Tips for organizing a fundraiser afternoon tea event

Having organized several afternoon tea events in the past, I can share a few tips.  I imagine that planning a fundraiser tea is very much like organizing a wedding, and maybe just as much work!  It is truly a labor of love because I would not want to do this for a living!

  1. Theme/Cause: Establish your fundraiser theme/cause and use it to inspire and promote your event.  Our 1st fundraiser afternoon tea event theme was “Sip, savor, & celebrate” and our cause was to fund and support scholarships and philanthropies in our local community.
  2. Establish a budget: Work with your treasurer to determine a budget.
  3. Choose a venue: The first and most important detail to sort out is the venue.
    1. Choose a venue that is big enough to accommodate your guests and accommodate your budget.  Most tea rooms cannot accommodate in excess of 40 persons so if you plan to have a larger event, consider one of the following: country clubs, banquet halls, club houses, restaurants, hotels, gardens, and churches.  Many of the same type of venues that are popular for weddings are also appropriate for high tea.
    2. Does the venue allow you to choose your own caterer and servers?  Or do you have to use their caterer and servers?
    3. Will the venue provide the china/dishes, tablecloths, tea/coffee cups, napkins, etc. for your event?  Is there an extra fee?  Or will you need to provide your own?
      1. Part of the charm of afternoon tea is eating and sipping from china.  If you have the option to provide your own table settings, and you have a motivated organization, you may wish to consider this option!  It’s a lot of work but also fun and well worth the effort.  Otherwise, the plain white table ware (including coffee cups) provided by most venues is just fine.
    4. Recommend no more than 8 guests per table, even if the tables can accommodate 10.  If you plan to use tea caddies, one caddy for every 4 guests works out well.  We once tried tables for 4, which were ideal for creating the intimacy of the afternoon tea experience but it was logistically difficult given our lack of resources (both people and time).  With twice the number of tables, the setup and cleanup was too much work.
    5. Contract details:
      1. Itemized cost for venue rental (deposit, headcount, final payment) and any extras such as use of kitchen facilities, table/chair rentals, tablecloth and tableware rental, decorations, service, etc.
      2. Include time for setup and cleanup if needed
      3. Establish deadlines and timelines
  4. Choose a caterer: Though the focus of the fundraiser is not the food, it doesn’t hurt to have decent food and service.
    1. If the venue requires their own caterer, arrange for a food tasting before committing to the venue.  Make sure there are enough servers for the event.  Inquire about tea service.
    2. If the venue allows you to choose your own caterer, inquire with your favorite local tea rooms about whether they offer off-site catering services.  There are also general caterers who cater all types of events–ask your favorite caterer.
    3. Does the caterer also provide hot tea, iced tea, and beverages (water)?  Not all caterers provide beverages (e.g., drop-off catering).
    4. Does the caterer provide their own servers?  Some caterers provide food only (drop-off catering) and you have to serve the food buffet style or hire your own servers.
    5. Contract details:
      1. Itemized cost for food, per head (deposit, headcount, final payment) and any extras such as use of kitchen facilities, service, etc.
      2. Include time for setup and cleanup if needed
      3. Establish deadlines and timelines
  5. How to price your event: Know your audience.  Add a 20-40% cushion to your per person catering/venue cost.  For example, if your base cost per person is $36, suggest a ticket price of $50 per person (40% cushion).  This way, your organization will generate some proceeds from ticket sales, if your other fundraising activities are not as successful.
  6. Reservations: Advanced reservations are a must!  No walk-ins.  Most caterers require a final headcount and 50% or full payment 1-2 weeks in advance of the event.  Suggestions to avoid any last-minute mishaps:
    1. Require payment to reserve a spot
    2. Early bird reservations may help with boosting attendance
    3. No refunds after the RSVP deadline
    4. Specify “no walk-ins” on promotional materials
    5. Specify whether children are welcome (e.g., “No children under 2 years”)
  7. Promotional materials
    1. Distribute “Save the date” cards/flyers (email and paper, see also #6) — 3 months before the event
    2. Distribute promotional flyers (email and paper) — 2 months before the event
    3. Design menu (one per table or one per guest)
    4. Design event/souvenir brochure
    5. Table numbers
  8. Ideas for fundraising activities:
    1. Teapot flower arrangements for sale or auction

      Teapot flower arrangements for auction

    2. Teapot centerpieces for decoration but can also be sold or auctioned

      Teapot centerpiece

    3. Silent auction (handmade items, spa treatments, afternoon tea packages, tea themed gift baskets, theater/dinner package, etc.)

      Silent auction (handmade quilts, hats, gift baskets)

    4. Opportunity drawings for afternoon tea themed gift baskets

      Gift baskets

    5. Invite vendors (clothing, art, jewelry, accessories, tea, hats) to sell merchandise onsite with agreement to donate 10-20% of sales.  Establish a standard policy for working with and engaging vendors.
    6. Assemble “mystery gift bags” with goodies to be sold at fixed price
    7. Bake sale (everyone loves hostess gifts and food!)
    8. Place empty glass jars at each table so that guests can “vote” for their favorite table settings with quarters
    9. Handmade and handcraft items boutique sale
    10. Decorate hats for sale or auction
    11. Monetary donations (leave an empty teapot or basket at the checkin table for monetary donations)
  9. Volunteers
    Form a committee and recruit volunteers to help plan the event and/or work the day of the event.  You may need help with the following:

    1. Scout out and choose a venue; drawing up contract
    2. Choose a caterer, organize tasting, decide menu, determine final headcount, and draw up contract
    3. Take reservations and payment
    4. Solicit donations (monetary or materials goods for door prizes, gift baskets, silent auction, etc.) and write acknowledgement letters
    5. Make seating arrangements
    6. Design promotional materials (see #5)
    7. Organize tea favors (optional but recommend–nice gesture for guests)

      Tea favors (handmade plant stakes)

    8. Organize fundraising activities
    9. Organize door prizes (guests love door prizes)
    10. Create table centerpieces (these can be decorative or part of door prizes, raffles, silent auction)
    11. Organize tea music and/or entertainment (optional–fashion shows and live music are popular choices)
    12. Organize decorations and table settings (if you are doing the table settings, plan for 1-2 volunteers per table)
    13. Emcee(s) for event (welcome, announcement of door prizes, auction close/winners, and opportunity drawings)
    14. Guest checkin and greeting
    15. Raffle ticket sellers
    16. Close of silent auctions and drawing tickets for opportunity drawings
    17. Checkout for silent auction winners and taking payment for sales
    18. Setup and cleanup (includes decoration and table settings)

And lastly, promote, promote, promote!  Promote on social media, with flyers, by email, and most importantly, word-of-mouth!

I may have left out some details but I will update this post as needed.  I’m also happy to answer any questions in the comments below.  Wishing you a successful afternoon tea fundraiser!

“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”
-– Henry Rosso


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