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Define the Cause. Clarify your goals and determine who will get the money you raise. If you want to raise funds for breast cancer, for example, narrow your cause to raising money for breast cancer research in a specific region of the country, or for families of terminally ill breast cancer victims.
Hook up with a national or local organization. It will help you create more awareness for your cause, and it can also give you established guidelines for time-tested fund-raising ideas.
Decide on the type of fund raiser. Letter campaigns are cheap and easy to orchestrate. You can plan a low-key event such as a pancake breakfast, a car wash or a bake sale. Or you can hold a large-scale event such as an auction, a casino night or a run/walk. This last one will demand considerable planning, time and effort -- and sometimes money.
Set the date. Choose a date far enough in advance to give you ample time to prepare. Be aware of conflicting local and/or national events, as well as holidays. Or coordinate your event with a significant date or time of year. For example,raise money for melanoma research during Skin Cancer Awareness Month (May).
Get help. Put out a call for volunteers and utilize their areas of expertise and/or connections. Delegate carefully, creating committees and subcommittees if the event size calls for it. Hold periodic meetings to monitor the progress of your preparations.
Secure a speaker or choose an honoree. Choose someone who has a relationship with your organization or cause, or someone who will add an element of glamor or urgency. Consider a high-profile businessperson or celebrity.
Set a budget. Draw up a budget that will keep operating costs at a minimum so you can make a profit. Estimate attendance, cost of decorations, refreshments, printing, mailing expenses and so on. Set the couvert (the cost of expenses per person) and then the ticket prices.
Get seed money. Ask businesses, from mom-and-pop's to big corporations, to underwrite certain aspects of the event, such as the venue rental, advertisements, programs, invitations and music. Request in-kind donations of food and drink in exchange for a listing in the ad or program. Provide each donor with a letter expressing the nature of the gift, cash value and tax-deductible information.
Choose a suitable venue. Network with the Lions Club, American Legion, town halls, galleries, schools and churches. Check out restaurants and catering halls, too. Book the venue as far in advance as possible, and ask for a non-profit discount. Contact local law enforcement for procedures you may need to follow for public venues. Determine the need for security and liability insurance, as well.
Create invitations. On the invitation, the honoree's name should be prominent, and committee members should be listed. Include tax-deduction information, a description of the organization, sponsors and donors. Invite reporters and photographers to your event for publicity.