We are planning to host a dinner event to increase the awareness of our 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Even though we are going to accept donations that attendees may offer during the event, we are not planning to explicitly call it a fundraising event. Is it OK to host a dinner event like this with the funds we already have in order to increase awareness with the intent to increase donations in the future? Given we are NOT explicitly publicizing this as a fundraising event, I want to be sure this is acceptable from the accounting and legal perspective.
This is done all the time and is perfectly appropriate. Many charities hold general information sessions or “friendraising” events to explain and promote their program with potential supporters. Most people realize that there will be either a direct or indirect ask at these events, but if they have a general interest in the organization’s program or a relationship with the person who invites them, they may be happy to participate. It is all a part of the fundraising effort and ought to be accounted for as such.
Be sure you have some impressive information available for them to take home and a way for them to give after the event, even if you don’t make a direct ask during the event. Don’t be too reticent about asking (the first rule of fundraising is to be sure to ask), but don’t be heavy-handed either. You want them to leave thinking you do a good job at what you do and that you are making a difference. If they care about your issues, they may be more responsive to a specific ask when you follow up in the future.