Planning for outdoor fundraisers

May 13, 2021


Next in our series Nonprofit Tools for Success, the topic is outdoor fundraisers and how to plan for them.  Outdoor fundraisers have a much higher level of planning involved, so be sure to include all of these tips.

The first tip is to plan early.  Outdoor events often need municipal or county permits, and those can take time to process.

If you are planning to use government-controlled properties such as streets, roads, parking lots, or parks, you need to contact the governing bodies to get permission to use those facilities, usually in the form of a permit.  These permits usually have fees, too.

If you are planning to sell food at your event, you will need a temporary food permit from the Grundy County Health Department.  Apply at least one month in advance and pay the nominal fee.  If you use a caterer, that company has to follow food safety guidelines, too.  Regardless, you have to have a way to keep cold food cold, hot food hot, and methods for keeping the space and volunteers clean and sanitary.  All details for outdoor food handling and permits can be found at

The biggest unknown for outdoor fundraisers is the weather.  There is such a thing as event insurance, so be sure to work with an insurance broker to find coverage to help you recoup some of the money that your nonprofit had to lay out in advance of the fundraising money coming in.  You should also consider insurance for items that are damaged as a result of the weather.  This might be items that your nonprofit owns or rents.

You need to find a method for monitoring the weather and determine in advance at what phase you will postpone or cancel your event.  Some events, such as 5K runs, can be postponed an hour or more and still run the event in the same day.  Some events, such as mud obstacle courses, love the rain!  Some events need to be cancelled completely for that day.  Will you have a rain date?  If so, include that date in your marketing and ticket sales.

What is your policy for lightning, tornado warnings, or extreme cold?  Most sports will continue to play until lightning is within a certain distance.  Will you cancel for a tornado watch or wait for a tornado warning?  Most winter youth activities will continue unless the daily high temperature is expected to be extremely low.  The point is to think through all of the weather scenarios for the season of your event and decide in advance what you will do so that you can put those details in your marketing and ticket sales.

What if extreme weather suddenly occurs during your event?  You need a plan for severe weather response, sheltering, and evacuation.  Where will your 5K runners go in the middle of the race?  How will you shelter or evacuate 1,000 guests at a concert?  Please reach out to the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency at 815-941-3212 to help you make these plans before you need them.

For both perfect and extreme weather, you need to communicate with local police, fire, and EMS about your event plans.  Do you need medical backup for physical events such as 5K runs?  Do you need police to help with traffic control?  Do you want them for the entire event or only if needed…and what is the event that triggers you calling them?  Are you to call 9-1-1 or is there a liaison you are to call first?  Will these services be free or will there be a fee associated with them?

When you contact the municipality for permission to use streets, roads, parks, or parking lots, also inquire about whether you can use city-owned port-a-potties, picnic tables, hand-washing stations, garbage cans, and traffic barricades.  This may be a free service offered by city public works, or there may be a small fee.

What about garbage?  Do you have enough cans and bags?  Do you need a dumpster?  Where will it go and who will you contract with for it?  Do you have volunteers scheduled to make the rounds of the cans, remove full bags, install fresh bags, and take the full bags to the dumpster?  Will the volunteers carry the bags or should you get a cart or vehicle?

Will you pay teams to do some of this work for you?  For large events, it makes sense to contract with Scouts, youth teams, or church groups to come handle some of these tasks for you in exchange for a donation to their group.  Garbage control is one task that fits well with this model.

Will your event need electricity to run lights, sound, or food equipment?  Will you use generators?  Is there a business near your event that will allow you to plug into their system?  Or will the city allow you to plug into the lampposts?

Is your youth group having a car wash?  Will the fire department allow you to plug into their hydrants?

Will your event need a stage, chairs, or pop-up tents?  Do you have a plan for making sure that your volunteers have water, snacks, and sunscreen?

Lastly, make sure your event has plenty of signage is that large enough for people to see from a passing car.  Make sure you have specific directional signage for parking, entrance, participants, spectators, and traffic control.

Outdoor events can involve extreme amounts of planning and preparation, but they can also be huge fundraisers for your organization.  Like any fundraiser, the first one is the most difficult.  But once you have a plan and checklists, you can adjust them so that tasks become routine.  Just watch for that changing weather!


Julianne Buck is the Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Grundy County.  She can be reached at 815-941-0852, at [email protected], or at 520 W. Illinois Avenue in the historic Coleman Hardware Building in Morris.