Fundraisers can take all different shapes. They can be large scale, or simple to execute. You can have many of attendees, or it can be an intimate gathering of people. Any event where the money raised will exceed the costs of putting on the event, can be turned into a fundraiser. Some examples are:
- Bake sale
- Rummage sale
- Gala Dinner
- Trivia Night
- Casino Night
- Special performance of show or excerpt (previous or new)
- Hosted "Meet the Artists"
The Concept: or, why would anyone come?
When creating a fundraiser concept, think about what you’re offering. Most fundraisers create incentives to make the event enjoyable and alluring beyond just hitting people up for money. In the same way it’s useful to think about an elevator pitch for your show - i.e. why people should come. It is important to consider what will tear people away from Netflix and a warm couch and bring them all the way across town after work to spend their hard-earned money on your fundraiser for… what is it for again?
Assume no one cares about your show. Just kidding. But not really: try to think about what you’re offering beyond the chance to support a really great group of artists doing really great important work. Who is your target audience?
That being said, your core supporters “will” attend for that reason, so it can also be useful to think about how to leverage their support: VIP treatment/prices, loyalty/subscriber programs, joint fundraiser-performance tickets, etc. Also consider if there are potential partners and donors that can be cultivated with free tickets to your fundraiser.
Is it worth it?
A key question to ask before holding a fundraiser. For the most part this means asking whether the amount you make is worth your time.
When planning your fundraiser, you need to consider all of the time that will go into not only the planning but also the execution. Will you and your team have the time and energy enough to dedicate to making a successful fundraiser? You should consider hosting a fundraiser just like you would a play. It has a timeline, budget, expenses, marketing plan, contracts, and all the other needs a show has.
More than money, there can be a number of other reasons fundraisers are worth it. Arts councils, corporate sponsors, foundations and other funders are often looking for diversified revenue, and holding a fundraiser can be a way of proving your project’s/company’s financial viability as not entirely dependent on their funds.
Fundraisers also often have value beyond the funds they raise. Community-building fundraisers can help solidify support with partners and audiences and can even be part of a broader marketing strategy (this is important to note when devising a project/company marketing schedule).
Like producing any project, timelines, to-do lists and critical paths are important. If your fundraiser is for a specific project, it can be useful to begin planning both in concert.
If you’re hosting an in person fundraising event, you should consider some of the following expenses:
- Venue rental
- Staff (if renting a space)
- Special Occasion Permit (if serving alcohol in non-licensed public venue)
- Performer Fees
- Ticketing Service Fees
- Alternate formats and communication supports, upon request
Some fundraisers do them, some fundraisers don’t. It can be a lot of legwork to source sponsors and auction items (see above about timelines!), but if you’re getting items for free, then anything you make is revenue. Online silent auctions are becoming popular - they allow you to have an ongoing campaign with more inventory seen by more people.
Platforms and features
32Auctions Online Silent Auction Platform
- Quite easy to use - easy to upload descriptions, setting prices, etc
- Easy to garner payment (accepts credit cards - which can be a big incentive compared to a live silent auction where people may not be able to "cash out" easily
- Features include setting a maximum price for a bid (auto-bidding)
- You do have to pay a bit to add branding and company logo and to remove ads, but not that expensive
- Requires a lot of promotion - pointing people to the site, highlighting new items, reminding people
- The site handles reminders for people about being outbid, etc., so you don't really have to manage any direct communication
- Best to have all of your items ready to go at the beginning as you can't rely on people going back more than once or twice
- You can print bid sheets if you want to move some items to a live auction after, but that costs a bit extra
- Provides reports at the end to track who bought what, % of target reached, etc.
Soliciting donations for your auction
Be wary of asking other artists to donate their work for your silent auction. Remember that your fellow artists should be compensated appropriately for work performed. If you have been solicited to provide your work for free, here is a really great email response generator that can help you advocate for appropriate compensation.
If you’re a charitable organization you can offer your patrons tax receipts for part of the value of the fundraiser. There are strict guidelines for what can be considered receipt-able. Check out Donations and Tax Receipts for more information.
Special Occasion Permits
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario require a Special Occasion Permit (SOP) for both private and public events in Ontario that are serving alcohol. Check out Permits to find out how, where, and when to apply.
More helpful resources
The Good Partnership - helpful tools, templates and resources for nonprofit companies to gain from when thinking about their fundraising initiatives.
Community-Centric Fundraising is a movement to evolve how fundraising is done in the nonprofit sector. Its goal is to support fundraisers and other nonprofit professionals to re-examine every fundraising philosophy and practice they have been taught, engage in vigorous ongoing conversations, and explore doing fundraising in ways that reduce harm and further social justice.
Check out these Community-Centric Fundraising 10 Principles on transforming fundraising and philanthropy, so that they are co-grounded in racial and economic justice.
20 Essential Fundraising Ideas from LiveAbout.com to jump-start your creativity.