Startup fundraising is fraught with peril- sometimes, it can feel like you’re navigating a minefield! It’s imperative at this stage in the game that startup founders are absolutely clear on what they’re looking for as far as outside funds and investment go – where to look for it and what you need to get it.
Acquiring startup funding is becoming more and more of a challenge for founders, so it’s important that organizations are fully prepared with the right information. Start the process by targeting the right investors and doing your research and homework to prepare for investor meetings.
Even then, it can be hard to get to those meetings without first securing the connections you need to start building relationships with investors and VC firms. In order to improve the chances of making warm connections with potential investors, many startups are turning to fundraising events to acquire the funds they need to scale.
In order to improve your odds of hitting fundraising goals, there are a few things you can do to make sure that your organization’s fundraising event is a successful money maker. The success of these events depends on very careful, precise planning- meaning you should have a working document that serves as a written event plan for every event you hold.
To make sure that your startup fundraising event is successful, here are ten things to incorporate into your event plan:
Before you make any other decisions, you must first decide on the purpose of your event. Is this truly a fundraising event, or does your organization have other goals to achieve by holding this event? Your startup could be hoping to raise funds at this event, but the main function could be to gain publicity for a new product/service, cultivate brand awareness, or highlight a cause that the corporation supports. Many startup events have more than a single goal. Deciding on these details early on will help you solidify the key performance indicators that are important to your startup’s definition of a successful event.
Before you get started on any of the other action items, you should lay the groundwork for success. This includes forming committees. You’ll need:
- Planning committee – This will be the team that’s in charge of the behind-the-scenes work spelling out the details before the event. This is the team that will be taking care of event logistics and preparing your planning calendar.
- Host committee – This committee will manage the fundraising for your event. This can entail recruiting key investors in executing crowdfunding initiatives, the host committee should be focused on fulfilling your fundraising goals.
- Event day committee – This is the team that’s in charge of executing the event, ensuring that staff and any volunteers are accounted for and in position.
Startup Fundraising Goals
Meet with key stakeholders and the other teams involved such as the event host committee, your organization’s employees, and key fundraisers to decide on the amount of money you plan to raise at your event. Everything in the event from this point forward should be geared towards raising money that will hit your goals. It’s at this point that you should:
Review key questions with your committees. Asking questions will help your startup assess needs and create reasonable goals to move towards.
You should walk away from these conversations knowing:
- What is the purpose of hosting your event?
- What do we hope this event will improve in the organization?
Determine fundraising goals
Your startup’s fundraising goal will be the amount of money you want to raise for your organization. You may have an overall goal to hit as well as individual goals for each event if you’re managing multiple initiatives.
In order to determine how much you should ask for, you need to:
- Assess Needs (see a theme?) – How much does your startup need to accomplish specific internal initiatives.
- Assess Ability – Look at the past fundraising events or campaigns (if you’ve had any yet) and determine the average amount you’ve raised in the past. Organizations can and should shoot for higher goals, but it’s important to remain realistic based upon past attempts.
- Calculate an amount that will challenge you, yet you are able to achieve. If your needs align with the ability to hit those goals, then you can begin to calculate your fundraising goals. If it doesn’t reassess internal goals and initiatives to try to align these two figures a bit closer together.
Determine stewardship goals
This is your opportunity to further build relationships with investors or encourage the opportunity for warm introductions to new faces. You should be striving to meet with these investors and gain more insights into them. This is valuable face-to-face time with the people you want to invest in your organization- set actionable goals like ‘We want to cultivate relationships with 2 new venture capital firms.’
Remember to plan for what you hope to net, not gross- you should be aiming for this amount after expenses are deducted. Which leads us to…
Every single fundraising event plan should contain a detailed budget that lists all of the expenses that are required to throw a successful event. Budgets should include everything: staffing expenses, invitations, space rental, catering, transportation costs, security detail, utilities, marketing and any other items that are required to make the event a fundraising success. Budgets should take into account the fundraising goals to ensure that you raise the amount your organization needs above and beyond all of your expenses.
Also, be sure to leave enough wiggle room in your budget for unforeseen costs and contingencies.
As we detailed above, part of the overall event efforts entails forming specific committees for sub-goals that build a successful event. Your event will likely (and should) have a “host committee” and one or more chairpersons of this committee. These are the people that are responsible for contributing substantial amounts of money to the event and will also be responsible for encouraging others to do the same.
Your event’s host committee is generally composed of founders, existing investors, business leaders that you have close relationships with, or local celebrities in the community. Your host committee and chairpersons are not generally responsible for running the event but are a key part of ensuring that you reach your fundraising goals.
Event Target Audience
With startups, this piece is a bit more cut and dry: your target audience is people who are passionate about your organization’s offerings or private investors that are key parts of your startup’s ecosystem. This is your chance to develop insights into the community that will financially support your organization and builds revenue.
Take the time to build and develop investor personas. This will provide your team with the opportunity to customize conversion paths for each individual persona to create a personalized journey to support your organization.
There are other things you must decide at this point- will everyone be invited to your event, or is it geared towards a specific group of people like venture capitalists and key business people in your particular ecosystem?
Event staff should have the planning for event setup completed well in advance. This includes all the particulars of an event:
Book Your Venue
In order to determine the venue that works best for your event, take the following into consideration:
- Sound and Lighting
- Permits and licensing
- WiFi and cell service
Choose The Date
The date will partially be determined by the venue you’ve chosen. You’ll have to work with the event space that works for you. Not only that, but you’ll have to consider dates that attract the most attendance from your community of investors and connections. Weekends are usually best because more people are able to attend, but don’t overlap with any major holidays or competing events.
Create A Schedule
Don’t leave an opportunity for loose ends to fray- they will! Create a schedule that delegates all of the necessary tasks by committee, subcommittee, an individual:
- List out tasks – Write out every task that you’ll need to complete for the event to be a resounding success. When working on this, work backward from the day of the event to the planning phase to help your team take a comprehensive approach where no stone is left unturned.
- Create a detailed timeline that’s accessible to the entire team. You now know what you need to accomplish, and it’s time to schedule each phase of your plan onto a timeline or calendar. You can color code the calendar to each committee to keep everything organized. Ensure that everyone has access to the calendar to keep your entire team on the same page.
Like any new product, your event deserves aggressive marketing (and likely needs it to be successful) to your target audience. This is your chance to convince supporters and new connections that your startup and event are worthy of the time and money they will spend to attend. Take the time to strategize an entire marketing plan for your event. You’ll need to create a cohesive marketing strategy that will resonate with every target persona you formed earlier.
Do so by deciding on the following:
Brand Your Event
Before you can advertise your event, you’ll need to understand the image you’ll be projecting to your donors. Branding your event can help to create recognition between your startup and your investors while keeping all of your communications consistent.
Startups can solicit funds online as well by utilizing crowdfunding leading up to the event. This type of campaign allows you to fundraise specifically for the event you’re hosting over the course of a designated timeline.
Arrange Guest Speakers & Entertainment
Determine any guest speakers and entertainment early-on (at least 90 days in advance) so that you can highlight them in your marketing outreach.
Select Promotional Materials
In order to bring in more revenue at your fundraising event, you can sell promotional ‘swag’. Events present the opportunity to sell items in advance online and at the event itself.
Solidifying Event Sales Pipeline
Once you begin marketing your event, there must be a system in place for making ticket sales or accepting fundraising for the event. Decisions can be made whether there will be different contribution levels for the event, who will sell the tickets, how they will be shipped or delivered, and who is responsible for organizing incoming information.
You’ll want to answer these questions:
Determine ticket pricing
You may want to sell individual tickets, VIP packages, or family packages at a discount. Be sure to incorporate automated pricing into event registration to simplify the process.
Design the tickets
Create a ticket design that focuses on your cause and the event itself. Don’t forget that attendees who purchase tickets online may want the option to print them.
Invite current investors
Send personalized invitations to the current investor relationships you have and post a large invite on your social media pages. Direct investors to your event registration page or crowdfunding campaign so they can begin to purchase tickets.
Practice Before Event Launch
While most teams won’t need a full run-through of the event, it is essential that everyone who’s working on the event know ahead of the time what their responsibilities are, where they should be during the event and the general flow of the event execution. If you’re having a large event, key event staff may want to do a practice run to make sure that the operation of the event is going to run smoothly.|
Be Polite. Say Thanks.
One of the most common complaints from attendees and contributors to a fundraising event is that “They never said ‘thank-you.’” This goes for your event volunteers as well. Make sure that your startup takes the time to send thank-you notes to everyone involved: investors, contributors, volunteers, staff, and vendors.
Proper event follow-up often looks something like this:
- Process Payments – Ensure that your startup receives funds and your investors receive the proper receipts by processing payments quickly.
- Evaluate Budget – Compare your budget to actual spending. How does net profit look? Where can you cut back next time?
- Update Attendees – Within 24 hours of your event, you should post an update to social media that shows how much your donors raised for the cause. Include photos from the event and continue to update social media to engage your attendees.
- Send Thank You Notes – Send thank you notes to all of your attendees and volunteers. You should create personalized thank you’s for major investors to steward them correctly. All thank you notes should be sent within a week after the event.
- Email Event Surveys – Once your event has concluded, learn how you can improve in the future by sending out surveys. Ask your attendees:
- What they enjoyed the most
- What they enjoyed the least
- What can be improved in the future
- Any additional comments
Through careful planning, testing, and execution, any startup can use events for effective fundraising efforts. It’s one more way to gain valuable face-to-face time with investors and VC firms, allowing you another opportunity to forge relationships that will drive your company’s goals forward.