Budgeting Basics

The world of volunteer coordinators is often fluid. When working with a free work force, you quickly find how to deftly roll with the punches and adapt to whatever circumstances arise. The same strengths that help you excel at your position often make it difficult to tackle tasks that appear rigid and fixed, tasks like creating a budget. Learning how to enter into the mingling of boundaries and flexibility is essential for both your organization and your event to thrive. So let’s take a look at some basic principles to help you get started.


Understand the Numbers

No matter your financial literacy, take time to fully understand the numbers for your event. The number one goal of your fundraising event is just this: to raise funds. If you produce the most innovative, entertaining, meaningful event, but it costs more money than it raises, you’ve still failed at your primary goal.


Take meetings with your financial team to understand the annual budget, the amount of resources earmarked for your event, and the variety of ways your event is planning to bring in income. As you list the forms of income (ticket sales, pledges per mile of a race, concessions, sponsors, etc.), be realistic in your estimations.


If this is your first event, reach out to organizations that have run similar events to see where their income levels began. If this is an established event for your organization, look through the budgets from years past to see the annual amount of growth per year to appropriately project this year’s numbers. Fundraising requires a high level of optimism and aspiration, but building your budget is a place to stay grounded in the information available to you.


List Expenses

If you’re a relational person, this may seem like another step that seems like a drag, but stay with me. Work through each aspect of your event and list all definite and probable expenses. Unexpected costs always pop up, but what can you anticipate? Authors Stan Hutton and Frances Phillips list the following categories as a good starting point for you and your team:

  • Location (space rental, site use permits, security guards, portable toilets, tents, cleanup costs)
  • Advertising and marketing (save-the-date postcards, photography, posters, invitations, event programs, publicist costs, postage, event website with a ticket purchase feature)
  • Production (lighting and sound equipment, technical labor, stage managers, auctioneers)
  • Travel and per diem (for guest speakers, performers, or special guests)
  • Insurance (for example, liability insurance in case someone gets hurt because of your organization’s negligence, or shipping insurance to protect donated goods)
  • Food and beverages (including permits for the sale or serving of alcohol, if necessary)
  • Decor (flowers, rented tables and chairs, linens, fireworks, banners)
  • Miscellaneous (prizes, awards, talent treatment, name tags, signs, t-shirts)
  • Office expenses (letter writing, mailing list and website management, detail coordination)
  • All other staff expenses


Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

Now that you have the basic budget of cash coming in and going out, it’s likely time to make cuts. You’ve done the hard work of getting everything down on paper, and now it’s time to choose what is most important and most necessary. Brainstorm with team members to utilize multiple perspectives. In the end, help your team understand your decisions by discussing those priorities and the realities of the financial limitations.


Get Creative

Just hearing the word “budget” can conjure up feelings of conflict and restriction, but you don’t have to feel stuck. The budget provides parameters, but you can get as inventive as you’d like within them. Necessity begets creativity! Think of alternative solutions and partnerships that can help you achieve your goal. To maximize your marketing budget, perhaps existing sponsors are willing to use their social media channels to promote your event. To save on food and beverage expenses, look into your volunteer base to see if there are existing connections that may offer catering discounts. A solution is likely still present, even if it looks different than your first choice.


Anne Summers

Anne Summers is a staff writer at VolunteerLocal. She loves good food, great people, and volunteering.