24 May 2019

Southwest Florida Fundraising: Concepts That Work

One of the most important elements to any nonprofit organization is a successful development strategy. Fundraisers play a vital part in any development plan; they allow organizations to raise awareness, funds, and supporters. Unfortunately, not all organizations have the staff or resources to launch the best fundraiser. What is written here are some Southwest Florida fundraising principles that may help your organization determine how best to approach a fundraising plan or campaign.

Fundraising for Nonprofits

All organizations should have a strategic development plan which includes strategies for appeals, special events, grants, and other fundraisers throughout the year. Having a structured plan will help the nonprofit coordinate its development efforts and allocate its staff and resources accordingly. Fundraisers especially can play a large role in the success of any nonprofit.

Fundraisers offer a unique opportunity to connect with donors and support the organization. Depending on the style of the fundraiser, it can be a formal or more casual atmosphere. Donors participate in an exciting event and enjoy the benefits that come from making a donation. The organization, in turn, raises funds to support its mission while marketing itself to the community through a successful special event.

Top 4 “Do’s” and “Don’ts” of Fundraising

Successful fundraisers bring in revenue while minimizing expenses associated with the event. By following a few simple guidelines, your organization can lay the foundation for a great event.

1) Have a Fundraising Plan

A good fundraiser takes planning, dedication, and strategy. Early planning will help you prepare and lessen the stress as you get closer to the event. Procrastination can lead to missed deadlines, lack of resources, and loss of revenue. From booking venues and emcees, to coordinating volunteers, a development team should always be one step ahead of the next season’s fundraiser. An extended planning process also helps the development team plan for the unexpected. Although not every contingency can be anticipated, it gives the organization more time to research, discuss, and implement the major components of the event.

2) Be Optimistic but Realistic About Your Fundraising Goals

Organizations should always be optimistic when planning a fundraiser, while maintaining a realistic goal. The first duty of the organization is to make sure that all anticipated costs will be covered by the event. This will help establish a budget that reflects the minimum amount needed to net a profit. Costs are typically factored into a base price per person and then added to in order to create a “donation amount.” For example, an organization might charge $150 per person for entry to their Gala event. The fundraiser includes a three course dinner, drinks, and entertainment. The costs for Food & Beverage amount to $65 per person; $85 become a donation to the organization. The organization must find a balance in its price point – too low and its expenses will not be covered; too high and it will deter guests from attending.

One way to help determine an appropriate price point is to know your event. Formal galas are expected to have higher associated costs than charity golf tournaments. It also helps to know your target demographic. Is your patron base comprised of families or retirees? Is your organization located in a more middle-class or affluent area? Understanding those who patronize your organization and who comprise your donor base will help development staff better understand the most effective type of fundraiser to implement.

Finally, be optimistic! Those who attend your fundraiser understand that the purpose is to raise money to support your organization. Nonprofit leaders should be confident in approaching donors, especially during an “ask” at a fundraiser. Whether it is a direct appeal by the organization’s president or pledge cards placed at each table, nonprofits should never be squeamish when asking for support. No organization would ever make its fundraising goal if no one asked first. As Henry Rosso once said, “Fundraisers should use pride, not apology, when asking for a gift for a charity that is doing good work.”

3) Keep it Simple When Planning Fundraising Activities

Often times, nonprofits are anxious to provide a myriad of ways for donors to give during a fundraiser. Entry tickets, silent auctions, raffle tickets, pledge cards – all are effective ways of engaging participants during an event. However, it is important that a fundraiser implements the right mix of these methods. Having multiple opportunities at one event may sound like it has the potential for raising more money when in fact it might cannibalize the main goal. Too many options can be distracting to donors. Many might spend a limited amount on multiple silent auction items and raffles, but refrain from making a larger gift during the official Ask because they feel as though they have already provided support.

While some donors might have the assets to support all these endeavors, in most cases it will limit the potential of each donor’s gift. Fundraisers should be a simple, efficient, and direct experience for attendees. For example, silent auctions should have a fewer amount of quality items and packages that will encourage high bids from guests. Successful fundraisers provide ample opportunities for donors to engage and support the organization without becoming distracted and overwhelmed.

4) Ask for Help to Achieve Your Fundraising Objectives

No development team is an island. It takes many people to pull off a successful fundraiser. Those in charge of leading the fundraiser during planning and implementation should utilize all available resources, including staff and volunteers. One valuable resource to make use of is the organization’s Board of Directors. Board members often have extensive connections and can assist in bringing in talent, auction items, and high-profile guests to attend the event.

Volunteers are another potentially powerful group to provide assistance. They work at registration tables, collect auction items, and help staff with logistics especially during the event. An organization’s volunteer force is comprised of individuals who are passionate about the nonprofit’s cause and are willing to help in any way to ensure a successful event. With careful planning, a clear budget, and help from others, an organization is well on its way to having a fantastic event.

A Track Record of Good Stewardship is the Prerequisite for Any Fundraising Effort

Edgar D. Powell once said, “Fundraising is not an event; it is a process.” Organizations so often forget this. They get caught up in the planning and implementation of the event, the accounting, and the analysis of the event’s success. After the event, an attendee might not hear from the organization again until the next year’s gala. This is a costly mistake and one that can be easily rectified. As Mr. Powell said, it is a process. When a donor gives financial support, it means that they believe in the cause. They are invested in your organization’s success and want to be a part of it. Whenever possible, organizations should take note of the people who attend and donate at a fundraiser. It is the responsibility of the organization to cultivate these relationships.

Stewardship is a commitment from the organization to the donor. The organization commits to cultivating a personal relationship with the donor, exhibiting responsibility and trust. They are responsible for managing the donation in the appropriate way, ensuring that funds are used to further the work of the mission. These relationships must exist outside of the next appeal campaign. Small gestures such as handwritten thank-you notes, personal phone calls, and visits throughout the year show the donor that you see them as someone who cares as deeply about the cause as you do. If a donor is only ever contacted for money, they will feel more like an ATM than a valued friend of the organization. A smart development and fundraising team recognizes the importance of having a personal relationship with their donors, building trust and respect between both parties. This in turn encourages donors to continue their support for years to come.

The Future of Fundraising

A traditional fundraiser for the average nonprofit organization consisted of one large gala event each season. As times change and the country recovers from the economic recession, we are seeing a change in the nature of how fundraisers are done. The traditional model usually featured an elaborate dinner, live entertainment, and perhaps a silent auction. Ticket prices were high to cover the cost of expenses while providing some profit to the organization. While still very popular, especially among well established, larger nonprofits, this is no longer the only way to host a successful fundraiser. Many options are available, to suit organizations of any size and budget.

With the advance of technology, many organizations have turned to online auctions. This allows them to reach a much wider audience who is willing to bid on items, while reducing traditional costs (such as food and alcohol associated with dinners). Traditional dinners might also give way to an annual breakfast or lunch meeting. Charity golf tournaments, fashion shows, and smaller fundraising events throughout the year might be more beneficial to some organizations than one large gala event. One local southwest Florida organization once even hosted a “No-Ball Ball” during the recession. Instead of spending money on food, venue, entertainment, etc. the organization sent invitations with a made-up date, time, and location to its donor base. The organization encouraged its donors to forgo the expensive new gala dress or high ticket price and instead donate that money directly to the specified cause. Though very nontraditional it was successful and the organization received an even larger than normal return from that particular fundraiser.

When planning a fundraiser, creativity is key. Donors look forward to events which highlight and support their favorite charity. Often times it is an excellent way for them to introduce guests to your organization as well. Organizations should plan fundraisers that are cost effective, engaging, and unique, in whatever form that might be.

The Importance of “Friend-Raisers”

Raising money through donations is not the only outcome of a successful fundraiser. Gaining awareness within the community and reaching new supporters also has a significant impact on an organization. Most everyone understands the role of a fundraiser, but what about a “friend-raiser?” We’ve all heard the phrase “you have to spend money to make money.” In essence, this is what a friend-raiser is – an opportunity to reach potential new patrons, donors, and sponsors. Consider friend-raisers an investment. Yes, an organization might have to spend money on cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to build a relationship with a group of individuals unfamiliar with their organization. However, if an organization uses that opportunity to share their mission with the right group of people, they can cultivate new relationships which grow into a new donor base. A short term investment by the organization leads to a long term return.

Hosting a friend-raiser can be relatively simple. An intimate gathering with wine and cheese allows key organizational staff members to network with their guests and interact on a more personal basis. A current donor might even be approached and asked to host a small event and invite members of their club, church group, or friends who they believe might connect strongly with your organization’s work. When hosting a friend-raiser, less is more. Potential donors want to be assured that their funds would support direct programming costs not elaborate parties.

Ultimately, an organization must always be seeking new ways to connect with the community and attract new patrons, donors, and sponsors. Friend-raisers are an excellent way to create connections and build personal relationships. Once established, these donors should continue to be cultivated and invited to annual fundraisers where they can show their support for the work your organization provides and the cause that they believe in.

Ask a Registered Fundraising Consulting Firm in Florida

Smaller nonprofits sometimes find that they do not have the resources to have a dedicated fundraiser as a member of their staff. In this instance they might consider hiring an independent consultant or a consulting firm. It is important to make sure your consultant is registered within your state. Not only will this assist the organization in complying with state regulation but it also ensures a level of standard from your fundraising professional.

Visaggio & Co. is proud to be registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture, Division of Consumer Services as a professional fundraising consulting firm. Our Southwest Florida Fundraising team works closely with nonprofit clients to ensure compliance with state and federal fundraising regulations, while designing and personalizing a fundraising plan and campaign that works.


Matt Visaggio is the founder and principal of Visaggio & Co. He is passionate about his work and loves seeing his clients succeed and grow.


  1. Do you have any feedback on the estimated fundraising expense for an annual formal event/gala in Southwestern Florida?
    Our board is locked into the 30% number, but were seeing higher estimates for formal galas.

  2. Need more info trying to hire a professional fundraiser to help faise funds for my non profit organzation


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