Event Budgeting

In my last post I shared a few building blocks for planning a great event including a good, comprehensive event budget. Today I’m digging in more deeply to the budgeting process and sharing a sample event budget for you to use.


A good event budget is:

  • Realistic. Let’s say you’re planning a fundraising dinner for your nonprofit. Last year the event raised $20,000 net income for your organization but this year’s event chair is really excited and thinks you can raise $100,000. While that might be a great reach goal, your official budget needs to be realistic so that the organization’s leadership can make good decisions for the overall annual budget – knowing how much will likely be available for programming, staffing, etc. Likewise if you are expecting 400 people at a three-course dinner, it is unrealistic to set a Food & Beverage line budget of $5,000. Do some research as you work and refer to prior years’ events.

  • Detailed. You do not need a separate line item for every purchase you make, but breaking out the expenses (and the revenue) into specific categories will help everyone have a better understanding of the goals and progress. And having line items for each in-kind donation you plan to receive (and have not allocated dollars for) is not only an accounting best practice, but also helps your board or committee to see the importance of securing those donations.

  • Flexible. A budget is intended to be a guide, not a magical prophecy. You must be flexible when the estimate for any item changes, and know where you can make adjustments to still meet your goals. A budget that is based on well-researched estimates decreases the likelihood of major changes in the planning process, and ensures that you have a thorough understanding so you know where adjustments are possible.

  • Shared. There are usually several groups who need to be on the same page about the budget for it to be most useful. Ensure that your board, leadership staff, event committee, and those directly involved with planning the event are all familiar with the budget. Having early buy-in from these individuals increases shared ownership of the goals. If you then have trouble securing sponsorships, finding in-kind donors, etc., you have a broader group of people who will understand the big picture and be willing to help.


Click here to download a sample event budget in Excel. Tips for use:

  • The “Actuals” column is where you track expenses and revenue as it happens so you have a clear view of whether you’re on target. Once you set your Budget for the year, don’t make edits to column D.

  • I also include at least one column of prior year actuals for comparison.

  • In-kind donations should be tracked in both expenses and revenue. This is important for accounting and record-keeping, and also helps you be prepared in the event that you are unable to secure one of these donations.

  • These suggested line items won’t match yours exactly, but they will help you think through what should be included specific to your event. Move, delete, and add to make the budget work for you.

Happy budgeting!

holly@hollywongconsulting.com

(530) 302-5818

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based in Davis, California