Your First Fundraiser: Planning for a Short Timeline

This is the second post in a series about holding your first fundraising event on a short timeline. While Greater Giving usually recommends our nonprofits start planning at least nine months ahead of time, that’s not always possible—so we created The Definitive Guide to Successfully Running Your First Fundraising Auction to help you prioritize your time and resources on a short timeline. Watch for more tips, tricks, and time-saving ideas to get to the finish line.

Here at Greater Giving, we work with many nonprofits just starting out with fundraising events.

The first auction is almost always the most difficult—there’s a lot to learn, often with little time in which to do it. Since we’ve fielded a lot of questions from nonprofits starting out over the years, we thought we’d consolidate what we’ve learned so you don’t have to make the same mistakes.

Always Overestimate

The biggest mistake we find almost all first-time event organizers make is thinking an important task will be easy to learn at the last minute—or won’t take too long to complete. This leads to putting off critical tasks like entering attendees for the guest list, creating a seating chart, or learning how to use event software and computers until it’s too late to do it correctly. Not spending the time early on can mean spending three times as much time later cleaning up the mess.

When you’re not sure how much time to budget to each task, we recommend multiplying how long you think a given task will take by two, and then multiply it by two again.

This is how much time you should allocate anything you haven’t done before, to give yourself plenty of time to learn the ropes, make mistakes, complete the task and check your work after.

TIP: Those final few weeks are critical. A lot of your potential success is determined by how the important details are finalized in this period of time. A new organization we worked with this past year put a few critical tasks off until “later”—when it was too late, and everyone had to scramble to get the basics in place. Download one of our Auction Planners to help out!

Assign Timelines and Task Lists

It’s easy enough to say, “I’ll get this important thing done in time—no problem!” What you may not realize is how that important task actually requires completing many smaller, more difficult tasks.

1. Set deadlines for completing a critical task far in advance. Each team member should start assignments immediately to determine what it requires to complete. If they need assistance from someone else or have to procure an unanticipated resource, there’s time!

2. Hold everyone accountable. Don’t put everything on one person’s shoulders. (There’s always one person who will pick up all the slack and work themselves to exhaustion to meet the group’s goals.) Make sure your list of tasks is evenly distributed among team members so nobody burns out. Your group should be willing to step in and help each other if one task becomes too great of a burden.

 TIP: No one can go it alone. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know when you don’t have the time to complete something and reach out for help if you need it!

3. Set due dates—and enforce them. Especially early in the process, when we’re all optimistic and fresh about what we can accomplish, timelines can easily slide. Nip procrastination in the bud with these best practices: 

  • Set firm due dates.
  • Agree to regular check-ins (and schedule when those will be).
  • Assign one person to follow up with all team members regularly and offer help if obstacles arise.
  • Help group members delegate additional tasks as they appear.

4. Cut out people not carrying their share. Especially on a first event, most of those helping have never worked on a fundraiser before. Schedules change, life happens, and sometimes a member of the team just can’t complete what they signed up to do. The most important goal is to reach event night, show guests a good time, and raise the funds you need to keep pursuing your mission. 

It doesn’t have to be personal if someone is no longer able to carry out their obligations to the organization. Let them go sooner rather than later! Then you’ll have plenty of time pass that person’s tasks on to others, or find a way to live without them.

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