10 Tips As You Approach Your Annual Fundraiser

It’s finally spring and for many of us, things in the sector are beginning to slow down. As warm weather settles in and we start leaving the office earlier, it feels like we can FINALLY relax.

But this is only true for some of us. For others…it’s gala season.

If your event is only a few short weeks away, then you’re probably excited, nervous, and a bit crazed. Who could blame you?! Everything you’ve worked on these past few months is about to culminate in a 3-hour window of food and Powerpoint slides, which will either set your organization on track for the coming year or throw it into financial uncertainty. You may have even had nightmares about it all falling apart (and if that sounds extreme, that’s Development for you).

Still, don’t let the pressure get to your head. Whether you’re the head fundraiser in-charge or another involved staff member, here are 10 ways to sail through this event season with poise and sanity.

(Well, maybe not complete sanity, because it is still your gala.)

1. Delegate like your life depends on it.

One person cannot do it alone. While we may not want to burden others with our task list, or lack faith that things will get done to our standards, gala season is no time to have these internal conflicts! Delegate where possible, to people both within and beyond your team. By bringing more staff into the fold you will lessen the burden on your team while familiarizing others with the event process going forward.

Tip: Delegation can be a tough skill to master during this time if you don’t do it regularly. For now, focus on assigning tasks that either relate to a staff member’s duties, or play to that person’s individual strengths (with the knowledge that not every task does this). For harder tasks, give those to staff with more experience with the event. Also consider writing out a staffing plan, so that folks can reference it if/when they forget their duties.


2. Build out a daily action plan, and make it visible.

In the final weeks leading up to your event, write out the tasks that need to be done each day and who should be in charge. You’re basically building a mini-project plan that will prevent things from falling through the cracks. Include everything that needs to be done – from confirming with the caterer, to arranging transportation for your speakers. Even something as small as forgetting to pack pens can end up being a disaster.

Tip: There are tons of online tools for this sort of thing. I’m pretty simple; an Excel sheet shared among teammates, or a giant poster for all to see, is enough for me. But if you have a tool that you love, please share in the comments! I’m also sharing a basic template that you can access by downloading here:

Screenshot of my planning template. Click to download!


3. Continue to write things down as they cross your mind.

We run the risk of losing every idea that pops into our head when we don’t commit those ideas to paper. Keep a pen and notepad on you at all times, so that you can jot down every last-minute thought.

Tip: If it’s not already part of your step #2, be sure to write out a supplies checklist for your team. Then, get another pair of eyes on it. Someone may remember something that you didn’t think to include.


4. Clear your desk.

If you tend to keep a stellar desk year-round, then kudos. Otherwise, try to carve out 20 minutes to clear your workspace before the chaos sets in. It may seem mundane, but you’ll be doing yourself a big favor. When your brain begins to swim with to-do’s and logistics, having a clear workspace will lessen that mental burden. Plus, you don’t want to be in a position where you can’t find what you need just because your desk is in shambles.


5. Set expectations with your colleagues.

I know – not another meeting. But it’s important that everyone be on the same page about what needs to happen, where they fit in, and how they can expect to interact with you during these critical days. My manager would make it clear to our team that the two of us would have limited capacity during event season, and that they should only approach us with urgent/event-related concerns. Obviously be available where you can, but also be honest about where your head will be. This helps prevent any miscommunications or hurt feelings during what is sure to be a hectic time.


6. Set expectations with your director.

Your Executive Director is a key piece to this puzzle, and quite possibly your boss. Be sure to let them know what they can expect of you in the days leading up to the event, as well as what you need from them and when. *If you’re in charge of leading the event program, this one is especially important.*

Tip: If you’re the Executive Director, then you’re probably gearing up to speak at the event about your organization. You got this – but if you’re feeling uncertain, Joan Garry shares some honest and witty speech tips from her experience as the ED for GLAAD.


7. Manage expectations with your board and event committee.

Everyone’s relationship to their board is different, but to the extent that you can, put them to work! Invite them to spread the word to their networks, and to make introductions during the event to potential supporters you can bring on. Winspire has quick, actionable tips for getting your board engaged in this process.


8. Touch base with speakers prior to event day.

The last thing you want is to focus so much on logistics that you wind up neglecting the students, community partners & special guests that you’ve invited to speak. Whether you’re managing this piece directly or through another staff member, take time to connect with speakers and bring them up to speed on how the day will work. TED has a short & effective list on things you can do to really prepare your speakers to shine.

Tip: This is not only a best practice in human decency, but also in relationship-building with constituents (which ideally happens at all levels of the organization, not just with program staff).


9. Check in with your social media person.

Some organizations have a team dedicated to this, or may draft one knowledgeable person for the task (or it may fall onto you. You multiple-hat-wearer, you!). Whatever the case, figure out your plan for spreading the word before, during and right after the event. It’s never too late to figure this out, and Network for Good has some great tips for starting to wrap your head around a social event strategy.


10. Always triple-check the collateral.

Your event may have sponsors and generous supporters who will be listed on your event collateral. Triple-check that everyone who should be recognized is, and that they’re attributed correctly. It WILL be embarrassing if a sponsor rep points out a typo with their name on the program, or if you forget to include one of your board members on the slideshow. Plus, even though it shouldn’t matter, these errors can impact any future support you might receive from these folks.


I know I said 10, but I have one more…and that’s to take a breather! You’re working hard and it’s all coming together. Success largely depends on preparation, but a small piece of it is faith. Keep calm and trust that things will fall into place.

Are you in the midst of your annual event season right now too? How do you keep yourself together?

4 thoughts on “10 Tips As You Approach Your Annual Fundraiser

  1. Athena

    Oh my god! As another non-profit professional, this is so awesome. The site is awesome as well and I am definitely adding to my reader!


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