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How Planning a Charity Event Works

Types of Charity Events
The UCLA Dance Marathon raises money for pediatric AIDS. Here, participants display placards with the grand total of their earnings.
The UCLA Dance Marathon raises money for pediatric AIDS. Here, participants display placards with the grand total of their earnings.
Photo courtesy UCLA Dance Marathon

The type of charity event you choose to host should depend largely on the amount of manpower and funding available during the planning process. The success of a special event is vitally dependent upon the establishment of attainable goals up front. Representatives from many charities are able to provide realistic expectations based on the size and scope of the event chosen. If a large number of dedicated volunteers from a business, service organization, club, sorority or the like are available, a larger event like a sports tournament (for instance, a 5K run or golf tournament) is feasible. Smaller groups may opt instead to plan an event on a more manageable, smaller scale, such as a charity luncheon, silent auction or speaker fundraiser.

Truly high-end galas, such as big-ticket sit-down dinners or concerts, require a much higher level of investment up front, increasing the risk taken on by coordinators that their investment won't be returned. Many groups caution volunteers not to put the horse ahead of the cart in such a situation, although many of these events turn out to be largely successful. Careful budgeting, planning and understanding of the risks involved must take place before endeavoring to pull off a large-scale event. Lower-risk events that traditionally earn a significant amount of money include simple affairs such as car washes, auctions, flea markets and bake sales [source: Amnesty International USA]. These options are a great way for a novice to test the waters and learn more about the event planning process.

One increasingly popular type of fundraiser that requires a substantial amount of organization but little personal risk is known as an "-a-thon." For example, walk-a-thons and dance-a-thons, such as the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life or the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Dance Marathon, are prime opportunities for hundreds -- or in many cases -- thousands of people to band together to raise funds for a worthy cause and have a great time in the process.

"Dance marathons are unique in that they are typically held on college campuses, which signifies that they are completely student planned and executed," said Kathleen Tvelia, Director of Public Relations for UCLA Dance Marathon 2010. "Our generation is often accused of apathy, yet this dedication to philanthropy demonstrates otherwise. Dance Marathons prove that our generation is invested and capable of creating change in the world."

The 2010 UCLA Dance Marathon raised more than $400,000 to benefit organizations dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric AIDS. Charities appreciate each and every dollar earned. Case in point: A simple lemonade stand set up in the front yard of enterprising 4-year-old cancer patient Alex Scott (1996-2004) has since blossomed into Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a charity that's raised more than $30 million to further pediatric cancer research. This example is positive proof that even the smallest effort can change lives and affect awareness.