Bryan Rafanelli Shares His 3 Tips for Planning a Successful Fundraising Event

Posted February 11, 2022

We spoke with Bryan Rafanelli, an expert event planner, about his tips for hosting virtual, hybrid, and in-person fundraising events for your nonprofit. Bryan Rafanelli’s attention to detail, visionary style, and customized approach has made him a go-to planner for many of the nation’s most exclusive and high-profile events. His company, Rafanelli Events, has produced thousands of events worldwide, including President Obama’s White House State Dinners and Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, as well as a number of well-known and beloved nonprofit events, such as the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Storybook Ball and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston House Party. 

Here, he shares his advice for how to take your events to the next level.

Compelling Message

First and foremost, to have a successful event, Bryan encourages nonprofits to ask themselves: “Do you have an authentic and compelling message? Are your executive and volunteer leadership aligned and deep believers in that message?” Only then can the message be turned into a dynamic story and event that will really resonate with people. “If you have to force this, it will all unravel.”

Decorated tables at an event

Take your Virtual Event from Good to Great

We humans are a gathering group, but virtual events have become an important part of engaging donors. Bryan has found this to be certain in creating successful virtual events: strong content—and the same element of excitement—is key. Make sure the digital content you prepare (e.g. the videos, designed slides, etc.) are on brand, timely, and imbued with emotion. Try to give the content a ‘soul.’ And be sure to think about what would excite your attendees. Is there an opportunity to layer in a 3D experience (e.g. delivering champagne or dinner in a box ahead of time)? Can there be a surprise appearance from a highly regarded donor or constituent? How can you grant attendees access to and time with a beloved leader that they might not have otherwise? (Moving him/her from “room” to “room” can actually give donors more time than they get in a crowded room!)

Man drinks wine and enjoys cheese board while on virtual meeting

Value Beyond the Event

Bryan also encouraged nonprofits to recognize that “the ROI goes far beyond the event.” A Rafanelli-like production is worth the investment because events have legs! It’s not just about the night of, and it’s not just about the dollars and cents. “You might be surprised [by the long-term successes],” Bryan said. “An attendee might be so inspired by the event that they join your board. Or they give a huge, unexpected gift.” The ROI goes far beyond what you see in the room. If your leadership does not believe this, you will struggle to rationalize a high-profile event.

So, with this in mind, make sure you have the staff and infrastructure to capitalize on these opportunities and take the necessary next steps post-event. “If the structure is built correctly, you know exactly who is in the room and why they’re there, and you have a team that can make that grow. Do not do an event if you don’t have the back of house.”

Events always have, and always will be, a big part of our fundraising agenda. They do amazing things for philanthropy. Keep at it!