhahn if you have any questions or feedback. Keep up the great work and have an amazing year!

Read the Full Series:
Part One: 8 Questions to Kick-Off Your Fundraising
Part Two: Targeting Prospective Donors
Part Three: 5 Ways to Leverage Social Media for Prospect Research
Part Four: Landing Your First Date in Fundraising
Part Five: Engage Sponsors for Long-Term Partnerships
Part Six: Renew Corporate Sponsorships and Get the Ones That Got Away
Part Seven: How to Measure Fundraising Success

Brady Hahn is a facilitator, researcher and strategist, Brady specializing in matchmaking non-profits, for-profits and social entrepreneurs. She has developed more than 80 professional development and special events for organizations such as Step Up Women’s NetworkPamper Me FabulousSocial Media Week and her own series, Social Media For Social Good in partnership with Digital LA.