How To Organize a Community Fundraiser

In 2020, the entire nonprofit landscape changed due to the insurgence of COVID-19. While casual coffee chats with donors were a hallmark before, they either went online or stopped altogether as it became unsafe to talk in person. On a broader scale, large fundraising events planned pre-COVID couldn’t take place as intended, compromising charities’ income and forcing them to reassess their programming.

Today, many months since the pandemic’s start, organizations are looking for a safe way to appeal to donors and remain a fixture in their communities. If you’re connected to or leading a charity looking for a way forward, here are some basics on how to organize a community fundraiser with special attention to persisting COVID limitations.

Network With Area Leaders

To start, strike up conversations with town or city officials about the viability of a fundraiser. They are not only familiar with the necessary precautions, but also the pressing needs your organization could address. If they feel something must be done, they may even link arms with you to get an event done, offering you a spot to host it, in addition to helpful connections and advice. Business leaders serve a similar function and may even have more substantial money to fund your cause.

When you have these meetings, you don’t need a complete idea of what to do. What you do need is conviction about your charity’s cause and a rough sketch of what you can do together. In a perfect world, area leaders would then plan your fundraiser with you when they become partners.

Know Your Budget

Before you commit to a specific kind of event, create a budget, and keep it in the back of your mind when discussing future steps. The whole point here is to make money, so practice fiscal discipline and adopt a results-based spending approach. Establish spending priorities, focusing foremost on what will appeal to prospective donors. For instance, tables and signage are more central to a bake sale than peripheral decorations.

Though watching your expenditures is a necessity, always leave some margin for unexpected costs. Planning an event is complicated enough, but you will also have COVID-related supplies to get this time around. Masks, barriers, signs, and other protective items add up to a cost you’re not used to, so it’s easier than ever to go beyond your budget. Preparing for these cases allows your fundraiser to be a success even if an issue arises.

Decide What Form It Will Take

Once money matters are in place, you can transition to deciding what the event will look like. There are tons of with respective pros and cons.

A Fun Run/ Walk

One fundraising staple is the fun run/walk. Many people who wouldn’t ordinarily donate online will pay the entry fee for this sort of event because it offers them a challenge. They feel part of your cause if you organize a venue for them to experience and push through the pain to support you. Belonging to the cause doesn’t feel the same for donors entering their credit card info without any ceremony.

To set up a run/walk fundraiser, you need to coordinate with your town for permission to mark off a course. Without that, there’s no way people can participate. In addition, while it would take place outdoors and reduce others’ risk of COVID exposure, you must enact measures to further prevent an issue. One idea is to stagger runners’ and walkers’ starts so they don’t all pack together at once.

An Auction (or Raffle)

Next up is an auction or raffle. Each requires that you acquire items that will garner interest from your attendees. To keep costs down, charities often appeal to area businesses to provide some free products or store credit as an official sponsor.

To hold this type of fundraiser, networking with businesses is central. Steward your sponsorships well and increase your chances of doing this again by publicly thank businesses that joined up with you. Doing so allows attendees to make a clear connection between your cause and their generosity.

As you set up tables, think long and hard about how you’ll allow guests to circulate. Establishing clear walking patterns and restricting how many people can be at one table is key to preserving proper distancing. In a raffle, it’s best you eschew physical tickets for a digital alternative to cut down on physical contact.

An Online Fundraiser

In many cases, the most responsible thing to do to reduce COVID risks is to hold an online fundraiser. While it’s not your favorite alternative, it still has a lot of potential. During a real-time online fundraiser, you can give donors access to an online concert, a magic show, a professional yoga session, or any number of other things. You can even hold a raffle or auction through this medium.

The challenge here is picking a reliable conferencing platform and finding ways to engage people as they’re at home on their couches. A huge plus is that there’s no chance that an event brings people into close proximity to others.

There are plenty of other options. In general, study past fundraisers (yours and other nonprofits’) to assess which type is worth your time and energy.

Market It To a Specific Audience

Once you plan your event, market it to the proper audiences. Though many can be broad, fundraisers generally have an ideal person to reach. Fun run/walks are perfect for corporate events where employees come together to participate. In these cases, getting a manager or executive’s attention cascades to many more people. Meanwhile, raffles and auctions vary based on the products you get a hold of. No matter who you market to, keep your messaging succinct and honed in on the good you’re hoping to accomplish.

Set Up for the Big Day

When the day of the fundraiser comes around, make sure you have enough hands on deck to set everything up. Recruit volunteers early for this job so there’s no last-minute confusion. To protect these volunteers, brief them on how to coordinate while also limiting contact with one another. Purchase plenty of protective equipment for them, too.

Once you hold a successful fundraiser, you’ll have resources to stock up on supplies or donate some elsewhere. Consider partnering with Backpacks USA, a premier wholesaler with supplies to support needy students and those without a home. We stock hygiene kits, clear and mesh backpacks, and much more.


How To Organize a Community Fundraiser

Charity and donations