How to Plan a Fundraising Event
From big events to small ones, here are some tips from those who’ve done
Like many cancer survivors, you may be looking for a way to help others
who share your diagnosis. A great way to get involved is through fundraising.
While getting started may seem like a daunting task, with time and dedication
anyone can do it.
If you are looking to raise money for a specific type
of cancer, organizations dedicated to your cause may already exist. If this is
the case, it’s easiest to align yourself with one of these groups, or one of
their local affiliates, rather than starting from scratch. Many organizations
have chapters in each state.
However, if you’re trying to raise money for
a rare cancer, such a group might not exist. This was the case for Tania
Stutman. Diagnosed in 1998 with a rare sarcoma known as gastrointestinal stromal
tumor, or GIST, Stutman was given just one year to live. She decided to take
action by raising money for GIST research. “I wanted to leave something behind
that would help others with this disease so they wouldn’t have to face a death
sentence,” says Stutman, who has been managing her cancer with Gleevec (imatinib
mesylate) since joining a clinical trial for the drug.
Raising money for
GIST research required a lot of legwork at first. “I started out knocking on
doors and calling companies,” she says. But soon, she created the GIST Cancer
Research Fund. After launching the organization’s website, Stutman found she had
an easier time connecting with the public—and as a result, an easier time
getting her message out and raising funds.
The GIST Cancer Research Fund
is a volunteer-based organization and Stutman does most of the work from her
home. By keeping costs to a minimum, the fund is able to put every dollar raised
toward GIST research. “It’s been a hard path,” says Stutman. But by 2007, the
GIST Cancer Research Fund had raised more than $400,000 for GIST research, she
While picking up the phone is one way to jump-start your efforts to
raise money, hosting a fundraising event is a way to reach many people at once.
There are countless types of fundraisers, from small community events to large
galas. “It is important to organize an event that works for your area,” stresses
Ned Anthony, the former director of development for the Pancreatic Cancer Action
Network (PanCAN). For example, you may want to raise money through a golf
outing—but if the people you are trying to attract aren’t interested in golf,
your event won’t be successful.
According to Angela Johnson, PanCAN’s
former director of community outreach and affiliate relations, bowling
fundraisers and walks tend to be successful because they are events the whole
family can enjoy.
In fact, walks have become a very popular way to raise
money for cancer research and support programs. According to Nancy Januszewski,
the founder and past-president of the New Jersey chapter of the Lymphoma
Research Foundation, the Lymphomathon walk is the primary fundraising event for
the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
But of course, if you’re new to
fundraising, organizing one of these walks can seem overwhelming. “The first
year of our walk, I wasn’t sure anyone would even show up,” recalls Stutman, who
began an Annual Walk for the Cure to raise money for GIST research in 2001. She
got word out about the event through her website and members of the GIST
community. And to reduce costs during the walk’s first year, Stutman made
decorations and refreshments herself.
Keep in mind that planning such an
event will probably get easier each year. “You really gain momentum as you go
along,” says Januszewski. In 2004, the first year that her chapter of the
Lymphoma Research Foundation organized a fundraising walk, it collected $78,000.
By the third year, the chapter brought in $137,000.
organizing a fundraising event, create a committee of people who will each take
the lead on different aspects of your event, Januszewski suggests. You’ll need
people to be responsible for duties such as obtaining sponsorships, organizing
publicity, directing volunteer recruitment, or coordinating activities on the
day of the event.
Januszewski also recommends that you ask local
businesses if they will donate refreshments and door prizes. However, she says,
keep in mind that these items aren’t the point of the walk. “One of the key
rules that I think is very important is to ‘decorate last,’ ” Januszewski
stresses. “A lot of people will spend a lot of energy on the frills, like raffle
prizes, but you need to focus on getting people to your event. Because if no one
shows up, it doesn’t matter if you have things like food and prizes.”
way to get people to your walk is by recruiting captains to form walking teams.
It is also the best way to raise funds, Januszewski says. “The first year, I
thought the bulk of the money would come from businesses,” she says. Experience
taught her otherwise: More than three-quarters of all donations in the first
year of the walk came from individuals supporting teams of walkers. She
recommends creating a webpage that allows people to contribute donations online.
Doing so keeps the donation process simple, which encourages people to give, she
Another popular way to raise money is through an event like a
black-tie dinner. Every year, PanCAN hosts a large fundraising gala, called “An
Evening With the Stars,” which includes a celebrity host, raffle, and silent
auction. Because there are a lot of details to consider when designing a gala,
Anthony suggests working with an event-planning company. Getting outside help to
handle the event’s logistics will leave you more time to plan the fundraising
side of the evening. “First and foremost, with any size of event, you need to
decide on the fundraising strategy,” says Johnson. “You need to decide if you’re
going to focus on sponsorships, high ticket prices or an auction.” At PanCAN’s
gala, there’s a combination of all these elements, says Johnson.
matter what type of fundraising event you decide on, it’s important to keep good
records for your taxes, emphasizes Anthony. Also, don’t forget that contributors
will need proper receipts for the items or money they’ve donated, he says. You
can learn more about the relevant tax laws by checking the website of the
Internal Revenue Service or consulting an accountant.
The most important
thing to remember when planning your fundraising event is to be flexible.
“Things happen. It never goes the way you planned,” says Anthony. “You have to
do as much planning as possible, but be prepared for the unexpected.”