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Fundraising events and challenges

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Organising or taking part in events to raise money.

Events can be an important aspect of a voluntary organisation’s fundraising programme.

Small-scale events have been a staple of fundraising for decades. However, running them can be time consuming and possibly risky. Successful events depend on having the right skills and knowledge on what works, having the appropriate resources to plan and manage them, and marketing the event effectively to the target audience. 

Why do you want to run an event?

Both large and small events share two common objectives: generating income, and raising awareness of a particular message or area of work. To be successful, an event needs an underlying strategy and clear objectives for what it should achieve. It’s essential to be absolutely clear about the purpose of the event.

Ideally there should be a single clear objective that will help inform decisions about the venue, invitation lists, ticket price, media involvement and promotion, as well as the resources needed to organise and run the event.

Three common objectives for an event

It’s sometimes appropriate and possible to plan an event that fits into more than one of the following categories. In this case, you should prioritise them so that everyone is clear what the primary objective is, and which objectives are secondary.

1. Enlistment and profile raising

  • To attract media attention and establish the reputation of your charity
  • To promote a new service or expand existing services
  • To launch a specific appeal
  • To persuade potential patrons that your charity is worthy of support
  • To recruit volunteers to help with fundraising or service delivery

In some cases it might be appropriate for this kind of event to be free for people to attend, particularly if you want their support in the future. Although you won’t raise significant funds at the time, you’re investing in the future.

2. Raising money directly 

  • Indoor or outdoor events
  • One-off events or regular dates in the fundraising calendar
  • Anything from balls to pub quizzes

These are aimed at generating the maximum income, both from ticket sales and from other activities on the night, such as auctions, raffles and product sales. It’s essential to pitch the ticket price appropriately and market extensively to the target audience.

Above all, the event must be cost effective. Have a clear budget from the outset. Any event will always involve financial risks, but these can be minimised if you:

  • consider all the potential costs
  • include hidden costs, such as staff time
  • include additional fundraising opportunities during the event
  • try to get in-kind support, for example use of a venue, donated food or drinks, or a host working for free
  • calculate the break-even point.

3. Acknowledging support

While all fundraisers are aware of the importance of thanking donors (whether by letter, email or phone), sometimes their support deserves a more public form of recognition. This can be well served by an event that marks a particular milestone or significant voluntary effort. Examples are:

  • completion of a major appeal
  • thanking supporters
  • recognising volunteers
  • showcasing the work of the charity
  • involving service users and beneficiaries.

Remember to be as diligent in saying 'thank you' as you are in saying 'please'.

Checklist for deciding on your event

  • Set a clear objective for the event
  • Agree primary objectives and, if appropriate, secondary ones
  • Agree achievable results and future outcomes
  • Be clear about your target audience

What type of event?

Search the web for ‘fundraising event ideas’ and you’ll find plenty of useful resources to give you inspiration. In addition, look around to see what has already been successful in your local community and within your own organisation.

But whatever event you chose, make sure that it is:

  • marketable
  • saleable
  • profitable (whether it generates income at the event itself, or by enlisting future support).

What resources will you need?

  • What existing resources do you have in terms of staff and volunteers? 
  • What others will you need?
  • Where can you find them? 
  • What about clearing up afterwards, when all your helpers are anxious to get away?
  • What new promotional materials will you need?
  • How can you use the materials you already have?
  • What can you afford to spend on advertising? 
  • Will you need any additional insurance or licences to put on a public event?


The most appropriate venue may not be the one that’s immediately available, and your choice will depend on your primary and secondary objectives, as well as your budget.

Beware of accepting the offer of a venue, and building an event around it. Plan the event first and find the best venue to hold it in, taking into account practical matters such as car parking and access by public transport.

You should also think about whether:

  • you have sole use of the venue, or if you’ll be competing with other activities that fill up parking spaces and increase the noise level
  • the venue is appropriate for the cause you’re promoting (for example, some organisations may not want to be associated with the sale of alcohol, so wouldn’t hold their event in a bar)
  • the venue is accessible for your target audience.


Events offer a range of advantages and promotional opportunities that can attract sponsorship.

Sponsorship will significantly reduce your risk by bearing some of the costs, and give additional credibility to your event through co-branding. It can also be an opportunity to recruit corporate sponsors who may become involved with your organisation after the event.

A fully sponsored event will result in no cost to your organisation.

When approaching potential sponsors, have a clear idea about how much money you’re expecting from them and what you can give in return. [LINK TO CORPORATE FUNDRAISING SECTION]


Start with an understanding of who you want to attract and who is likely to want to come – in other words, your target market.

If the event is of general interest, begin by targeting your existing warm contacts to see if they would be likely to support it. If your friends don’t want to come, why should strangers?

One way of helping with promotion is to feature celebrities who are willing to attend. For many people, the attraction of a special event is to be seen with celebrities. Alternatively you could invite a celebrity to be the compere, open the event or present awards. This may be a celebrity who is already supporting your cause, or who can be persuaded to if properly approached.

Use social media to promote your event. Create a hashtag for the event that can be used in the lead-up, on the day and for any follow-up, and set up a timescale of tweets and posts to get people excited in the lead-up, and to make it easy for people to share details of the event.

Ticket sales

Selling tickets can be hard work, and a complete non-starter if you haven’t identified your audience and you’re not sure that they’ll be interested in attending. 

There’s not much point in securing high value prizes for an auction if the audience can’t afford to bid for them.

Improve your chances by: 

  • presenting a really attractive event
  • contacting a readily identifiable and reachable target audience
  • appropriately pitching your ticket price – look at what similar, local events cost
  • making it easy to find and book tickets – use sites like Facebook events or Eventbrite to support your offline sales
  • recruiting plenty of ticket sellers.

Follow ups 

A great advantage of a successful event is the opportunity to build future support. Make sure that the names and addresses of everyone taking part or attending are recorded and can be used again by your organisation – they make a good mailing list for donations, or invitations to future events. Using an online ticket booking system can help you collect information and preferences easily.

For many events, programmes and souvenir brochures are a worthwhile expense, but even if this is too costly for your small event, make sure that everyone who attends goes away with a piece of literature that they can keep, and which contains one new message about your organisation. It could even be a badge, sticker or bookmark.

Fundraising challenges

Challenges can be a great opportunity to promote your cause to a new audience, and often give you great photos and videos, as well as media opportunities.

How challenges work

Your organisation sets up a challenge and invites members of the public to take part if they can raise a certain amount of donations. The disability charity Scope has been doing this for years, and now offers a huge range of experiences, from skydiving to trekking.

What you need to do

You’ll need to organise the challenge (usually in partnership with another provider) so that it’s free for the participant (subject to their donation). You’ll need to make sure that your minimum donation amount exceeds the costs of providing the event. If you’re taking charity places in a major challenge (the London Marathon, for example), there will be processes from the organisers that you’ll need to follow to secure places and recruit participants.

Benefits of this type of challenge

You may attract members of the public who would not have otherwise engaged with your cause – their primary aim is to go skydiving, rather than to raise funds. However, they will fundraise from family, friends and colleagues, bringing your message to a whole new audience. If the participant enjoys their experience and is well supported by your organisation, they could become a regular donor or fundraise for you again in the future.

Make sure you have a press release ready for local media – ‘local woman abseils off bridge for charity’ always makes a good piece if it has a great picture attached.

Get more help

Page last edited Feb 22, 2017

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Ian Bruce