For many nonprofits, summer is the season of making plans, listing goals and gearing up for an annual event — be it a gala, luncheon, symposium or conference. The amount of work it takes to pull off a successful event can be daunting at times. Therefore, it is crucial to create a roadmap of what needs to happen, including the development of your event collateral.

Having an event collateral checklist will ensure your event raises as much money and awareness as possible while preventing you from tearing your hair out. Keep the following list handy at your next event meeting, and then stay tuned for Part 2 of 2, which will be posted next week:

1) Establish the EVENT THEME early

This should be done as early in the process as possible. There’s no need to wait for the date, time and venue to be finalized. In fact, the event theme really shouldn’t be based on the time of year at all! Themes like “Spring Gala” and “Winter Wonderland” are too generic and overused. Rather, your event theme should tie into your mission and get your message out there.

Your event is a touchpoint with your donors; think of a theme that will resonate with them. I recently worked with the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation on their annual “Dream & Promise” Gala, which speaks to the fact they are making dreams and promises come true for children and their families.

2) Develop a LOOK & FEEL to bring the theme to life

The most important rule of thumb is to think of the event collateral as a cohesive system. Yes, the individual pieces can be unique and different, but they must all look like they belong to the same event. When establishing a look & feel, don’t just think of the first few pieces (such as the save-the-date or the solicitation letter). Make sure your designer creates a logo, color palette and graphics that can be adapted to any piece needed over the next few months (digital or print).

It is important to remember that your designer should follow your organization’s branding guidelines at all times. This will ensure the event materials work within the bigger picture of your organization’s visual identity. You don’t have to worry about limiting your designer; think of your brand guidelines as much appreciated project parameters.

3) Create a professional-looking SOLICITATION LETTER

At this year’s AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Fundraising Day Conference in New York City, there was much importance placed on making your event seem well established before asking for support. The best way to achieve this is by hammering down the event details and then creating stationery with the event branding on it. People will be more apt to join committees or sign on as honorees or speakers if the event looks like it’s been around for a while.

I recommend creating a masthead, which includes the event theme and branding, to sit at the top and/or along the side of a letter-sized page set up in Word. This way, the letters can be customized for each recipient and printed internally at minimal cost.




The same rule of thumb for the solicitation letter applies here: include the event theme and branding on an 8.5” x 11” sheet in order to make the event look polished. After that, think of the sponsorship levels & benefits sheet as an opportunity to promote your highest sponsorship levels. This sheet will give prospective sponsors an apples-to-apples comparison of each level; it should clearly show the added value they get from investing more.

Be sure to list all of the details that will make a sponsorship worthwhile for a company — number of tables, number of seats/tickets, any special remarks, any special recognition, company signage, logo placement, etc. Over time, you can even update the sponsorship sheet to reflect which levels have been sold out. This will create a sense of urgency.

5) Design the SAVE-THE-DATE (print or electronic)

Now that you have dedicated time toward building your committees, getting confirmations from keynote speakers and securing commitments from major sponsors, it’s time to send out the save-the-date. Your audience will see that certain people and companies are linked to your event and they will want to follow suit. Make sure the save-the-date features the event branding, the event details and the key players that are now serving as main attractions.

Sometimes it’s hard to get honorees, guest speakers and/or corporate sponsors to commit as early in the process as you’d like. Therefore, if things are lagging and you feel it’s best to send something out rather than keep people in the dark, go ahead and send out the save-the-date. The remaining info can be sent in an updated e-blast or in the invitation.

I frequently get asked about timing: How early should we send our save-the-date? My answer is: as soon as the date is set and the event branding is ready to go! Reminders can come in the form of emails, e-blasts, web banners and/or invitations, so you don’t need to worry about people forgetting.

6) Create a matching AD SPEC SHEET

An advertising specification sheet (aka ad spec sheet) is needed when your event calls for a program book or journal and you have the opportunity to sell ad space. Ad spec sheets list out the technical requirements for all program/journal ad submissions. I typically provide options for full-page, half-page and quarter-page ads.

The spec sheet should list out the honorees and award titles (so that companies can say congratulations in their ads), the exact dimensions for each of the ad sizes, and any requirements for the electronic file submissions (e.g. B&W or color, image resolution, file format, where to send, etc.). It’s always helpful to include contact information for any file formatting or submission questions.






The groundwork for all of your event collateral has now been laid out with these first 6 items. Keep an eye out for my next post to see the remaining 9 pieces that will help you secure more attendees and more money at your next event. You’ll even receive a free, printable checklist!

Laura Wertkin

Laura Wertkin

Creative Director at Intend Creative
Laura Wertkin is a Creative Director that works with organizations focused on community development and social justice. She creates brands, marketing communications and websites that attract the support organizations need to fulfill their missions. Her design company Intend Creative has helped nonprofits such as City Harvest, LISC National, The Children’s Aid Society, and Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation increase awareness and raise more money with award-winning design work.
Laura Wertkin
Laura Wertkin