fundraising event

For small nonprofits, the right fundraising event can be a great way to raise money.

It can also be a LOT of work.

And a little scary.

A good fundraising event requires investing a lot of time, effort, and money upfront without knowing what the payoff will be.

In some ways, you’re working on faith – faith in yourself that you’ve planned a successful event and faith in your supporters that they’ll attend.

If you’re like most, you plan with positive expectation but also some worries…

What if they think the event sounds boring? What if everyone in town is busy that night? What if no one buys a ticket??

Or worse, what if you only sell a few?

I get it. Planning a big event can feel like a roll of the dice.

But what if I told you that you can sell out your fundraising event? 

No matter where you’re located. No matter the size or age of your nonprofit. No matter YOUR experience with events.

And it doesn’t have to be hard.

Look, I’ve personally planned and hosted sold-out events and I’ve helped lots of other people do it, too.

So, let me show you what it takes to get the kind of support your fundraising event needs so there are no empty seats when the doors open.

What it takes to sell out a fundraising event

A sold-out fundraising event is not only financially rewarding but can be a lot of fun and just plain feels GREAT!

When all tickets are sold, the room is full, there’s a buzzing energy, and you can feel an underlying current of success simply from the number of people in attendance.

There’s something about a full room that subconsciously communicates success. And attendees are more likely to be in a positive, giving mood when they feel that the event is a success.

The really good news is that ANY size nonprofit in ANY location can sell out a fundraising event. You don’t have to be in a large city or have years of experience on your side. Even nonprofits in rural areas or those just getting started can sell out an event.

Here are four things that make a sell-out easier.

fundraising event1. A well-connected committee. If you really want your fundraising event to sell out, get the right people on the planning committee and gather them as early as possible.

You don’t want just anyone on this committee. The chemistry among committee members is important. Being part of this committee should be fun and rewarding, not a drag, so start thinking about how you can create the fun — starting with choosing the right people to serve on the committee.

Recruit committee members with lots of connections in town, especially with business owners, corporate executives, local media, known philanthropists, and community volunteers. Committee members who have great connections and who are willing to leverage those connections can help you get sponsorships and fill tables.

Remember that your Board is not your planning committee! You already know that asking Board members to sell sponsorships, sell tickets, or fill a table doesn’t always work. It’s certainly appropriate to ask for their help with the event and if any Board members would be a good fit on the planning committee, give them a seat. They’ll be able to help you report back to the full Board about the committee’s progress.

2. A solid event plan and timeline. The key to selling out your event is starting early with a well-thought-out plan. Start planning your fundraising event at least six months in advance (9-12 months in advance is better) so you have plenty of time to sell sponsorships and develop your marketing plan for filling the room. If you wait until the last minute, you may find that your intended audience has other plans.

3. A fun name and vibe. People want to attend events that look like a lot of fun, so make yours look like the MOST fun! Think about it, would you rather go to the Fifth Annual Library Patrons Banquet or the Imagination Masquerade? Fundraising events with fun names almost advertise themselves.

Here’s an example of a fun event called Bluegrass and Barbeque Bash for CASA of the Tennessee Heartland:

4. Make buying tickets easy. No matter how much advertising you do and how exciting you make your event seem, you will lose ticket sales if you make purchasing them difficult.

Make sure that you have a simple and easy ticketing system that takes only a few clicks to go from start to finish. Make sure that online buyers can click straight through from a social media post or your website to the landing page where they can buy the ticket.

Be sure to test the system before you start promoting ticket sales so you KNOW it’s working! You don’t want to get messages from frustrated event patrons that they can’t get the link on the website to work or their credit card won’t go through.

How to sell out your fundraising event

  • Plan a ticket sale launch. Build up excitement about your event from the very first time people see the advertisements. Create a launch plan to map out how and where you’ll sell tickets, including where you’ll announce ticket sales (on your website, in an email to your list, on your social media, etc.) and when you’ll announce them (4 to 5 weeks ahead of the event is usually sufficient).

    Do something fun to kick off ticket sales like a Facebook Live from the event venue talking about what the event is, how much fun it will be, and how people can get tickets. Create a fun image or video to promote the event and use that consistently to brand the event and tie all your promotions together.

    Listen, planning the ticket sale launch is important. Don’t wait until a day or two beforehand and try to throw this together – you won’t get the same results. If you want people to take your event seriously and purchase tickets, then you must take the launch seriously.

    Brainstorm a list of anywhere and everywhere you can share about your event to reach your target audience. You may need to do some work first about who your ideal event attendee is and where you can reach them. For example, a flier on the bulletin board at the laundromat probably won’t help you sell $150 per person tickets for your black tie event.

    Your launch plan might look something like this:

    Depending on what other fundraising assets you have, you might add things to this plan like including the event info in your monthly newsletter, hanging posters about your event in your facility, or hanging a banner about the event on your building. If your facility is on a busy road, yard signs can be effective, too.

    Ask your committee members to help you brainstorm other places you can spread the word about ticket sales.

  • Sell tables, not tickets. The fastest way to fill the room is to sell tables, not tickets. Think about it: if your event space holds 200 people, you can sell 200 individual tickets which might take a while. Or you could sell tickets to 100 couples (100 x 2 = 200) and fill the room (still a lot of work). Or sell tables of 10 to just 20 people. Wouldn’t you rather make 20 sales instead of 200?

    You can sell tables in several ways.

      1. fundraising eventInclude a table with a corporate sponsorship. A table full of seats is a nice benefit for your higher-level corporate sponsors. I recommend you include a table for sponsorships of at least $1,000 or more. Make sure the sponsor knows they need to fill their table (I’ve had sponsors who sent zero attendees to the event and it was embarrassing for everyone!).
      2. Sell tables to people who want to sit with their friends. Some people like sitting with folks they know at an event, so help them do that by selling them a table. If you’re selling tickets to your event for $50 each, then offer a table of 10 for $500.
      3. Discount a table purchase. You can discount a table a tiny bit to encourage more people to buy a table. Instead of selling a table of 10 for $500, sell it for $475.
      4. Recruit table captains to fill a table. Purposefully asking key people to fill a table takes the pressure off you to sell those tickets, and if you ask the right people to be table captains, you’ll get lots of the right folks in the room. For example, if you want lots of attendees who can easily spend $1,000 on the silent auction, recruit people to be table captains who could do it, too. Birds of a feather flock together and chances are good their friends will also be big spenders on your silent auction.

    However you choose to do it, selling tickets in bulk is more efficient and effective. As you see whole tables fill up, it relieves the stress of wondering if anyone is coming! And it’s SO much fun to announce a sell-out two weeks before the event!

  • Sell tickets through social media. Take full advantage of your social media presence by offering tickets for sale to your followers. Set your event up as an event on your Facebook page to help draw attention. Change your header on your Facebook page to include info about your event. Then post often about the event from different angles, talking about the event itself, those who will benefit from the event, what attendees will experience, etc. Be ready to frequently remind your audience that tickets are on sale and how to get them.

    Ask your corporate sponsors, media sponsors, event committee, and any local influencers you know to share the details about the event on their social media to reach a broader audience. Tagging these folks in your first event post on Facebook can make it easy for them to find and share the info about the event. An eye-catching video, image, or an original gif can encourage them to share and help your event info stand out.

    If you have money in the budget, consider using Facebook ads to target the right audience for your event. You can choose the exact people you want to see your ad using zip codes, pages they follow, and more. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money – you can set your ad spend budget for just a few dollars a day. You can even target people on Facebook who have looked at your event registration page on your website by using a pixel. It’s a little creepy, but a very effective way to boost response in those people who have already shown some interest in your fundraising event.

  • fundraising eventLeverage local media. Send a press release about your fundraising event to local newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations since they’re always looking for community news and might be happy to tell the public about your event. Write your release well so the media can simply copy and paste to include the details in their news.

    Also consider asking local media to sponsor your fundraising event. Media sponsors give you some guaranteed media coverage and can help you recruit more corporate sponsors. Approach local media 6 months or more in advance to ask if they’ll consider sponsoring. And know that if the local NBC station sponsors your event, the other TV stations won’t help you.

  • Add a countdown timer.  As the event gets closer, let your audience know that tickets are selling, that space is limited, and that the time to purchase a ticket is now. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a strong emotion and people tend to make decisions at the last minute, so showing them tickets are almost gone can be a strong motivator.

    You can add a actual countdown timer to your website to show the number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the event or something like a thermometer to show how full the room is. Get creative and see what you can come up with for YOUR fundraising event!

Create a ticket sale plan for your fundraising event

Once you decide HOW you’ll sell tickets, create a plan to map out which strategies you’ll use and how the numbers add up.

Estimate the number of corporate sponsors you plan to recruit and how many tables that will require. Don’t guess here – you don’t want empty tables! Base your estimate on the sponsorships you sold last year and the hot prospects you have for this year. If you start 6-9 months ahead of time selling corporate sponsorships, you should have them mostly wrapped up before you start selling individual tickets anyway, so you should know the number of tables you need for sponsors.

Then start thinking about how many table purchases or table captains you might have and set aside enough tables for those.

Finally, consider how many individual tickets you’ll need to sell.

When added together, the total should match the number of seats available for your fundraising event.

One event I volunteered with needed half of the available tables for sponsors and another huge chunk for table purchases. There were very few individual tickets sold (maybe 10%) which made for an easy sell-out! The ticket sale plan looked like this:

Gold sponsors ($5,000) 2 sponsors x 1 table of 10 each = 20 seats
Silver sponsors ($2,500) 6 sponsors x 1 table of 10 each = 60 seats
Bronze sponsors ($1,000) 6 sponsors x 1 table of 10 each = 60 seats
Table purchases ($750) 4 tables x 10 each = 40 seats
Individual ticket sales ($75) 20 tickets
200 seats filled – SOLD OUT!

The Bottom Line

fundraising eventFundraising events can be a great way to raise money for your organization, find new donors, raise awareness, and more.

Take the time to plan out the best way to sell tickets and tables so you have a “sold-out” crowd of ideal people who have a great time.

Additional resources