How to Organize a Fundraiser Dinner

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photo by Nikki Jardin

To organize a successful fundraiser dinner you need to plan well, and know your donor base and the community the fundraiser ultimately benefits. Doing a good amount of footwork ahead of time can save everybody headaches. Whether you are an event coordinator for a nonprofit or an enthusiastic volunteer, there a few steps you can take to help pull off a profitable venture.

Establish your budget. Understanding the funds you have will determine what kind of fundraiser dinner you can hold. One thing to think about when factoring in money is to ask if a fancy high-end (and high-cost) fundraiser will ultimately benefit the organization. Sometimes a scrappy, grassroots affair can bring in just as much money without all the initial costs. Creativity is key.

Ask for help. These events, even if they seem small at the outset, have a way of becoming larger than we imagined. Try not to do too much on your own; ask for volunteers to help with the guest list, clean up, driving equipment or what have you. Getting other folks on board also allows people to contribute to a cause they believe in.

Identify the venue as soon as possible in order to reserve it. Where will this dinner be held? Will it be a small affair that can be held in someone's home or are you looking to create a bigger event? Try to look at the lower-cost options first before just renting a hall; you may have a philanthropist in your community who favors your cause and would be willing to let you use her home as a means of donation. Also, ask after community centers, churches and elementary schools whose facilities may be available for little or no cost.

Determine who will prepare the dinner and how. Will this event be professionally catered or will the meal be made by members of the organization? For example, a fundraiser dinner could be cooked by elementary school children. A group of kids may want to raise money for a local cause and they can help create a simple meal that they cook and serve themselves.

Invite the guests. Obtain a full list of past and current donors, and distribute invitations. If you are a volunteer and don't have immediate access to this database, call the charity and ask to speak with a director or media representative to obtain a current list. Many organizations are utilizing email and social networking sites to get the word out about their events. This saves a tremendous amount of money on paper and mailing costs.

Designate entertainment. It's a good idea to have something other than the dinner to entertain your donors. If this is a fundraiser for a music or dance school, a recital would be in order. A youth sports fundraiser may ask local cheerleaders to perform a couple of routines, or perhaps ask the kids to prepare a short and funny skit about why they need money to continue with their activities. Showing a short movie about your cause also can be a powerful way to portray how important the cause is to your community.

Follow up periodically before the event. You may be planning this event for six months down the road, so it's a good idea to check in from time to time to make sure things are still on track. This does not have to be a weekly phone call to the caterer, but you should at least give a call a couple of weeks prior to wrap up any last-minute details that may need to be arranged.


  • Having a raffle at the dinner can bring in additional money.