Non-profit organizations and community groups planning fundraising events often do so on a tight budget. Keeping costs down is at the heart of why you’re holding the event—controlled spending means more of the money raised goes to the good cause at hand.   

Additionally, watchdog groups like Charity Navigator and CharityWatch use metrics such as fundraising efficiency (cost per dollar raised) to produce non-profit ratings that can impact future donations. 

Though there are challenges to designing fundraising events on a low budget, it’s worth the effort. In the first half of 2018, event fundraising revenue rose by almost 50 percent among respondents to a survey by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. 

Research shows that fun runs and walks are easy to plan and typically provide good ROI, but there are an infinite variety of low-cost fundraising ideas out there—from silent auctions to 5Ks to understated galas. No matter the size of your fundraising budget, the following 8 tips can help you produce enjoyable, rewarding events that inspire people to donate generously.  

Explore Ideas for Incredible Low-Cost Fundraisers

1. Know your budget—and stick to it.

It seems self-evident, but understanding your budget parameters is the first step to staying within them. 

Create a budget as soon as you know your organization is holding a fundraiser, and add columns for ‘anticipated’ and ‘actual’ costs. Broad categories in the initial fundraising event budget may include:

  • Marketing
  • Venue
  • Speakers
  • Printing
  • Food and beverage
  • Decor
  • Entertainment
  • Incidentals
  • Event-specific items (a 5K may need athletes’ tags and traffic direction; a Wag-a-thon may need special park permits, dog waste bags, and trash cans, etc.)

Fill in detailed requirements for the fundraiser under each category—and then scour the budget for any and all opportunities to achieve cost savings. For example, in the marketing category, you may already know that social media marketing is free and useful. Take it further: Build excitement with social media contests. Have people like and share posts about your art center fundraiser for the chance to win a behind-the-scenes gallery tour, for example.

Another way to minimize expenses is with in-kind donations. Would the town library lend its outdoor space to the elementary school’s Family Fun Day fundraiser? Can a friend of the founder of a medical charity hold a blueberry-picking fundraiser at her farm? Or, can the fundraiser be held in the office space of the non-profit? 

Each of these low- to no-cost options should be noted in the working budget. Also fill in actual expenses as they are finalized—tracking the financial outlay as you go will help you see if you’re going over budget so you can course correct. And gauging predicted versus actual expenses will help fine-tune your budget for future fundraising events.

Get the best diagramming for your budget

Get Started Free

2. Be ultra-flexible with dates and locations

Get your event on the schedule early: Publicize the date and build a little social media excitement with teasers. Cause blackout dates on other planners’ schedules—don’t wait for them to appear on yours.

Planning ahead is especially important if you’re paying for a venue. One way to get the best possible price is to schedule a time when demand is low for the venue. The more flexible you can be with dates, the more flexibility venues have to give you their lowest possible rate. 

Think about how flexible you can be with location, too. If the event typically pulls in a loyal base of supporters committed to your cause, you may be able to locate it a little further afield at a less expensive venue. Think of your most likely attendee personas, and how willing and able they are to travel.

Hotel asset management

3. Compare contracts and negotiate lower fees

It’s not thrilling, but estimating event budgets and performing cost comparisons is an essential task for low-budget fundraisers. 

Go through contracts thoroughly. If you’re getting quotes for catering or venue, ask specifically whether the figures include all applicable taxes and service charges. Some will and some won’t. If the quotes don’t include certain charges, you’ll need to calculate them and add them in. It wouldn’t feel good to go with what looks like the lower-priced option, only to have a surprise when it comes time to write the check.

Look for hidden A/V (Audio/Visual) costs. If you plan to use a projector to show a slideshow or video of your organization’s outstanding work and impact, you’ll be using A/V. Potential hidden A/V costs include charges from the in-house A/V vendor, a potential venue charge for bringing in your own A/V vendor, use of ‘fixtures’ like ceiling-mounted projectors, and Wi-Fi bandwidth and speed. Ask and ask again to make sure that total A/V costs are part of your quotes. Only then can you compare the true cost of each option.

Pick apart package deals. Is the package deal actually a deal for your organization? What parts of it would you purchase a la carte? Add those prices—does the package price come in lower? If not, you don’t have to use it. See if the package can be had for less, or if the provider can swap in some perks of more use to you. 

Don’t neglect negotiation. There is often room to negotiate, and no harm in trying politely—if you don’t ask, you won’t get! Go into your negotiations prepared. Spend some time beforehand deciding your must-haves, what you can let go, and what you can bring to the table: A multi-year contract? A booking for this fundraiser and also for a group’s meeting later in the year? 

Make The Case for a Bigger Events Budget

4. Reduce, reuse, recycle branded event collateral

It’s not just ‘green’, it will save you some green.

Save trees and reduce printing costs by minimizing your use of printed materials. If you are offering a stunning presentation, a detailed, full-color booklet isn’t necessary. Instead, give out a vibrant postcard with the speaker lineup and easy instructions for giving online. 

Keep knick-knacks out of landfills and also save money by reducing or nixing the freebies. If you do opt for freebies, make sure they are low-cost and make absolute sense for your event and audience: low-cost paw print stickers at an animal shelter fundraiser that appeals to families, for example. 

If you print anything with your organization’s logo, from folders to balloons to signs, make sure you can use that item again. Leave off the date, just include your logo and the event name, and you can reuse any extra items the next time you hold that event. Include your logo only and you can use them any time in the future!

5. Focus on DIY and minimalist decor 

No matter what kind of fundraiser you’re holding, you can find low-cost ideas for centerpieces and other decorations to make the event space feel special. You’ll find elegant vases and table cloths at discount stores that look luxe when carefully placed. 

If you have a large area and a small decor budget, focus most of your decorating efforts on just one wall or section. Having one focal point looks great and is much better than spreading limited supplies thinly throughout the space.

Look for ways to have your decor multitask. For example, photo booths can be decor and activity in one. Decide on a theme (beach day, Hollywood, or superheroes), and stock up on inexpensive costume items and backdrops. Make a ‘photo booth’ sign and suggest a social media hashtag for sharing—further expanding awareness of your organization, its need for support, and its lively fundraisers.

6. Enlist help from students and volunteers

Consider tapping graphic design students for help with a logo or flyer, or recruiting marketing students for help with a social media strategy. But keep in mind that this isn’t a something-for-nothing proposition; it requires an investment of time and mentorship. Even talented students aren’t professionals.

Staff your event with volunteers if at all possible. Museum employees, parents of kids in a school, friends of a non-profit board members: All can help set up, sell tickets, keep the event running smoothly, or help pack up and tidy after it’s over.

7. Work creatively to land supportive sponsors

Sponsors are a golden ticket of fundraising events. They can contribute money to boost the event budget, provide branded goodie bag items, donate items to raffle off, or supply in-kind donations (like venue space, materials, or food) to offset what would otherwise cost money. 

Approach sponsors with a clear ask that lets them know what level of commitment they’d be in for. Think in advance about creative ways that your organizations could help each other, and develop a flexible proposal. Be sure to include ways to promote your sponsors at your event—and to promote your event to their audience.

For example, if your foundation is hosting a hike-a-thon, put together a proposal to team up with an outdoor supplier. Can they provide high-quality water bottles printed with both your logo and theirs for VIP goodie bags?

Or, if you’ve decided on a yoga-with-animals fundraiser for a non-profit yoga and meditation studio, an organization that can provide the animals is an obvious opportunity for sponsorship. Think of ways you can bring benefit to prospective sponsors too: Would an animal shelter be able to bring kittens that are available for adoption? Or would your group of yogis enjoy an on-site session with goats or horses at a local organic farm? This group might be right in the farm’s target demographic. 

limited-service hotels f&b

8. Put the fun in frugal to reduce F&B costs 

You don’t want hungry and thirsty attendees at your fundraiser, but a low-cost fundraiser means you’re probably not considering expensive catering. 

No-cost and low-cost options include:

  • Food and beverage donations: A local sandwich or pizza shop could provide post-race fuel for hungry 5K’ers. 
  • Bake sales: An obvious fit with anything education-related—what’s more classic than a school bake sale? But a bake sale is equally as popular at the garden club’s spring plant sale and, honestly, almost everywhere else.
  • Bring-your-own picnic lunch. Great for an organization focused on enhancing community or appealing to families with kids. Encourage people to bring picnic blankets or hold the event at a park with picnic tables. For an indoor event, invite people to brown-bag it at long folding tables, and maybe let people know you’ll supply dessert. (Naturally, see if you can get the dessert sponsored or donated.)
  • Food trucks. Typically lower cost than traditional catering options, food trucks are a good fit for budget fundraisers. 

Even on a limited budget you can organize events that make people happy and, most importantly, glad to donate to a great cause. Best of luck hosting a frugal, but fantastic fundraiser! 

For tips on making the case for a bigger event budget, check out our eBook Having The Events Budget Talk. Or, get our event diagramming software—it’s free and easy to use!

Cut costs with streamlined setup

Get Started Now

The post Friday Finds: 8 Low-Cost Fundraiser Ideas for Designing Events on a Budget appeared first on Social Tables.