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Fundraising 101

Helping your client plan a fantastic event

Involved in a small not-for-profit organization? Have you ever raised money for a charity, either at home or abroad? Helped out a local museum, school, or sports team? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, then chances are you have attended or helped to organize a fundraising event. Fundraising events are important for many reasons, and they can prove to be an invaluable tool for anyone hoping to raise money for a good cause. Often, they are the premier event of the charity, bringing in 40 to 60 percent of yearly donations received.

That said, people are often inundated by requests to donate their time and money. With the advent of crowdfunding, these requests have reached a fever pitch. Competition is stiff; how can you help your clients stand out and gain those coveted RSVPs?

Event planners & caterers can help a fundraiser succeed

As an expert in the catering and party planning business, you know better than anyone that fundraising events are a part of our business, but clients are finding it harder to make their charity stand out, and they want their event planner to wow them with new ideas.

One of the metrics by which to measure a successful fundraiser is repeat attendance. You need to make sure that your fundraiser is amazing so that the guests cannot wait to come back each year. Repeat guests mean repeat donations and a very happy client who is eager to hire you again annually. If your guests and donors are impressed, the word will spread and it will be a must attend event the following year.

Here are some tried and true tips that can help your client plan a fundraiser that they will never forget.

Stack your committee. Having a large committee may be difficult to manage, but it really is a case of ‘bigger is better.’ Everyone on the committee will attend and bring guests. It’s important to have heavy hitter names featured—now is the time to name drop (it’s not tacky when it’s for charity!). My sister lives in Palm Beach and she is invited to four to six fundraisers a month. When the invitation arrives she will often first look at who is on the committee, scanning for friends that she needs to support or a local celebrity that is very impressive. The lesson is clear: try to get as many heavy hitters as possible on your committee, and choose the most influential as honorary chairs. Keep in mind they often invite their distinguished friends to attend, which means more donations. You can’t expect your prominent committee members to carry out mundane tasks so make sure you have enough worker bees.

Concentrate on a good party. Sit down dinner fundraisers can be a bore, and clients are conditioned to expect a cookie cutter event. Now is the time to impress them by planning a great party that leaves guests entertained, engaged, and feeling generous. Consider creative food and drink stations, a great band that gets them dancing, and plenty of opportunities for networking.

Forget about a dinnertime auction. You won’t have their full attention. Auctions that take place during a sit down meal have been proven to be less successful than those that take place when attention is undivided. Countless speakers and the auctioneer overpower the room the entire meal. Finally, the headliner band gets going and then everyone starts to leave.

There should be three phases to the event. This is a timeline that has worked for me countless times:

1. A cocktail reception with heavy passed hors d’oeuvres and well placed bars. This is where the silent auction does best.

2. Live auction. Hand out customized paddles and usher the guests into a Sotheby’s style auction in a separate room. You have their attention, and bidding is infectious! This should be no more than 45 minutes, and feature big and small ticket items. This phase is where the real money is donated.

3. Open the event back up to a large party with food stations and dancing (remember, you can still sell tables, but this format really increases and encourages mingling and networking).

Ticket costs

Your ticket price should only reflect the costs of the event. If the event is exciting and well-planned the major donations will be made during the fundraiser.

Once your valuable fundraising clients see how successful you have made their event they are likely to come back to you again and again for annual contracts. It is up to you to make your clients’ good cause stand out in the sea of fundraisers out there—follow the above tips and you are sure to impress.


Meryl Snow

Owner, Feastivities Events, Philadelphia, PA and Senior Consultant, Certified Catering Consultants

With nearly 30 years in the special event and catering industry, Meryl Snow is the co-founder of Feastivities Events and the creator of The Triangle Method.  As a Senior Consultant for Certified Catering Consultants, Meryl travels throughout North America training clients in the areas of sales, marketing, design and branding to help businesses get on their own path to success.She is the author of Booked It! and Cha-CHING!

Meryl Snow

Catersource Advisory Council Member

Founder of