The Key to a Successful Nonprofit Event

Events, even if they are tried and true like an annual walk-a-thon, corporate speaker breakfast, family fun day, golf outing, or gala, we know that there is no such thing as a ‘light lift’ event. There are so many details to consider–theme, invitation design, venue, auctions, and even fundamentals like seamless check-in and -out. 

Then there are the unknowns–what if the wifi at the venue goes down? What if a handful of unexpected guests arrive and want to be seated for dinner? We recently heard a horror story about a speaker who went MIA during the pre-event donor meet and greet! It definitely takes an organized and unflappable person or team to manage an event.

There are different ways to evaluate an event’s success–the number of new ‘friends’ who attend and contribute, post word of mouth, whether you stayed on track with the ROS (run of show), and the expenses. In the end, we’re fairly sure that it’s the net that you’re most concerned about. The question then becomes how can you guarantee a successful financial outcome?

We suggest going as far upstream in the planning process as possible. It all starts with a committee. That’s it. That’s our secret tip! And we even have an acronym to help you from start to finish–ESP. Not that kind of ESP! Although you might wish you had extra-sensory perception and the ability to foresee the event net, we’re referring to EmpanelSet and Partner. Now let’s break it down.


The first step is to Empanel a committee. A committee is the backbone of any event. It drives the event from idea generation to securing sponsorships and selling tickets. If your committee is excited about the idea they will champion it and ensure that it’s successful. 

Who should be on the committee? Ideally, at least a few members of your board and volunteers who are most likely supporters and past event attendees. Identifying the co-chairs is a strategic internal decision–the secret sauce of the Empanel phase. If you are the Director of Development you’ll want to meet with your Executive Director and Board Chair to brainstorm candidates. 

UncommonGood’s helpful hint: the co-chairs need to be closely aligned to and familiar with your organization. You might consider tapping a current board member and ask them to choose a community member or friend as their co-chair. This is a great way to bring new people into your network–and to keep the volunteer pipeline full. Committees are also a valuable way to vet volunteers whom you might anticipate taking a more active role in your organization. 

The Board Chair is the person to ask the potential co-chairs to commit and once they do it’s time to get everyone in a room to start building a larger list of names for the committee. Typically co-chairs model their commitment to making the event successful by being the first to pledge at a sponsorship level.

Consider the committee composition. If the event is a gala, you’ll want a large committee of people who represent your donor demographic. If the event is targeted at the business community then make sure you have different industries represented on the committee. 

Set Expectations

What should the committee be tasked with? This leads us to the second step: Set expectations. With the co-chairs, establish what the committee needs to decide–do they have final approval on the event theme, location, and invitation design? Will they monitor the expenses? Will they be expected to buy a table? Help set up the tablescapes, flowers, and auction the day of? 

If you need help tracking the workflow, we have a solution with UncommonGood’s nonprofit calendar for deadlines, notifications for reminders, and to-do lists that can be segmented for subcommittees (think decor, silent auction, ads). We also have an easy way for you to set up a peer to peer fundraiser, sell sponsorships, and tickets and generate reports on the platform.


The last tip is to consider how your staff can partner with the committee. Some describe this as ‘managing up.’ At UncommonGood, we prefer to think of relationships as collaborative so we put a slightly different spin on this part and suggest that you think of your staff and volunteer committee as partners. 

What will make the partnership work? Regular meetings for starters and sticking to an agenda to respect everyone’s time (UG helpful hint-meetings are ideally no more than one hour). The co-chairs will take the lead and get the committee’s buy-in on anything that needs to be decided. But they don’t have to sweat the details. That’s where the partnership with staff comes in. Staff are there to participate in the idea generation, offer advice on best practices and what they know has worked in the past, and then to execute.


Follow ESP and you’ll have a financially successful event, guaranteed!

  1. Empanel a strong committee, 
  2. Set expectations early for committee members, and 
  3. Partner the committee and staff with strong collaboration. 

Click below to set up a time to learn more about how UncommonGood’s platform can help you manage ESP project management, fundraising, and beyond!

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By UncommonGood

November 30, 2023

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