Fundraising events are a vital part of nonprofit operations, especially when it comes to keeping donor engagement alive. They can also be difficult to budget and plan. Understandably, a fundraising director might experience cold feet over the costs of an event whose outcome in terms of donations is uncertain.

Instead of fearing the event-planning process, know that the return on investment isn’t defined by one evening’s activities. You can view fundraising events as pieces of a much larger picture, said nonprofit expert Randy Hawthorne. A black-tie dinner or a springtime ball can be linked to other donation campaigns and advocacy efforts. Patience and realistic expectations are your key to a successful outcome.

Start the conversation

Gathering supporters in one place has immense value for a nonprofit. Events are an interactive experience for your donors, not a simple cash generator. Your picnic in the park is a rare chance to see the faces behind the philanthropy. Don’t overlook the opportunity to engage in significant, sincere conversations with your potential donors. Focus your efforts on listening, soliciting feedback if you can. Passion fires up when people talk about the things they most care about.

Successful events create create buzz, and set the stage for increased connections and future donor engagement, said Fundraising IP. You can even brand your organization with annual events that are unique to your operations.

A single, solidly-planned event can result in just as much success as frequent, large-scale parties. You can complement your big yearly bash with several small events catering to your local community of supporters.

Set the wheels in motion

At the start of planning, make sure the proposed event fits your organization’s mission. Do you have enough staff to help you manage all stages? More important, consider your audience and whether the type of event you’ve planned caters to the interests of your invitees.

When you’re ready to put your plan into action, start by publicizing it. Use as many channels as you can to promote the event. You can trade your direct mail budget for online invitations and email blasts. When crafting the language of your invitation, make sure the goal for the event is absolutely clear. Are you trying to garner donations, awareness, or other involvement?

Let social media work its magic by generating a network of event evangelists. Word spreads quickly via Twitter and Facebook. This tactic performs double duty because it increases awareness of your organization as a whole. Those who don’t buy tickets for a particular event could decided to support your work in other ways, such as volunteering.

Double check local calendars to ensure you’re not overlapping with other major community events. If all the Internet media channels get a little noisy, enlist the help of business management software to keep your events organized. When the event rolls around, remember that all you need for success is to get people talking. Think of the social interaction as a long term strategy for prompting continual support and engagement.