Branding for nonprofit fundraising events, part 1: party with a purpose

This post is the first in a 2-part series on branding for nonprofit fundraising events. I discuss why events are a unique and critical component of a nonprofit’s brand, with tips for organizing a successful, well-branded fundraising event. Part 2, which will be out in October, covers out-of-the-box fundraising event ideas that are sure to make your occasion unforgettable.

Party with a Purpose

It’s likely that your school, church, community organization, social service agency, or other type of charity holds a special event (or two, or three) each year, such as a walk, gala, or golf tournament. The purpose of this kind of event is generally two-fold: a) to raise money, and b) to raise awareness for your nonprofit and its mission.

How can you capitalize on your organization’s brand so the event meets these important goals – while also being fun and memorable?

Awareness, Action, and Loyalty

A brand is the collective experiences that make your nonprofit unique. It’s how people feel about your group. An event is just one component of your brand, yet it is one of the most visible, public-facing touchpoints. Events play their own unique role in your brand by helping shape your image in the eyes of the public, and connecting you to the community by creating:

  • Awareness – of a group’s mission and programs
  • Action – People who feel strongly enough about a nonprofit get actively involved on some level
  • Loyalty – These active participants feel that their involvement and connection says something about themselves — who they are and what they stand for. Once this personal connection is made, loyalty is established

A Celebration of Epic Proportions

If you want your occasion to be a blast, then it must transcend ordinary fundraiser status. “The best way to do this is to create a fully branded experience from top to bottom. Every aspect from the very first contact with prospective participants to the day of the event must be thought out and planned. And your brand should be prominent throughout all of it.”
—Jono Smith, Nonprofit Event Management: 4 Tips For Creating A Radically Different Event

Promotions are important in order to effectively get the word out about the event. The event’s name, tagline, and logo; as well as emails, save-the-dates, invitations, posters, media relations, and web registration page are all intended to increase visibility, attendance, and participation.

But try to move beyond distributing logo-laden T-shirts and water bottles. The thinking behind the event strategy must be catchy, appropriate to your brand, and what it promises your audiences.

Red Rooster Group is a design & branding firm in NYC. They developed marketing materials a couple of years ago for Hazon’s New York Bike Ride, the signature event for this Jewish environmental organization. Principal Howard Levy was Marketing Co-chair. His challenge? Attracting participants and encouraging them to fundraise, an activity many of them had never done before.

Levy’s solution involved the following tactics:

  • Developing recruitment materials including postcards and posters that would appeal to a broad range of people
  • Creating small cards that are easy to keep in the pocket of a riding jersey that explain how to change a flat tire
  • Creating a 28-page Ride Guide that described the event, with detailed tips, checklists, and sample letters on how to fundraise and train for the ride
  • Producing a fundraising clinic that helped riders overcome the fear of asking sponsors for money, who to ask, and to answer their questions

Event Branding from Year to Year

How much or how little should an event’s branding change from year to year? This depends on the type of event. If it’s an annual gala where the theme or name changes, then changing it up each year is perfectly acceptable — while retaining some visual or conceptual relationship with the larger organization, for the sake of branding consistency. For walk-a-thons and similar events, it’s okay to establish this as an annual “branded event”. The look and feel can be re-used each year, with subtle alterations to certain elements – like a predominant color, photos, and obviously the date – while more or less keeping the key messages and visuals consistent.

For example, our friends at Enzo Creative are in the process of working with Friendship Circle— a community organization that helps children and teens with special needs — for a second year on promotional materials for their main annual fundraising event, Walk With Your Heart. The Friendship Circle event branding includes email blasts, web graphics, a self mailer, advertisements, posters and billboards. The event tagline, “Walk. Run. Make a Difference” remains consistent from year to year.

Because of Enzo Creative’s efforts, Friendship Circle raised $130,000 in 2012.

“To bring the design concept to life we utilized a stock photo which we then retouched before incorporating bright red shoelaces which served as both the creative handmade typography and heart iconography for the campaign message. We then set the image in a bright blue background to create a striking visual effect.”

— Lou Leonardis, Creative Director, Enzo Creative

This year for the branded promotional materials, Leonardis reports that they are almost identical, with the exception of new text and a red burst highlighting their new location. Additionally, a Friendship Circle affiliate in Chicago utilized the design, changing the main color from light blue to light purple.

Tips for a Well-Branded Fundraising Event

Promotional elements can be put into practice regardless of the size of your organization and its resources. Set realistic expectations and decide what strategies will work best in print, email marketing, social media marketing, and other tools:

  • Well-designed graphic elements that create awareness and memorability
  • Messages that engage existing and new audiences
  • Call-to-action that spurs people to do something
  • Application of consistent brand messaging across myriad marketing channels
  • Tools that allow participants to share their experience (for example, enabling participants to synch their online personal fundraising headquarters with their Facebook or Twitter accounts)
  • Event programming that is consistent with branding
  • Outreach to attendees and supporters after the event to continue the conversation

Special events should be unforgettable and enjoyable — something participants look forward to year after year. It is just one aspect of your brand, but an important one that functions to engage your base, build new relationships, and promote participation.


Julia Reich is the Principal and Creative Director of Stone Soup Creative (formerly Julia Reich Design), which was founded in 2001 to serve the nonprofit sector with design, branding and marketing services.

To learn more about how Stone Soup Creative can help your nonprofit with Event Branding or other design services, email, call 212-721-9764, or use our Contact Us form here.

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