Mar 21, 2024

Budget Planning for Nonprofits: Ensuring a Successful Fundraiser

budget planning

If you’re planning a fundraiser, you’ll need a good budget. A fundraising budget plan is essential to maximizing your profit margins and collecting more funds for your cause. It can help you rein in overspending and understand where your money is going, which also improves planning for your next event.

Whether you need a highly detailed budget for your event or just want the broad strokes, these three stages of budget planning for nonprofit organizations can help you get there.

Step 1: Set a Goal and Decide on the Basics

Start by determining your goal and the type of event. Some events are more expensive than others. Large, lavish in-person events will naturally need bigger budgets than intimate ones or virtual or hybrid events. Figure out what you want to accomplish with your event — is it a huge, annual blowout or a more focused project for a special cause? If you have a specific amount of funds you want to raise, jot it down.

The type of event will also impact its size. Estimate how many attendees you expect. This number can be a ballpark estimate, as you’ll mostly need it to select your venue. In-person venues will need to accommodate the size of your guest list.

streaming fundraising platform

To a lesser extent, you may also need to consider the guest count for virtual events. For example, some video-calling platforms limit the number of people allowed in each call, impacting your budget. Still, virtual events offer much more affordability if you have a large guest list. A platform designed for streaming fundraising events can help you accommodate more guests and keep them engaged.

In this initial stage, try to decide on the date of your event. By finding your date early, you can check for holidays or other events in your area that would clash with yours. Finding a good date can give you more access to vendors and venues and maximize attendance.

Step 2: Set an Event Budget

Determining your costs will likely be the most time-consuming step in a fundraising budget plan. Start building a profit and loss statement (P&L) to help you evaluate the event’s profitability. List out your expected expenses, and consider where your community partners might be able to help. For example, if you offer sponsorships or take in-kind donations, local businesses might reduce or eliminate some expenses through funding or supplies.

fundraising event budget

As you build your fundraising event budget, consider the following costs.

Venue rental and decor

One of your biggest expenses is often the venue, particularly for large indoor spaces like hotels and event centers. To reduce costs, consider holding your event in an alternative setting, such as a park, library, or large restaurant, or switch to a virtual event.

As you find your setting, factor in decoration expenses, such as streamers, balloons, printed signs, and supplies for DIY decor your team can make. Some venues will require less decoration than others, so consider these demands as you compare.

Food and drinks

Estimate your food and drink costs according to the number of guests and possible menus, looping in your caterer if necessary. See if your venue allows you to use outside caterers. Some limit you to their services or a list of approved vendors.

Also, consider where you’ll get supplies like tables, place settings, and linens. Caterers and venues often rent these items but might charge extra fees. Consider these options and expenses to find a cost-effective option.

Regarding drinks, non-alcoholic options are the easiest to budget for. Simply determine what drinks you want and how many you anticipate serving, along with supplies like ice and glasses. Better Homes & Gardens offers some tips on how much to buy according to the size of your event.

If you plan to serve alcohol, your drink costs will be more complex. Again, your venue or caterer might offer bar services, either included or for a fee. With this option, you likely won’t need to worry about permits and fees.

If you want to serve drinks yourself, you’ll need to research and budget for any permits and licenses you must obtain before the event. On the other hand, you might be able to save by asking for donations of alcohol. The complexity of your bar offerings will also affect your costs. A full-service bar with mixer options will require more drinks and supplies than a simple bar with beer, wine, or a couple of signature cocktails to choose from. 

Entertainment and technology

Whether you have a simple presentation or the hottest musician of the year, include your entertainment and technology costs in your budget. Entertainment might include musicians, DJs, or speakers. Along with any entertainers’ fees, you’ll need to give them the necessary technology, like an audio system, stage lighting, or a screen for a multimedia presentation.

Your venue may help with renting and setting up these items. You could also save on costs by borrowing the equipment or using a more affordable vendor. Check with your local library if you can’t find someone to lend you the equipment. Some will rent out technology equipment, such as microphones, projectors, cables, and cameras.

Marketing and media

Budget for the costs associated with reaching your attendees, such as mailers, signage, and online ads. Some elements to consider include:

  • Graphic design services
  • Printing and postage
  • Advertising space on social media, websites, and billboards
  • Thank-you notes sent to donors after the event
  • Website design and hosting

Auctioning and ticketing support

If your fundraiser includes events like silent auctions, paddle raising, or ticketed activities, you’ll likely need a software program to facilitate them. Software can dramatically improve your efficiency when providing these activities, reducing your staffing demands, improving the experience for attendees, and helping you increase the value of your event.

Still, buying software will affect your budget. If you already use nonprofit management programs with these capabilities, you may be able to avoid adding the costs to your event budget since they’re included in your monthly software solution.

Also, remember to consider your software’s return on investment (ROI). Nonprofits using GiveSmart, for example, often see ROIs of over nine times the cost of the platform within a year — that’s a lot more money you can put toward your cause. Much of the ROI of your software comes from new ways to engage donors — like virtual auctions, mobile bidding, online fundraising websites, and recurring donations — but improved efficiency and event management also support long-term profitability.

Consider your potential ROI when budgeting for auctioning and ticket solutions.


Determine who you’ll need to run your event. Volunteers can often fill roles such as running check-in desks or raffle tables. You might also use staff members who already receive an hourly wage, so they won’t necessarily impact your fundraising budget plan. Some other workers to consider in your staffing budget include:

  • Servers and bartenders
  • Audio and visual professionals
  • Graphic designers
  • Auctioneer
  • Event planners or consultants

Licensing, permits, and insurance

The last item on our expense planning list is miscellaneous costs associated with licensing, permits, and insurance requirements. Local requirements will vary widely, but here are some common items that might affect your budget:

  • Capacity permits: Overcrowded venues can pose safety hazards, so a large gathering might require extra precautions, like an event permit from your local authorities. 
  • Games of chance or gambling licenses: Auctions and raffles are great ways to raise money, but many municipalities ask you to get a license first. Similarly, games like poker or bingo might require gambling licenses.
  • Alcohol licenses: Some areas allow you to obtain one-off alcohol permits to serve drinks at a single event, while others require you to register for an ongoing liquor license like other businesses.
  • Seller’s permits: If you plan to sell items typically subject to sales tax, like shirts or hats, you will likely need a seller’s permit.

Along with permits and licenses, consider getting event insurance, which offers liability protection if someone gets hurt or damages the venue’s property. It’s especially important for athletic fundraisers like 5K runs. If your event includes alcohol, make sure your plan covers liquor liability claims, as many basic plans exclude coverage when alcohol is sold due to increased risk.

Check with local authorities about any necessary permits for your event, as non-compliance can significantly affect your organization and your funding opportunities. Retain any documents, such as permits and vendor licenses, in your management software.

A cushion

Add a cushion to your fundraising budget plan to accommodate any unexpected costs. Each event and organization is unique, so the size of this buffer can vary widely. Give yourself enough leeway for potential changes and to meet your comfort level.

Step 3: Project Potential Event Revenue

With all of your expenses outlined, you can move on to the anticipated profits. This step is easier if you have prior events to review, but you can still make estimates if starting from scratch.

List out all potential forms of revenue, such as ticket sales, donations, product sales, monetary sponsorships, and raffle or auction entries. Then, consider any in-kind donations you can get, such as local businesses willing to offer catering services or venue space. Remember, monetary and in-kind donations are usually tax-exempt. Even if a business can’t cover the entire request, many will offer discounts for a good cause.

Consult your data on donors to learn more about your attendees and their potential donations. For example, some will consistently donate, while others may need more of a push. This data can help you appeal to people appropriately and better estimate your budget. Establishing a robust approach to donor management can help you target your biggest donors effectively and deliver exceptional experiences for them.

Step 4: Assess Your Budget

strategies to bring in more funds

Now, you can evaluate your budget and make changes. Your budget is not set in stone, so you can always adapt it as you go. Be open to modifications that better fit your event’s needs.

For now, look at your P&L statement to ensure your profit margin is large enough. If not, look for opportunities to cut costs.

Some tactics for reducing event expenses include:

  • Shopping around: Compare different vendors to see how they might affect your budget. Look for the best value and factor in any included items, services, and fee structures.
  • Pulling back on decor: Going overboard on decorations is easy, but this is a good place to cut costs. While a professional appearance is important, flashy or unnecessary elements typically won’t make someone donate.
  • Asking for in-kind donations: Many businesses only consider money when deciding if they can donate. Mention in-kind donations, and you might find more companies willing to help.
  • Increasing sponsorship tiers: Need more sponsors? Think about what you offer them. More advertising space or a dedicated shoutout during your speech could sweeten the pot and help you attract more corporate sponsors.
  • Switching to a virtual or hybrid event: You can avoid many event costs by switching from an in-person event to a virtual one. Guests can attend from the comfort of their homes and easily donate through virtual platforms. A hybrid event can expand your reach to people who can’t make it, drawing in more donations for minimal expenses.

While these strategies can cut costs, you may not need to reduce your budget if you can increase donations. Try these tactics to bring in more funds:

  • Improving the donor experience: You can often boost donations by giving donors a better experience or making it easier for them to participate. For example, online or text-to-donate features can simplify contributions, while digital registration makes signing up much easier, especially for repeat donors.
  • Ramping up your outreach: Consider improving your event promotion before and during the fundraiser. You might send targeted reminders to people who haven’t signed up or use a fundraising thermometer to build energy and encourage last-minute donations.
  • Evaluating your ticket price: While you want to get people in the door, you also need a ticket price that reflects the cost of your event. Attendees usually understand that their ticket is itself a donation that helps fund your work. Make sure the event is a great experience, and many will be happy to pay.
  • Adding interactive elements: We’ve mentioned activities like auctions and raffles, as these are great ways to build momentum and friendly competition, but other options include trivia, wine pulls, or experiences like cooking classes. Get your guests involved to build connections. You could also ticket these events to boost revenue.

Once you close the doors on your event, follow up on your budget by finalizing it. You’ll need your document for year-end accounting and donor transparency initiatives. It can also help you learn about your successes and improvement opportunities to nail your next event.

See How GiveSmart Improves Budget Planning for Nonprofit Organizations

Fundraising budget plans can be detailed or simple but are always essential to nonprofit events. While you can perform financial planning in many ways, dedicated accounting software for nonprofits is best for meeting the unique needs of your organization and fundraising events. GiveSmart’s donor management and fundraising solution is designed for nonprofits and packed with tools for planning and managing fundraisers.

From conducting auctions and virtual events to selling tickets and managing donors, you can optimize every part of your event with GiveSmart’s robust suite of resources. Request a demo today to learn more and start planning your next event.


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We needed a platform to make sales online and to track and display ads for our sponsors. GiveSmart was perfect. We ended up making close to $15,000 more than we had hoped for. Definite better ROI than we anticipated. The interface is easy to use and provides plenty of options to get help if needed.

Michelle M.

The Rotary Club of South Whidbey Island

Using GS has created ease in auction bookkeeping, payments, and generating post-event thank you/tax letters. While we were online during COVID, our interactions with our GiveSmart via phone, email, and zoom were seamless. A representative always got back to us within the day. I would recommend GiveSmart to anyone doing a large online event.

Julie G.

MicroFinancing Partners in Africa

GiveSmart is highly flexible - you can use it for [a] simple registration and check-in, to full-scale galas with complex order forms, onsite upsells, live auctions, seating management, and more.

Jamie F.

Hope Chest for Breast Cancer

GiveSmart is easy to use and ideal for virtual events and can be used for in-person events to manage the silent auction, seating charts, and check-in to the event. Being able to use the platform for unlimited events within the contract year is very useful and being able to add other users and volunteers for different levels of access is helpful as well.

Dawn L.

Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County