How to Run a Successful First-Time Event (in 5 easy steps)

Those first-timers can be tricky, especially when the point is to raise money! This topic request came from my BCIT students and includes a 9-minute videotronic option if you are too lazy to drag your eyes down this whole page.

Still with me? Good!


Start small! For the love of all that is holy, do NOT start with a black-tie gala and $500 tickets. Unless you are George Clooney and the venue is your villa on Lake Como. (Ciao Giorgio caro!)

If want something fancy, start with a cocktail party instead of a gala. Do a walk across town instead of a walk across Canada. You can (and should) change your event scope as it matures. And don’t forget to document the event. Get testimonials, photos, demographics, and numbers. That’s how you’ll finally get sponsors interested in year two.


Use peer-to-peer fundraising if you have a system (like Artez or Convio) at your organization. This works best for sporty or challenge-y events where you can get pledges, and allows you to spread the event’s message beyond your immediate circle of people. No software in place? Then go crazy with social media and use early-bird pricing or other incentives to drive registration and ticket sales.


Recruit some leadership volunteers. Decide on what the money maker is for your event – Sponsorship? Table sales? Auction items? – and put your best efforts into finding the right volunteer leader to head up that effort. Once found, treat that person like gold. E.g.: With the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, the most important people are the team captains who are responsible for driving team fundraising. They are revered.


Build a realistic budget. Do not succumb to the excited people at your planning table who optimistically squeal that “we could raise a million dollars!” There’s no way my friend. And it’s better to bring them back to earth now, than deal with crushing disappointment later. Plus, they’ll find a way to blame you for the event’s failure because you were being so negative in the first place!

Aim to break-even on your first-time fundraiser. Over-estimate expenses, build in a contingency line, and be conservative in revenues. And speaking of money, make sure you have third-party insurance and any required licences for your event (gaming, serving it right, etc.).


Do thorough follow-up after. SWOT your event with staff and key volunteers. Thank all attendees, volunteers and sponsors. For the latter, make sure to send a sponsorship report with photos, media statistics, demographics and numbers, along with information on when you’ll be in touch about the next opportunity. And don’t wait a year to talk to those sponsors again – call them up for their feedback right after you send the report. That is a class act.

Good luck!

–          Siobhan


About Siobhan Aspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 20 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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