The art of running a successful fundraiser

It seems such a good idea to run a fundraising event. Nothing could possibly go wrong could it? Let me just raise a few issues.

Making a loss

There is a huge risk that it will make a loss. It is very easy to make a loss on a fundraising event.  Although there are rich lawyers, the likely audience for an event will be sensitive to price.

How does one deal with this?

  • Sponsorship. Get enough sponsorship in advance to cover as much of the costs as possible. If an event might cost £15,000 and you can get sponsorship of £7,500 that is a good starting point. BUT sponsors will be interested in how many people attend and who they are likely to be. They will not want to be associated with a disappointing event. If you don’t get the numbers would you have to discretely invite people for free at the last minute to pad out the numbers?
  • Be careful about the cancellation clause in the venue contract. If things are going badly, how much notice do you have to give and what kind of cancellation payment do you have to make?
  • You must invest in realistic publicity.
  • Make sure it does not clash with another event.
  • It is in my experience easier to attract people with an interest in access to justice in some cities than others.
  • Make sure that prices that you think are minimal are sorted out in advance e.g. if you have a guest speaker are they doing it for free? Do they want travel costs? If so, do you know where they are travelling from and what the cost will be?

Venue costs – the unknown unknowns
Think of the following:

  • First quote from venue. You can almost always get a reduction (e.g. venue hire £9,000. I would expect them to reduce that to £6,000 perhaps even lower.) But check they don’t make it up elsewhere. Some places give charities a discount.
  • Look at the venue contract. Work out cost completely including VAT and service charges then send to the venue what you think the total cost is and ask them to confirm that you have identified total costs.
  • Canapé pricing. It needs at least maths to A level standard to understand any canapé pricing structure. And even then you need to see actual canapés to work out if they are one mouthful size or a better three mouthful size.
  • What is not in the quote that you should look out for when a week before the event you realise that something you assumed would be provided is not part of the quote?
    • You may need to pay for a lectern if there is a speaker who wants one, or
    • for audio visual support (£350 plus VAT was what we paid for an AV technician to be available at one recent event) or
    • for a laptop if there is going to be any presentation (venues charge between £50 and £130 for a laptop for an evening. How much do they cost to buy???) or
    • for a projector  or
    • for a raised platform/stage if there is not one in the venue.
    • Is there a cloakroom – who staffs it? Some venues will as part of the price, some will run it but charge extra and some are happy to let you run it.

Reputational risk
There are a variety of reputational risks e.g. the event is a flop and you have to cancel. Or the event goes ahead but is poorly attended. Something happens at the event or is said that gets scurrilous press attention. Or perhaps a sponsor gets into difficulty and that becomes an embarrassment.

And of course sponsors will be worried if in the build-up to the event there is any adverse press attention about the organisation.

Sponsors, any speaker and guests need to be clear what the event is about. At LAPG’s fundraising dinner we had one criticism that it was not political enough and someone wanted speeches about legal aid cuts. Bluntly we wanted an evening to raise money and to try to enjoy ourselves.

All the work involved must be done to a high standard i.e. to the standard of a professional event organiser.

Price structure causes problems. There needs to be a mark-up to make money but what can be charged? We charged £90 for dinner at the Globe but I lived in trepidation of someone criticising us for having a lavish event. ‘Legal aid lawyers can’t be that hard up if they can afford £90 for etc. etc.’

Staff implications
Who will find possible venues, compare costs, vet the venue contract, find a speaker, publicise the event, prepare invoices, ensure sponsors’ logos are correctly reproduced on any literature, organise the mail-out, organise the social media publicity, confirm places, deal with cancellations, look after everything and everyone including VIPs on the night?

A member of staff? If you think a volunteer can do this – think again. It is a lot of work. If it is done badly, without understanding of the sector, it is a problem.

Nurturing Sponsors
There are many ways of upsetting sponsors from not replying promptly to their emails and phone calls to not getting the right dimensions when reproducing their logos. Giving a professional service to sponsors, whether a professional body or a commercial organisation, is not easy.

Unforeseen events
Terrorist attacks or death of someone central to the event. What would you do?

What about…?
You might want to think about the following:

  • Are you going to have a raffle to raise more money? Check if you need a licence.
  • If a sponsor wants to e.g. have a container for business cards and at end of evening they pull one out and the winner gets a gift is that ok?
  • Can sponsors promote themselves on the night? Leaflets on seats?
  • Make sure there is disabled access. Some old buildings are not DDA compliant.

After the event
If sponsors leave before the end will the venue store stuff overnight? (If not and the sponsors leave anything behind you will have to sort it out at midnight.)

There are always critical emails after an event. Who will deal with them?

Finally, the advantages

  • The event raises money and people have a good time.
  • Your reputation is enhanced.
  • You receive a shedload of congratulatory emails afterwards, bank a reasonable amount of money and are keen to plan next year’s fundraiser….





About Carol Storer

Carol is director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group

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