Tips for Marketing Your Fundraising Program

There are endless ways for an organization to raise money, but the two broadest categories are selling products, or hosting an event.

In an event-based fundraiser, the stakes are a little higher. A product-based fundraiser can go one for weeks or months, so if you have a slow day, you can make it up later.

An event-based fundraiser is typically based on a single event, such as a festival or a performance. More often than not, that event is scheduled way ahead of time for one day.


If that one day doesn’t work out well, then there’s no making it up. If you schedule an outdoor festival extravaganza, and then there’s an enormous thunderstorm on that day, you’re in trouble.

Even if you have the option of using the same venue for a “rain date”, once the initial day has passed, your attendance on the follow-up day is probably not going to be as great. The momentum has passed.

Nonetheless, a fundraising event can be very successful, and can raise a significant amount of money if done right and approached correctly.

Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

You’ve decided on a fundraising program, and you’ve made all the arrangements — ordered products, reserved venues, and printed up fliers. But as much work as organizing a fundraiser is, you’re nowhere near done yet. The most important part hasn’t even begun–letting people know about it!

In the world of marketing, a company with the best product in the world still won’t make a dime unless they take steps to make sure the world knows about what they have. You must do the same. Never make assumptions that “the word will get out,” because it won’t, unless you give it a push.

The marketing phase of your fundraising program can be as simple as printing up take-home fliers and making a few public service announcements, or it may involve much more, depending on the range and scope of your program.

The Basics

Some private companies spend millions of dollars on marketing, but you don’t have to. Your first lesson is that as a benevolent organization, you can get a lot of publicity for free.

Never hesitate to ask for free press, all they can do is say “no,” and chances are, they’ll say “yes.” You may not have the budget for big-time marketing/advertising like television and billboards, but then again, you may not need it.

Marketing starts at a grass-roots level (although it doesn’t end there). You presumably have a community in existence already, made up of your core group of activists, members and supporters, and this group is the first target of your marketing campaign. Make sure that everybody within your group’s sphere of influence becomes aware of your fundraiser.

This is usually easy enough to do, through things like take-home fliers, phone trees, emails and direct mails, and announcements in newsletters. Don’t neglect this valuable core group, no matter how small, because they will deliver the greatest return on a percentage of people contacted basis.

They may also be very useful in getting the word out to others outside of your sphere of influence.

Outside of this in-group, but within your own community, simple outreach can be done through things like the following:

  • Local newspaper. Send a press release to your local paper’s community editor, and if possible, get to know that individual. Be aware though, that any editor probably receives dozens, if not hundreds of press releases daily, and any one release has a pretty good chance of getting lost or ignored. Always follow it up with a phone call. Don’t forget alternative newspapers, weeklies, college papers, and shoppers in addition to your daily newspaper.
  • Other local media. Other local media such as radio stations and television stations are also often willing to lend a hand by providing free public service announcements. Contact these locations as well, again through an initial press release and a follow-up phone call.

Make it Interesting

There are always plenty of announcements in the local paper about local organizations holding fundraisers, and to be perfectly honest, there’s really nothing that interesting about it. Most readers will just glance over it and move on to the sports page.

A simple announcement will get you some results, and it’s definitely worth doing, but you can do better.

Instead of just placing an announcement to the effect of “local organization holds bake sale”, make your story unique. If you have a twist, you may well be able to catch the eye of some of the local reporters, and you’ll get a lot more than a listing. A feature article in the local section of the paper will go a lot further than the basic listing.

Getting that feature article in the paper isn’t always easy. Just talking about your organization and why it is so praiseworthy isn’t enough. Newspapers want a human interest story, and so it’s up to you to give it to them. A bake sale isn’t news.

But a bake sale that features international pastries from all over the world, with goodies baked by a former chef at a five-star restaurant in Moscow, is news.

Look to your event and your organization for the unusual, and offer it as a feature story. If you can’t find something unusual, then create something to make your event stand out.

Here’s just one example: Solicit local celebrities to contribute baked goods. Cookies on sale that were baked by the booster club are boring, but cookies baked by a popular anchor on a local news show will make the news.

Is your event dependent on people spending money at the event? Or are you selling tickets ahead of time?

If you’re banking your success on a carnival, for example, where everybody spends money to play games, and you’re planning on selling game tickets at the door, then you still have a chance of losing out.

You can, however, change your strategy. Sell books of game tickets ahead of the day of the event. By all means, plan on selling them on the day of the event as well, because you will still get some last-minute attendees, and you’ll also have a chance to sell additional tickets to people who have already bought some.

But, if you orchestrate a strong campaign to sell them ahead of time, you’ll still have some revenue, even if events outside of your control diminish attendance.

The One – Two Punch

Your fundraising event doesn’t have to limit itself to deriving revenue from tickets only. You can combine your special event with a products fundraiser. At your carnival, festival, performance, or coffeehouse, besides charging for attendance, you can also take the opportunity of having lots of supporters in one place, and offer a fundraising product for sale as well.

People there are all in support of your group, and they’re all in the mood to spend money. Strike while the iron is hot, and bring out the candy bars.

You can also take a lesson from the county fair. Everybody loves going to the county fair, and everybody pays an admission price. But once you walk into the gates, you know very well that you’ll be taking out your wallet several times afterwards. There is cotton candy to buy, games to play, rides to ride, and funny hats to wear.

Regardless of your event, you can still create tables and booths in your venue to expand your fundraising scope. Your main revenue may still come in from ticket sales, but you can still make a secondary stream of revenue from sales of drinks and food (although you must check with your local health department first to see about any licensing requirements).

If the health department does not permit you to sell things like dinners and other cooked items, you can at least sell pre-packaged products and canned drinks without the health department’s interference.

Building Up to the Main Event

Most of your money however, will still come from the single event, whatever it may be, and so much of your publicity will revolve around promoting that event and selling advance tickets to it.

Try to get as much publicity as possible, in the form of fliers, announcements, newspaper listings and free radio time.

And if at all possible, try to arrange for a weather-proof event. This isn’t always doable, but if you can find a venue that has both indoor and outdoor facilities, that’s all the better for you, and if it starts to rain, the show can still go on.

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