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Small fundraising ideas: A guide to gala alternatives

March 28, 2022
This nonprofit supporter is raising her hand at a small fundraising event.

Galas are popular events for your nonprofit organization to gather supporters together, celebrate past accomplishments, and receive substantial financial contributions. However, a successful gala typically requires a significant investment of time, resources, and effort.

As your nonprofit plans its upcoming fundraising events, consider the advantages of hosting a smaller fundraising event instead. A small fundraiser can be just as effective for generating enthusiasm, strengthening existing supporter relationships, and attracting new donors. Plus, you’ll be saving valuable time and resources so you can increase your bandwidth to champion your purpose. 

To help your organization craft a stellar event plan for your next fundraiser, we’ll walk through the benefits of smaller events, how to organize one, and some popular small fundraising ideas to inspire your planning.

Benefits of small fundraising events

While many traditional nonprofit fundraising events are large-scale, such as galas and auctions, staying on the cutting edge of fundraising ideas will help you stand out to donors. With this in mind, consider breaking the mold by hosting a small fundraising event. 

Not only will a small fundraising event help you stand out, but it will also: 

  • Boost event RSVPs. Unlike a gala, small fundraising events are sustainable and thus can take place more frequently. This increases the chance that your invitees have time on their calendars to RSVP and attend.
  • Streamline planning and management. Planning and event management is much easier for small events since there are fewer logistics to keep track of.
  • Increase convenience for supporters. Modern technology has enabled the rise of virtual events and made them convenient ways to engage with supporters around the world. By turning your small fundraiser into a hybrid event, you can encourage all donors to get involved, whether they’re right next door or in a different state.
  • Strengthen nonprofit-donor relationships. A shorter guest list will allow your volunteers and staff to focus on providing a more personalized experience to your attendees, making them feel more valued and connected to your organization.

Especially if your organization is on the smaller side, hosting small events is a more sustainable approach to fundraising. Consider saving the time and resources from large events and investing them in other fundraising efforts to further boost your nonprofit revenue.

Organizing a small fundraiser

Creating an event plan for your small fundraiser is similar to planning a gala or larger fundraiser. In fact, it can actually be easier for your staff. 

Start the planning process with a clear goal and move forward from there. Guide your plan by answering the following question: How can your nonprofit maximize the benefits of a small fundraising event?

Once you have an idea of what your fundraising event will look like, promote your upcoming function on your various social media platforms, your nonprofit website, and email newsletters. Make sure to frame your small fundraising event as an opportunity for supporters to connect on a more personal level with your work and more deeply engage with your purpose. After each successful fundraiser, don’t forget to always follow up with donors for feedback and thank them for their support.

Consider employing event software that can handle registrations, sponsorship management, and thank-you messages, such as Bonterra Donor Engagement’s Events and Auctions solution, to facilitate the planning and execution of your fundraiser, especially if you’re incorporating a virtual element to your event. Utilizing simple technology to execute creative hybrid events can offer expanded opportunities to connect with donors and share your nonprofit’s purpose and impact.

Small fundraising ideas

An effective small fundraising event highlights the attendee experience and fosters deeper relationships with donors. To help inspire your nonprofit event planning, let’s look at some successful small fundraising ideas.

Hybrid auction

Recently, a small art museum successfully hosted an art auction, but with a twist. The auction itself was held on an online auction platform, but the institution also held a series of smaller in-person “previews” where donors could socialize, eat, and drink, as well as view and bid on selected artworks. 

The advantage of this model was threefold. First, the auction itself, by virtue of its online platform, had a broad geographic reach—you didn’t have to be onsite at an event to bid on the art. Second, the art auction ran for several weeks, meaning that the window to support the organization stayed open longer than a single evening, potentially attracting new bidders. And finally, the in-person events were held onsite at various locations, with small guest lists, to encourage participation while strengthening relationships that might not have been possible at a larger event.

Hybrid dinner or wine tasting

One New York City-based organization held a hybrid “gala” that involved smaller, more intimate supporter gatherings. They sold tickets to patrons who gathered in friends’ homes to share a dinner delivered by the organization. Everyone had a similar dinner on that evening, and watched the nonprofit’s celebratory program over Zoom.

Consider planning a wine-tasting night, asking supporters to buy tickets and host small groups in their own homes. The sommelier can host the tasting virtually. 

These hybrid events allow your donors to connect with your nonprofit, speak with other supporters, and engage with your organization’s purpose in a more intimate and comfortable setting. This makes them more likely to feel personally connected with your nonprofit’s work and activities over time.

Making the most of small fundraising events

Small fundraising events, as opposed to galas, can open up a world of possibilities when it comes to engaging your supporters and strengthening your donor relationships. Whether your organization is seeking to save time and resources or maximize contributions through hybrid events, smaller fundraisers can pack a big impact on your revenue.

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