How to Approach Nonprofit Events Through the Lens of Community-Centric Fundraising (and the Tools to Help)

Do your fundraising events need an update? Learn how to transform your events by reframing them in the values of community-centric fundraising.

As fundraisers begin to rethink their approach to events, many are coming to the very real conclusion that the huge donor-centric galas of the past may not be a fit for all community members. Even if the pricey ticket is donated, the idea of getting their hair and makeup professionally done or wearing a gown or tuxedo may not be accessible to them. So in trying to create a space for the community that supports your cause to gather, you’re inadvertently leaving out some of your most passionate supporters.

Hyper-focusing on your event’s fundraising goal can create an atmosphere that doesn’t lend to relationship building. When this happens, event programming is taken over by transactional activities and content that treat your donors like ATMs. And while you may hit that revenue metric, the main reason you put on the event — to establish and cultivate meaningful relationships with supporters in your community —  is lost on calls for attendees to pitch in in monetary ways.

While traditional forms of fundraising events have been elitist and exclusive by design, community-centric fundraising flips this model upside down. And that’s why our Camp Impact session met with the experts behind the movement to delve into this inclusive model.

Our panel featured:

  • Maria Rio, Director Of Development And CommunicationsDirector Of Development And Communications at The Stop Community Food Centre
  • Marisa DeSalles, Principal at Good Tilth LLC and Community-Centered Fundraising Thought Leader
  • Michelle Flores Vryn, CFRE and Fundraising & Communications Strategist

Following our panel, we listened to the event success stories of a number of nonprofit leaders who launched and grew their events since 2020 using nonprofit tech tools. After you read about community-centric fundraising for your next event, watch this video to hear their stories.


What is the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) Movement?

The Community-Centric Fundraising Movement works to evolve traditional fundraising methods to make them more inclusive and more supportive to both the fundraisers themselves and the communities they serve.  

principles of community-centric fundraising are:

1. Fundraising must be grounded in race, equity, and social justice.

2. Individual organizational missions are not as important as the collective community.

3. Nonprofits are generous with and mutually supportive of one another.

4. All who engage in strengthening the community are equally valued, whether volunteer, staff, donor, or board member.

5. Time is valued equally as money.

6. We treat donors as partners, and this means that we are transparent, and occasionally have difficult conversations.

7. We foster a sense of belonging, not othering.

8. We promote the understanding that everyone (donors, staff, funders, board members, volunteers) personally benefits from engaging in the work of social justice – it’s not just charity and compassion.

9. We see the work of social justice as holistic and transformative, not transactional.

10. We recognize that healing and liberation requires a commitment to economic justice.


Embrace the Opportunity to Reframe Your Events

When the pandemic hit, we had to throw our event planning tools out the window, and all of our conventional wisdom was complete garbage at that point. But as much as that was hard, it forced us to be creative. Lots of organizations concluded that events don't make money, they're an incredibly heavy lift on staff, and that relationship-building payoff you should be able to point to? Well, it’s just not there.

This moment gave many fundraisers that pivotal pause they needed to say, “Hey, what we were doing wasn’t really working that well, anyway. Let's try something completely different.” Enter community-centric event fundraising.


Leverage “Generous Authority” to Truly Welcome Your Guests

In some ways, events represent all of the things that we can do wrong in fundraising, but that presents an opportunity. In the book The Art of the Gathering, Priya Parker defines the phrase "generous authority" as what you can exhibit as a host. When you're running an event, you are the ruler of the event, which means you can make some choices that make every guest feel welcome, or you can make choices that exclude and separate your guests. In that planning process, you don't just look at your metrics. Your focus expands to encompass your overall goals: your relationship goals and inclusion goals. In turn, you create the event that could and should be.

It’s more than just, “How do we get folks in here and make them feel comfortable?” It brings in other factors, like, “How can we pair guests with one another so they can meet, converse, and feel belonging?” And, “How can we make them feel like this is their event, like they're hosting it, and they're the VIPs, and the donors are the grateful recipients?” It’s all about flipping the power dynamics of event fundraising on its head, which means adopting a completely different mindset.


Ask the Big Questions to Reveal the Big Goals

When you begin to think about your next fundraising event, start with: What are my priority actions to accomplish you know this year? Maybe your next two years should be focused on acquisition, or maybe you launched new programs recently, and a lot of people don't know about them. And in addition to communicating these goals, you'll want to work on inclusion goals.

You’ll always have multiple goals, but rather than going at every single one of them with everything you’ve got, and weigh them accordingly. For example, you might say, “70% of this event should be focused on our inclusion goals and 30% on new programs.

Of course, that doesn’t mean completely abandoning your fundraising goals. It’s just shifting your focus to some of those big goals you’re already trying to accomplish that normally go to the wayside during events and leverage that event to do that.


Start with Relationships and Uncover Event Sponsors


By engaging supporters and donors in conversations about your organization’s growth, you invite them to become part of the team. And while that doesn’t always mean transactions, think about what it could lead to. Each donor has a number of connections that can lend to your organization’s success, so it’s critical to count everyone as a contributor.

For example, a supporter can educate their colleagues about your programs and pitch a corporate sponsorship for that program, along with your next event that promotes it. Even if they personally don’t have the funds to substantially back your program, the business that employs them might. And during a time when many companies are seeking ways to grow their corporate social responsibility programs, these relationships that grow into partnerships are more common than ever.

Check out this blog post for tips on turning corporate sponsorships into transformational partnerships.


Build Your Sponsorship Model Through a Community-Centric Lens

Community-centric fundraising invites supporters to come as they are. No fancy attire required! And while departing from the norm can feel risky, this gives your team the chance to brainstorm a whole new array of events, from laid-back happy hours at a local bar to a family movie night. You can choose anything that's more accessible to community members while creating opportunities to raise money through event sponsors.

Start with a conversation: Why is your company sponsoring our event? When you have a strong corporate partner, you already know their values align with your nonprofit work. When giving them a lead presentation spot at your event, you'll want to delve into their company's core values so they can make that a centerpiece of their moment.

Once you have that straightened out, think about what the sponsorship model looks like and how it can align with the values of community-centric fundraising. If the event ticket price is steep, maybe that corporate sponsor can cover the cost of several tickets for supporters who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend. Or, perhaps you can cover a portion of the ticket cost for every ticket, and you can attribute that discounted price to their company as you let supporters know of the lower cost to attend.


Communicate the Value of Community-Centric Fundraising to Your Board

Want to present this new event fundraising approach to your board? Start with ROI in terms of money, then move to the heart of the issue: building relationships.

Of course, you’ll want to report how many dollars you’ve raised for every dollar spent. But don’t forget to include the after-effects of the relationship-building you’ve invested in. For example:

  • The amount of money raised from your online event page after the event concluded
  • Growth in social media followers and email subscribers
  • Online gifts from event attendees in the month following your event

These figures justify why a $ 400-a-plate dinner that excludes 75% of your supporters isn't the way to go. And when you can communicate these figures, your board will join you in supporting these efforts. (And they'll feel pretty darn good about it, too.)


Let Nonprofit Tech Help You Manage and Grow Your Events

Change management is hard. But fortunately, there are tons of tools and tech specifically designed to make everything you do for fundraising events (yes, even the new stuff) way, way easier. One of the most important things you can do in successfully managing an event is document everything from guest information to event communications and beyond. And while you can certainly toil over a spreadsheet inputting each bit of data manually for hours a day, you don’t have to.

As you seek to pursue community-centric fundraising in your events, follow the lead of nonprofit leaders who’ve found so much support in these essential tools.

Want the full scoop? Watch an excerpt from our Events Innovation session at Camp Impact.




Bring new supporters into the fold

Vice President at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Andrea S. Tawney PhD achieved an increase in first time donors and dollars from events using DonorCharm.


Shift from paper to digital documentation

Gifts and Records Coordinator at Little Light House Brianah Dodson pivoted from a completely paper-dependent, in-person event to a 100% online event with a silent online auction using Giveffect within just four weeks.


Streamline bookkeeping

Director of Fund Development at Outlook Enrichment  Nina Rongisch finalized all transactions within a few days of their event using GolfStatus.


Get help anytime you need it

Development Director at all Heart Infusion Kalli Wedlake managed her event with the help of ZGIVE’s personalized customer service.


Create an accessible space for everyone

Founder/Executive Director at Ethos Lab  Anthonia Ogundele was able to provide more inclusive safe space for STEM programming using Virtual Reality from Active Replica.




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