Many non-profit and educational organizations need philanthropic support to sustain operations. A fundraising banquet is one of the best ways to raise funds for arts programs, schools, hospitals, advocacy groups and others. These events can seem complicated to plan and organize. Start with a good checklist, create a calendar and ask for volunteers to help. Start months in advance of the banquet date, and book your location, catering, talent and entertainment early.
Schedule the event and purchase a planning book or notebook strictly for the event. Maintain a folder for records, contacts, business cards, receipts, volunteer lists, bookings, menus and all the details that will arise before, during and after the event. Get a helper as early as possible, such as a volunteer coordinator, and begin delegating tasks.
Budget the event. Once you know the venue's maximum head count, figure cost to allocate per person for meals, beverages, gift bags and other items on the list. Figure costs for each entry on the checklist, such as equipment, staff costs, rentals, service fees, gratuities and so forth. Ticket prices and funds raised will cover these costs, but initial outlay will include a number of deposits and advance costs.
Locate and secure a facility to hold the banquet. This can be a major hotel, large restaurant that welcomes private parties, a bed and breakfast or historic mansion. You will need to know the maximum capacity so you don't overextend invitations for guests, or sell more tickets than room will allow. Most quality establishments will have staff to help planning, as well as catering and other services in-house.
Book your master of ceremonies (MC). Check with local talent agencies. If you want to book a "name" act or a celebrity, you'll have to start far in advance of the anticipated date as some have very busy schedules. Contact agents and managers for entertainment and book all the talent.
Order invitations, tickets, programs, and any other printed matter such as brochures of the organization for which funds are being raised. If you're going to hold an auction, start getting items donated. A team of volunteers can handle that responsibility. Silent auctions won't need an auctioneer, but a bidding auction will. Decide if your MC will do it, or if you need a separate specialist. Mail invitations to the organization's donor list. Make sure to note the event is semi-formal. Specify anything in particular guests will need to know beyond the date, time, place and special guests or entertainment. Be sure to promote your auction.
Advertise the event through newsletters, online advertising, local newspapers and radio stations that carry PSAs (Public Service Announcements) for non-profits. Local television stations may also have a calendar of events, and local news programs may do a short interview or plug for the event, so have all the details ready.
Talk to the venue's chef, or line up outside catering. Decide on whether to have a buffet or full service, plated meals. Tell him your budget and expected head count. This can be finalized the closer you get, but it's always better to prepare for more people than you expect than to fall short of actual needs.
Keep in regular contact with volunteers, co-workers and all the staff working the event. Assign a special assistant to each celebrity or entertainment group to help with anything during the event. Meet with all volunteers ahead of time to ensure they know how to dress, what to do, where to be when, etc.
Arrive at the event location much earlier in the day to decorate and set up the space. If you leave to prepare yourself, return with plenty of time to meet special guests, celebs and entertainment and direct them to where they will sit, work or wait backstage. If you are having a live band, they'll show up early to set up and do sound checks. Oversee that final details come together, and enjoy the event. Afterward, make sure everything is cleaned and all personnel or key staff are paid. Collect donation envelopes and give to the appropriate person representing the organization.
Debra J. Rigas, a professional writing coach, has been a writer and editor since 1975. She is the author of the nonfiction book "Everyone's A Guru" and has edited novels ("The Woman Pope") and worked in arts and sciences as a filmmaker, boat captain, landscaper, counselor, theater administrator and licensed midwife.