The Before Budget vs. The After Math

By Carol E. Weisman
From The Secrets of Successful Fundraising, F.E. Robbins & Sons, 2000, pp. 109-111

Do yourself a favor. Budget expenses liberally, and budget income conservatively. Invariably, things cost more than anticipated. Likewise, sure-bet sponsors won’t come through at the last minute. You don’t want to conduct an event that merely covers costs. If you have committed to pay for catering with expenses that equal $150 a person with a guarantee of 400 people, then, you have to be certain you can do the following: 1) Bring in 400 people. 2) Charge enough not only to cover the cost per person, but also to make a profit. 3) Secure corporate support to help defray costs. Special event fund raisers are not exercises in breaking even. How much revenue do you want or need to reap after expenses? What is it that makes the event worthwhile after the expenditure of salary, benefits, overhead, and the outlay of event expenses? What is your bottom line?

Planning Musts. As you plan, put first things first. You can have the best committee this side of the Atlantic, but if your event needs a permit from the city and you haven’t got one, you will not have a successful event because you will not have an event at all. Whatever time you think you will need to secure a permit, double it. Then double it again.

If your event has the most substantial corporate underwriting in the history of special event fund raising, but another nonprofit reserved the only major hotel in town, then you may not have a ballroom for your event. The devil, unfortunately, is in the details. If you are planning an indoor event, you will need to know the number of people expected. Obviously, you don’t want a facility that’s too big or too small. Like Goldilocks, you want it just right. If you begin your budgeting with a list of prospective corporate sponsors and individual attendees you will be better equipped to seek out an appropriate venue. Budget conservatively. If you are lucky enough to sell out and raise the maximum revenue for your event, then “Congratulations!” Alert the media that you have sold out because it will heighten the excitement around the event and lay groundwork for a larger crowd next year.

When setting the budget, don’t forget to factor in the sometimes hidden or unexpected costs of audiovisual equipment, as well as gratuities. With average hotel gratuities of 18 percent, you can well imagine the impact to your budget if this item has been overlooked. When audiovisuals are involved, make sure you are complying with any regulations that apply. I had this recent experience with a local chapter of my organization. An academy award-winning actress was going to appear at a chapter fund raiser, and a professional audiovisual company was hired to tape a 30-minute question-and-answer session between the actress and the audience. But during the session, someone in the audience, someone with an authoritative voice, instructed the videographer to stop taping as the actress spoke because of Screen Actors Guild regulations. Later, the executive director received a copy of the videotape -- the vast majority of which was blank.

Assign key volunteers to oversee areas of vital importance to your event. Tasks like on-site registration, media relations, and event administration are sometimes overlooked. People who haven’t preregistered for the event will show up at the door. The media will come when you least expect them – and -- when you don’t want them. You will need change for $100. Everyone will want a receipt, especially if you forgot to bring the receipt book. Special events are never perfect. That does not mean they are not worth doing.

One final word gleaned from experience. Bring business cards and plenty of pens and paper. If you work the room the way you should, you will come home with a handful of others’ cards and a full cash box.

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