how to become an event planner

Charity / Fundraising / Non-Profit Event Planner Job Description

In this section, we're going to look at a real charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner job description—as described by a professional; Farida Haqiqi, former Events Manager, The British Red Cross.

Being a Charity/Fundraising/Non-profit Event Planner: In Their Own Words

Now let's hear a first-hand account of a charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner job description from a professional:


farida haqiqi
Farida Haqiqi
The British Red Cross

Farida Haqiqi is the former Events Manager for The British Red Cross.

Events she worked on included the annual British Red Cross London Ball; a gala fundraising dinner for 600 people, a “major donor” event at Clarence House with HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, challenge events such as the London Marathon, and an annual British Red Cross Skills Share conference for 200 delegates.

1. The role of a charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner

“If I was to list the 5 things that make up the day to day job, it would be:

  • Daily communication with the production company to discuss the progress of the event and receive updates on suppliers
  • Managing the event budget, drawing up supplier contracts, and payment of supplier invoices
  • Supporting a volunteer committee with their fundraising efforts and ensuring they are kept up to date on all details of the event
  • Liaising with corporate sponsors, auction sponsors, and general donors to secure sponsorship and prizes via committee contacts
  • Updating the in-house PR team on the event, any media-worthy guests / celebrities attending, and any luxury auction prizes that could provide positive pre-publicity.”
h20 for British Red Cross London Ball
Photo: h20 for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

Supplier Liaison

“A charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner’s key responsibility is to be the main communicator between all the different suppliers and stakeholders, to ensure everyone is on the same page. For example, if you’ve discussed a certain theme with the designers who are decorating the space, then the caterers will need to be aware of this so they can create the menu and style the tables accordingly. Likewise, the florists will need to ensure the centerpieces don’t clash with either the menu (in terms of strong smells) or the table styling.

Alternatively, if you have large items that you want to display during a live auction, such as a car, then you’ll need special permission from the venue. This might involve checking whether they will allow a vehicle inside and, if so, what the restrictions are—such as draining the gas tank—and whether there are suitable entry points large enough to get the car into the building/tent. Equally, the production team will need to allow for additional space in their stage and floor plans, and be aware of whether they need to provide any specific lighting or special effects when the lot is being auctioned.

As the planner, you are the go-between for all these suppliers so you need to keep abreast of everything that is going on.”


dining room and tables at Red Cross Ball
Photo: Honky Tonk Blues for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

Working with a Production Company

“Many charities will work with individual suppliers on an event, whereas others will hire an event production company to come in and take charge of the operational side; meaning they design and organize the event, using their own preferred suppliers.

In this case, the charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner will work closely with the production company, rather than directly with any individual suppliers, but will still continue to retain full control on all decision-making matters relating to the event.

Whether you work for a charity that designs and manages the event themselves, or whether they hire an event production company to do this for them, working in charity / fundraising / non-profit events will provide you with in-depth experience and insight into all the different stages of event planning."


Fundraising

"As a charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner, you have to bear in mind that you actually have two roles, that of event planner and that of fundraiser. Your job is to create an event from start to finish, ensure it runs smoothly, and also ensure you hit your financial targets for the charity. The funds can’t be raised without the event taking place and if the event isn’t organized correctly, it will have a negative impact on the fundraising—so basically you’re under twice the pressure.”

2. Event Planning and Design

Theme & Concept

“Obviously different events have different formats, in terms of how they are run, but assuming it is a large-scale event, such as a gala ball, then in terms of the event logistics, one of your first meetings will be with your production company—or individual suppliers—a couple of months prior, to discuss the theme and budget.

Themes are often important for charity events; it’s a constant challenge to come up with fresh and original ideas. There are so many charity events going on that often themes get ‘done to death’ very quickly, or they become predictable and clichéd."


Venue

"Once a theme has been decided, you’ll move on to venues; where will it be held? Can the guests get there easily? Although this might seem like an odd question, with charity events, you really need to think about who your audience is.

If the majority of your guests live and socialize in an affluent area, such as Kensington and Chelsea in London, will they even consider going to an event on the other side of town in a more cool and edgy neighborhood?

door to the Secret Garden
Photo: The Secret Garden for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

High-net worth guests and VIP’s won’t be using public transport, so will they get to the reception on time if they are being chauffeur driven in the middle of rush-hour traffic? Is the road outside the venue adequate to allow an even flow of traffic whilst dropping off guests, or will you need valet parking? Are there any local council parking restrictions? If you have live entertainment in a tent, is the site in an area where there are noise restrictions or curfews, and if so can you get an extension? If not, how does that affect the running order of the evening—will entertainment have to finish before midnight? "


dining room and tables for red cross ball
Photo: The Secret Garden for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

Layout, Flow, and Decor

“Then there is the space to consider; how will the rooms work to allow guests to move easily from one to another; arriving to check-in at the entrance desk, then moving into the reception area for cocktails and canapés, before finishing in the main room for dinner and dancing?

How will each area be decorated and where will you spend the majority of the decoration budget?

Charity / fundraising / non-profit events often don’t have big budgets for decoration, so you’ve got to use it wisely. You want to wow your guests when they arrive into the reception area, but at the same time, the real wow factor has to be in the main dining area where they will spend the majority of the evening, so how do you balance this with your budget? "


Ancillary Services

"If the event is being held in the middle of winter, is there sufficient heating at the venue? If it’s a temporary structure, such as a tent, you’ll need to bring in electric heaters, which are harder to control than central heating. Are there sufficient toilets for the guests, as well additional toilets for staff and suppliers, or will you need to hire in additional port-a-loos? Do the catering suppliers have enough space if they need to bring in their catering equipment and are there any venue restrictions—such as not being able to use fryers—which, in turn, will affect what you choose for your menu?"


Menu Planning

"When it comes to creating the menu, you need to consider your audience carefully—bearing in mind that people have paid a premium for their ticket, maybe $1,000+ a plate. The food has to reflect the ticket price, yet still be within your budget.

If you’re organizing a small function, you can request any dietary requirements in advance, so your guests can specify if they can’t eat any particular food, but for large-scale events, it’s generally safer to stay clear of pork and shellfish as you will more than likely have Muslim and Jewish guests.

You’ll find that the catering manager will be one of the suppliers with whom you’ll have a lot of contact during your event, as they have the most interaction with the guests.

If a guest has a question, or complaint they generally tend to grab the nearest staff member to hand, which will often be one of their wait staff. They will then pass the information on to the catering manager, who in turn will liaise with you as the planner to make a decision."

country and western line dancers
Photo: Honky Tonk Blues for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

Entertainment

"With charity / fundraising / non-profit events, there’s often a lot of emphasis placed on the entertainment—which sometimes involves headline acts. One of the biggest crews on the evening will be your production, sound, stage, and lighting suppliers. In the pre-event planning stages, they will need to know all the details and timings of the event in order to design the stage and lighting plans.

If you’ve got live entertainment, how big is the band? What specific equipment will they need? All these details will affect the size of the stage and dictate the lighting requirements. Do they have a rider—with specific catering or changing room requirements? If an entertainer is performing for free, or at a reduced rate, you need to make sure you look after them in other ways. ”


auction MC / host at Red Cross Ball
Photo: Honky Tonk Blues for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

Fundraising

“You also have to consider the fundraising elements at the event, and how these impact the design and layout of the event. What prizes have you got in your live auction? If you have a car or motorbike, will it need to be displayed on stage? Or will it require any special lighting effects?

If you have jewelry that is being modelled, will you need a video camera operator for close up shots of the model while the lot is being auctioned, so that guests can see the item on the screens?

Do the silent auction items need to be displayed on screens at all times when there is no entertainment going on? How long will the auction go on for? Who will your auctioneer be? How will the winning raffle tickets be announced?

Are there any speeches being made? How many? How long will each go on for?

Are there any specific images, logos, or videos that need to be shown during the speeches or the auction? Is there somewhere secure to store unclaimed prizes, or does someone have to take them back to the office at the end of the event?”.

3. Managing Staff, Volunteers, and Committees

“A charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner will also need to work with a number of other teams on the day, such as temporary event staff and external volunteers, some of whom will help set up during the day, while others will assist during the evening event only.

Staff need to be briefed; they need to be told where to keep their personal belongings, where they can change if they stay on from being a day helper to being an evening helper, which shifts they will be eating in, and who will need to be where and at what time during the event.

You’ll also be dealing with your organization’s in-house finance team, who will be taking payment for the live and silent auctions as well as counting the money made from the raffle. So you need to think about whether there is a safe at the venue to hold the money overnight. If not, a security company will need to be instructed to collect the cash and any other valuable items, and deliver them to the charity / non-profit’s office the following morning. Live auctions often include luxury jewelry or other items worth thousands of dollars, so there needs to be round-the-clock security on the day to ensuring these items do not go missing."


indian sitar players on stage with taj mahal backdrop
Photo: Indian theme for The British Red Cross London Ball by Leftfield Productions

Committees

"On the fundraising side, you’ll be working with a volunteer committee. That typically involves holding monthly meetings to discuss the progress of the event, including how many tickets have been sold, and what raffle/auction prizes or corporate sponsorship money has been secured. You and your team will be providing full support to the volunteer committee at all stages, keeping everyone motivated and enthusiastic. Your volunteer committee are your key clients and the main promoters of the event; if they’re not interested in the event, their friends and contacts won’t be either and that won’t sell any tickets."


Management

"In-house, you’ll be keeping the charity / non-profit’s management informed on all stages of the event and, most importantly, on the financial progress; whether the outgoings are being kept within budget and whether income is likely to hit target. That target will often be re-forecasted accordingly at various stages throughout the planning process. There are times when you may need to re-evaluate whether to even go ahead with an event or not, if unforeseen circumstances mean it doesn’t look like it will bring in the predicted funds. That’s something fairly unique to fundraising events.”




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Pros and Cons of Being a Charity / Fundraising / Non-profit Event Planner

Read what Farida Haqiqi, former Events Manager, The British Red Cross, believes are the pros and cons of being a charity / fundraising / non-profit event planner.

farida haqiqi