10 Tips for Event Planning for Nonprofits on a Budget

event planning tips

We have helped numerous nonprofits decrease their dependency on events as a main fundraising source.  But of course, we understand the need for special events. In fact, a well-planned event can serve a significant branding purpose for a nonprofit. It can help to market your organization, motivate volunteers, and provide networking opportunities for your leadership, adding legitimacy to your message and mission.

That in mind, we recently asked our friends at Wild Apricot to share their tips for successful event planning on a budget:

10 Tips for Event Planning on a Budget

“Non” and “profit” are literal descriptors of the type of organization you’re running.

So, in a world where your profit is going toward making a difference in the world, event planning on a tight budget can be tricky (to say the least!).

As somebody who’s been there on numerous occasions, I’ve learned that the recipe for a successful event is to use all the help you can get. Use these 10 event planning tips to help save your organization money for the next big event!

  1. Use Existing Resources
  2. Create a Budget
  3. Use the Right Software
  4. Find Passionate Volunteers
  5. Partner with Local Merchants
  6. Choose Optimal Timing
  7. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate
  8. Save on Speaker Costs 
  9. Cut Food Costs
  10. Ask the Right Follow-Up Questions


  1. Use Existing Resources

While no two events are the same, there are plenty of people who have been there, done that. From event planning checklists to the people who previously ran events at your nonprofit (should you be so lucky!), there are tons of places to look.

First, make a list of who you know and their talents. For one of my events, I called a photographer friend who agreed to capture the event out of the goodness of their heart. What talents do your volunteers or staff (or anyone else you know) have that they could contribute to your event?


  1. Create a Budget

This might sound self-explanatory… but trust me, you will need a budget to avoid overspending.

Start by making a list of absolutely everything that you’d like to have at the event.

Then, rank in order of importance.

What would you absolutely not be willing to compromise on to make the event a success? Where could you cut costs by going with a cheaper option? Finally, what could be cut all-together if the budget needs to be spent elsewhere?

Prioritizing is key.

Also, don’t be afraid to explore alternative options. One of the best events I had the pleasure of helping organize opted for heartfelt stories propped up on paper in the middle of the table, instead of using costly floral centerpieces. The organization highlighted the people most affected by their work and saved money — a win-win!


  1. Use the Right Software

There are tons of options for event management software that don’t break the bank (including some that are even free). Depending on what you need, you can find options that help with event registration, ticketing, and even floor plan arrangements. Do your research, and you may find an option that could save you tons of time and money.


  1. Find Passionate Volunteers

To put on an event, you may need to call on volunteers that haven’t been around in a while or brand-new volunteers to the organization. Just like the event management software options I mentioned in the previous tip, the right volunteer management software can help you identify key players who have the right mix of skills for your event.


  1. Partner with Local Merchants

One of the biggest event takeaways for saving money that I’ve learned is that people are more willing to help than you might think.

When planning Cause Camp, a conference for nonprofit organizations, one of the first tasks I tackled was calling on local merchants and sponsors to ask if they would like to contribute.

Think of this as your time to give an elevator pitch. If you’re truly passionate about the event you’re putting on, this will come easily… but you should still practice! Be short and concise, yet with emotion. You’re not there to waste the merchants’ time, you’re there to pique their interest in contributing to a great cause.

With that said, make sure to follow the proper channels merchants use to be asked for donations. Some merchants have a space on their site, some have a specific person who handles the requests, and others you may need to walk into the brick and mortar store to ask!


  1. Choose Optimal Timing

This goes for various aspects of the event. Anybody that has been through planning a wedding or other large event knows that if you want to throw it on a weekend, it’s going to be more costly (Saturdays, especially).

Also, make sure to note when other events similar to yours are scheduled. You have more chance of success if you aren’t competing with other options (or you could even partner with the other organization hosting an event so you can both save).


  1. Negotiate, Negotiate, Negotiate

Don’t be afraid to shop around. Shout from the rooftops that what you’re doing is for a great cause. Many places are willing to give your organization a break when they know it’s helping the community.


  1. Save on Speaker/Entertainment Costs 

This goes both for conferences and entertainment, depending on the type of event you’re hosting. If you can find somebody who’s passionate about your organization, they’ll be more likely to donate their time. Think of people who are passionate about your cause and willing to shout it from the rooftops — they’re the ones you want speaking at your events!


  1. Cut Food Costs

If the event is going to be for a few hours, plan it at a time where a full meal won’t be necessary. If you are doing a full meal, do a buffet-style to cut costs. You can also try working with a food vendor to sponsor specific stations or breakouts so they get their name out there, in exchange for donated refreshments!


  1. Ask the Right Follow Up Questions

Before you’re patting each other on the back for a successful event and popping the champagne, there’s one last way you can save money, and it’s simple. Send a post-event survey to follow up.

But you might be wondering… how exactly does a post-event survey save you money?

Simple — this is the perfect opportunity to cut out things that were a flop from the previous event, or deemed unnecessary by your constituents.

Not sure where to start or what to ask? Check out these 30 post-event survey questions.

Remember, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong — it’s the nonprofit law of event planning! Just take a deep breath, enjoy it, and get ready for a successful event. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to saving more money with a successful event that can continue to be a key contributor to your overall fundraising plan.

And tell us—what are some additional tips you’ve found that make event planning for nonprofits more cost-effective? The experts at Convergent Nonprofit Solutions want you to find success in every step of your fundraising process. If you are looking for a partner to help you get the funds you deserve, contact our experts today to get started!

About The Author