Creating an Event Budget to Ensure Success

shutterstock_211973863Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Fundraisers and event planners know the important role budgets play when working with business and organization leaders. The event budget serves as a guide when hiring vendors, can serve as an effective negotiating tool and will help keep track of expenses. While this process can be layered, and usually requires several revisions, it cannot be minimized. Today I am sharing some insights into the expense budget planning process. I will discuss how the expense budget impacts fundraising goals in future posts.

Over the years, one technique I have found to be helpful is to group expenses into categories. This is a quick way to compare items from multiple vendors and make adjustments as needed.

Selecting the perfect venue gives leaders an opportunity to impress donors and stakeholders. When reviewing options, comparing the cost of each venue is key. Here are some items to examine:

  1. Venue (Room rental fee)
  2. Venue (Room taxes)
  3. Venue (Additional set-up time)
  4. Reception (menu)
  5. Reception (beverages)
  6. Reception (premium bar service)
  7. Reception (limited bar service)
  8. Dinner (menu)
  9. Dinner (wine and beverages)
  10. Speciality Dessert
  11. Catering Service Charge (ranges from 18 to 21%)
  12. Food & Beverage Tax (waived for non-profits)
  13. Tasting Fee
  14. Additional insurance usually in effect the day of the event and for a few days after

Once the venue is confirmed, the next step is organizing the campaign for support. I realize we live in a time where e-mail and social media are heavily used, I have come to realize many corporations, foundations and donors require – and appreciate – written requests for support. Social media and e-mail outreach can be used as a follow-up to a written request.  Here are some items to include:

  1. Save-the-date card (designer fee)
  2. Save-the-date card (printer fee)
  3. Fundraising package (designer fee)
  4. Fundraising package (printer fee)
  5. Invitation package (designer fee)
  6. Invitation package (printer fee)
  7. Postage
  8. Messengers and/or overnight delivery
  9. Programs and journals to be distributed at the event (designer fee)
  10. Programs and journals to be distributed at the event (printer fee)

As we know, large fundraisers involve many moving parts. For events with a 7-figure fundraising goal, and an attendee goal of 750 -800 guests or more, the organization’s mailing list will need to be in the thousands. Coordinating these items before they are mailed requires hours of preparation. If in-house resources are not available, hiring an outside vendor is critical. Here are some line items to include in the budget:

  1. Mailing list preparation (includes bad address removal and updates)
  2. Fundraising package preparation
  3. Invitation package preparation

This is where leadership and the dinner team work with the event decorator to plan the look of the room, signature colors and the impression they want to make on donors and supporters. Here are some items to include in the decor budget:

  1. Linen
  2. Chairs
  3. Chair cushions
  4. Centerpieces
  5. Stage decor
  6. Step and repeat banner
  7. Speciality lighting package
  8. Speciality lighting (delivery, installation and breakdown)
  9. Fee for the delivery and pick up of all rental items
  10. Ropes and stanchions
  11. Pipes and Drapery
  12. Plants to use in key areas

Once guests have been seated, its time for the show to begin. Think of how embarrassed the President or Board chair will be to learn his/her remarks can’t be heard? If a video is planned, the playback must be exceptional. Here are some items to include in your budget to ensure a professional presentation:

  1. Podium
  2. Wireless microphones
  3. Teleprompters
  4. Video screens
  5. Video recorders
  6. Audio-visual technicians
  7. Video playback units
  8. Program producer
  9. Floor manager
  10. Floor assistants
  11. Entertainment/Musicians
  12. Entertainment/Instruments
  13. Professional photographer
  14. Stage construction

From special gifts of appreciation to honorees and guests, to saying thank you to dinner chairs and key staff members, planning for these items early in the process will ensure no one is overlooked. Here are some items to add to this category:

  1. Gifts and giveaways for guests
  2. Special awards for honorees
  3. Honorarium for emcee and keynote speakers
  4. Transportation for emcee and keynote speakers and other VIPs
  5. Transportation incurred for key staff participating in monthly planning meetings
  6. Hotel accommodations for emcee, keynote speakers and other VIPs
  7. Thank you gifts for dinner chairs, volunteers and key staff members who worked on the event
  8. Refreshments provided at monthly planning meetings
  9. Miscellaneous office supplies
  10. Delivery costs to send items to the venue on the day of the event

As my colleagues will attest, planning a fundraiser of this size requires great skill and coordination. Many organizations will look to a professional event planner to ensure the careful management and execution of details. Here are fees you should incorporate into your budget:

  1. Event planner fee
  2. Event planner overhead/administrative costs
  3. Event planner out-of-pocket expenses

Thank you for spending a few moments out of your day with me. I hope today’s post has been helpful to you. If I can be of assistance, please contact me at

With kind regards,






Time to Reconnect

©Stephanie Badini Photography
©Stephanie Badini Photography

Dear Colleagues,

After a brief hiatus, it is good to be back. I look forward to connecting with you and hearing what you’ve been up to. I am also working on ways to engage you further in this process and allow you to share your social and fundraising event success with us.

Please stay tuned for updates to our Facebook page where you will be able to access additional resources and ideas. I am also working on a new Pinterest page that I will unveil in the new year.

Thank you for your patience. I look forward to helping you create success one event at a time.

With kind regards,

A New Year’s Toast

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

As you know, my recent posts have focused on tips for seasoned planners and novices.  However, as we prepare to welcome 2015, I would like to offer a toast to you, for a fabulous (and prosperous) New Year.

While making plans to receive family and friends tonight’s New Year’s Eve gathering, I found myself referring to this visual “storyboard” for elegant, yet simple, entertaining ideas.  Today, I would like to share my ideas with you, in the same spirit of generosity that you have extended to me.  So here’s a toast to you my friends.

In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship,
but never in want.

Traditional Irish Toast

Happy New Year!

The Table Is Set

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year.  Most people are in good spirits, invitations to holiday events arrive at a steady pace and, most important of all, I can plan special holiday dinners for my family and friends.

I have spent the past few days looking at my favorite design magazines, and on-line resources as well, for elegant ways to dress up my holiday table.  As my dinner parties are intimate, I will use the rules for setting an informal dinner table as my guide.  However, there are some really spectacular formal table settings that I would love to try in the future.

For today’s post, I have decided to share some of the ideas I am considering.  As always, I would love to hear from you.  When you have a moment, I encourage you to share your holiday table ideas.  If you enjoy well-planned events as much as I do, I know the possibilities are endless.

Happy Planning!


Planning Is Key


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

At some point in your career, a client (or organization’s leader) might say to you “I been thinking about our upcoming event and I have everything figured out.  By the way, I will only need your involvement with the event’s logistics.”

Depending upon your workload, you might be tempted to view this as a huge blessing.  However, if you are in the business of producing successful fundraising events, you will instinctively know that logistics are one important piece of a very large puzzle.  Based on my past experiences, I can assure you things are always more complex than they appear.

This may sound like Event Planning 101, but before you can confidently say “Let’s Begin”, I strongly recommend that you spend some time working with your client (organization’s leaders or stakeholders), to determine their definition of success.  Achieving clarity around the vision and goals is essential to planning and executing a successful event.

Need some ideas on how to direct this process?  Here are some questions you might want to ask.

  1. What is the purpose of this event?  Why is it important to your organization?
  2. Who is your target audience?  What do you know about them?  Where do they gather?  What event spaces appeal to them?
  3. Once you understand where your audience gathers, what is the best venue for the event you are planning?
  4. After you have engaged your audience, what do you want from them?  What is the call to action?  What would you like for them to do?
  5. Are you confident this event is the best way to engage them?
  6. Will this event serve as a compliment to your organization’s existing programs?

What you learn during this “fact-finding stage” will equip you to guide your client (or organization) through the process of setting attainable and measurable goals.  Here is one example for your consideration.


To raise much-needed financial support from existing donors.
Remember, you do not want to stop at this point!
The next step, and perhaps most important, is to encourage existing donors to recruit their business colleagues, friends and family to participate.

Lastly, their participation can be measured in a couple of ways including:

  1. Purchasing a ticket or table required to attend the event.
  2. Responding to event-related outreach efforts, such as making a contribution, if they chose not to attend the event.

Hopefully, over time, your organization will have new donors to add to its list.  Remember, so much needs to happen before you can confidently say “let’s begin.”  Asking the right questions, and probing for answers, is the key to a successful event.

In future posts, I will share some of the metrics that you can use to evaluate your event’s success.

Until next time, happy planning!


4 Tips for Special Event Planners

shutterstock_178292735Dear Friends and Colleagues:

There will be times when you must constantly navigate deadlines and timelines, especially when planning several events at once.  You may feel as if you are always thinking, or as if you are always on! Goodness knows, I can certainly relate.

Last year, there was a 5-month period where I planned two open-house receptions after my job relocated, a fundraiser and reception for 250, a memorial service for a former leader with more than 200 colleagues and dignitaries, and a signature fundraiser for 700 supporters.

When planning multiple events, I become so mired in the details that I forget to enjoy the results.  We all know how it feels to be under constant pressure to produce successful events, yet when we deliver, we move to the next one as though we are on auto-pilot.

Despite a proven track-record, do you as though you could use more support?  If so, how do you manage?  If you are employed, does your environment allow you to address these feelings without judgement?  If you are an entrepreneur, have you created systems to provide support?  If your answer to either question is no, please know that you are not alone.

Here is some good news.  At any given moment, we can build support systems and acquire resources along the way.  Here are 4 tips that I thought you would find helpful.

1. Connect with a professional network.
Ideally, this is a place where you can seek advice for those more challenging moments.  For some a membership fee is required, others might be free.  Don’t think of this as just a venting session, for a good network allows you to share advice and your success stories.  Here are a few organizations for your consideration.  Resources are always growing, and I encourage you to always add to your list.

  • Association of Fundraising Professionals (for non-profit professionals)
  • Bizbash
  • Cvent’s Online Event Management Resources
  • Event Planners Association
  • International Special Events Society

2. Create your own “go-to” team.
Ideally, this is a special group of friends and colleagues who respect what you are trying to achieve, understand your challenges, and can offer moral support.

3. Connect with a mentor.
Ideally, this is a senior industry professional who can help you think through challenges and come up with solutions.  He/she can also guide you on ways to build upon your successes and learn from past mistakes.

4. Create your own personal mission statement.  
A mentor suggested that I develop a mission statement to encourage me during my challenging moments.  I came up with GRACE.

  • G – Be gracious at all times.
  • R – Be respectful to everyone.
  • A – Accomplishments are important.  Be mindful of what I have achieved.
  • C – Be a consummate professional in all my interactions with others.
  • E – Bring excitement, ease, and elegance, to every event.

My Final Question.
How do I emerge from each situation with grace and dignity?

This is what gives me pause. To be totally honest, I do not always have the answer to each challenge, but I have noticed that during the process, I am able to ground myself in the confidence needed to complete the task.

From the depths of what I am challenged with, I reconnect with what I strive to be – a gracious woman, committed to doing the best job possible.

Have a great day!


3 Important Questions To Ask When Planning An Event


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

When speaking with my fellow special event planners, we frequently comment on how this profession has grown.

One decade ago, events were fairly predictable.  At certain points during the calendar year, plans for an organization’s traditional event season would begin. Conversations would focus on upcoming board meetings, annual convention(s) or trade show(s), employee appreciation events and business meetings.  In-house event planning teams, and the consultants engaged to provide assistance, would move at a fast pace to keep up with the various projects.

Today the landscape has expanded to include events that are more complex and require greater planning, such as: corporate galas and non-profit fundraising dinners, naming opportunities, client and donor cultivation events, product launches and travel incentive programs.  For some professionals, the additional activity can be most exciting.  However, for professionals who do not have the resources to lighten the workload, the additional tasks can be most stressful.

Yet, in the midst of this excitement, every event planner must obtain the answers to 3 very important questions.  

1. What are your organization’s event objectives?

  • In other words, why are you hosting this event?
  • Are you looking to raise awareness for your organization and brand?
  • Are you looking to raise much-needed funds for your organization’s mission and programs?
  • Are you looking to engage new donors and reconnect with former donors?
  • Are you comfortable with your immediate and short-term goals?
  • Are you clear on what success and failure looks like for your organization at this point in our history?

2. Can your organization afford to host this event?

  • Do you have the money required to achieve the results that you want?
  • Will your budget allow you to reflect the image you are trying to project?
  • Would you consider enlisting sponsors for your event?
  • If so, have you formed any strategic alliances that we can approach?

3. What is your vision for this event?

  • Have you given thought to the different elements of the event?
  • What items are on your “must-have” list?
  • Do you have a specific location in mind?
  • What mood are you trying to create?
  • What feelings are you trying to capture?

We will explore these questions more fully in future posts.  As you begin to contemplate your next event, I wanted to start the discussion with these 3 key questions.  If taken seriously, the answers will inform your business discussions for weeks to come.

Sending you good wishes.



Event Planning: The Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings, Corporate Events, Fundraising Galas, Conferences and Conventions, Incentives and Other Special Events by Judy Allen.



Why This Topic?

Red Maple Leaf Design, ©Stephanie Badini
Red Maple Leaf Design, ©Stephanie Badini

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I invite you to join me on a journey into the world of special events.  When I am not planning events, I am writing — or contemplating what to write — so I thought why not create a vehicle that anyone can have access to?

I am so excited to share my experiences with you in this medium.  If you have ever been curious to learn what special events planners really do for a living, you have come to the right place.  I often hear “oh, you plan parties?”  “That’s not a real job”.

If your background happens to be in the event planning world, I know that you will agree that what our guests see is one important part of a very big picture.  Planning events, particularly fundraising events, is extremely demanding and quite painstaking.

As with every profession there are days when I feel as if I am sitting on top of the world. However, that feeling comes at the end of the process, not during the planning and execution stages.  Throughout my 20+ years in this business, I have come to regard my profession as one of the most comprehensive executive training programs I have ever participated in.  

Interesting in learning more about the event strategies required for success?  If the answer is yes, I invite you to join me for an overview of what to expect.  I will also share candid anecdotes so that novices and seasoned professionals can take comfort in knowing that someone out there really does get it, knows what really goes on behind the scenes and appreciates the sacrifices that are made.  It is not all glitz and glam.  But, as we all know, a true investment cannot be measured with a paycheck.  However once the feeling of exhaustion has waned — and if everything went as planned — the memories you are left with are priceless.

I look forward to sharing my updates with you.

With kind regards,