Planning a Special Event

Failure to plan is to plan for failure. Put in the time now and you’ll save yourself lots of heartache later.

The following list of planning points is not meant to be definitive. Each event is different.

Adapt this list to your own needs and work through the categories specific to your particular event.


  • Refer to your review of last year's event, and be sure you know the components of that event which were most successful and unsuccessful.
  • Research which other community events – or events that could compete for support – were scheduled last year for around the proposed date of your event, and examine if any such events will be on at this time this year. If you’re unsure, pick up the phone and ask.
  • Are there any other major events (not necessarily in your local community) planned for that date - for example, a grand final or an election?


  • Estimate the number of willing and competent volunteers you have for planning and administrative and hands-on work.
  • Check available funds.
  • Estimate the extent of donated goods and services.

Project planning

  • Set out the components of the event. Break up the tasks involved for each and then identify the steps necessary to complete each task. It may be a good idea to work with a team to do this. Include every tiny detail – even those things that you are sure no one would forget.
  • Assign each step the amount of time necessary to carry it out. Add 20%.
  • Assign costs and resources to each step, as well as estimating income at each step (and noting any assumptions – e.g. That "3000 people will buy tickets to the event").
  • Work backwards from the event date, putting in the starting and finishing dates of each step. When putting in place this schedule, also set benchmarks at intervals to remind you to check if the work is on schedule.
  • Check that the total resources (including time – if you burn out your volunteers too early, you’re in trouble) that will be required at any step aren't outside your capability.
  • Add up the total costs, and the total estimated income, across all steps. Add up the time costs as well so you can factor them into your cost-benefit analysis.

Decision time

  • Make sure you know what the purposes of the event are – is it purely about fundraising, or are there awareness-raising and profile/publicity components as well?
  • Look at projected net profit figure for the event (projected income less projected costs). Remember any factors that may impact on this figure.
  • Estimate what proportion of your year's staff/volunteer/board fundraising time will be taken up by the event. Is it realistic? Is it reasonable? Is it achievable?
  • Approve/reject/rework event.

Project organisation

  • Go back to your planning list and arrange it into chronological order so that you have a list of things that need to be done in the order you will need to do them. Assign tasks to reliable people, along with timelines.
  • Assign a team of skilful generalists who will look after any emergencies.
  • Create a master calendar to plot the progress of your special event planning.

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