Having worked in various marketing roles throughout my career, I have had my hand in just about every aspect of corporate event planning and management and have pretty much done it all (short of carrying the hors d’ oeuvres tray).
Sometimes all event aspects run smoothly from planning through completion and assessment of the event, but more often than not issues may arise.
I’ve worked with an array of budgets: some hefty, some non-existent. Some of my most successful events have been done with very little budgets, but a large amount of preparation.
With events being a key component of many nonprofits’ fundraising plans, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned about how to plan an event, common challenges and how to avoid them, and some basic event planning tips for those who are new to events in 2018.
Challenge #1 – How to Budget for an Event
Defining an event budget might seem rudimentary, but I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve worked with that wish to simply track their spending and assess along the way. This sort of tactic is commonly true with small to mid-sized organizations, but it is not prudent in event planning.
Organizations need to, at a minimum, have some sort of threshold to work against otherwise they might literally be paying for it afterward. Even the most simple events come with numerous configurations and choices, and the budget can vary tremendously. As the event planner, by having the basic framework from which to sculpt your event, it will help you ensure that you stay are on the right path.
Regardless of your organization’s size or type of event, start with a budget.
Challenge #2 – We Didn’t Have Enough Time.
I remember thinking, “I don’t need more than a few months to pull this off.” I also remember asking myself why I didn’t start planning sooner when in the midst of a million moving parts. Generally speaking, I like to start my planning with a simple list outlining what you’ll need to secure long-term vs. short-term.
Below are some examples of event questions you should try to answer when you begin your planning.
What venues are you considering?
Feel out schedules, pricing, funds required to secure.
What size is the event are you looking to host?
Again, this component needs to be defined ahead of schedule. There is nothing worse than securing a large ballroom with only a few dozen folks to fill it.
What else is going on?
By stepping back and taking a high-level look at the industry, you might be able to identify any other priorities your guest might have such as conferences, meetings, holidays, etc.
Is your event convenient?
Look at your event radius. Do your attendees have to go far to attend?
Depending on the complexity of your event, start by setting aside time on your calendar weekly as a way to touch base on your progress. You’ll be thankful you did!
Here is a sample timeline of a larger event to get your started. (I realize this timeline will not work for all events, but it is just to show you the necessary steps along the way.)
1 Year From Event – Define goals, event schedule, external schedules, define budget
8 Months From Event – Make sure venue, speakers, topics are defined and revisit goals
6 Months From Event – Revisit budget, refine messaging and purpose, reconfirm with all participants
4 Months From Event – Finalize invitation strategy (mail, online, calls, other outreach)
2 Months From Event – Begin invitations and external messaging as appropriate
1 Month From Event– Confirm attendee list, continue outreach as necessary. I coming weeks send “reminder” to guests make sure they know the purpose of your event and all pertinent information.
1 Week Post Event– Meet with organizing time to discuss success/failures of event and if goals were met. Document all and develop success plan for next time. Begin any outreach follow up needed.
Challenge #3 – It’s Just A Party. (an event without purpose)
Throwing a party for the sake of having a party may result in wasted effort. Your attendees need to understand why they are being invited. Is it to spread the word about a new fundraising campaign or changes within your organization?
Is your event more of a friendraiser or a fundraiser? How does it apply to them and why would they be interested? The purpose does not need to be complex, but there needs to be a reason why your guests are attending.
By letting the invited guests know why their attendance is important, you will ensure a better turnout.
Challenge #4 – I Have No Help.
Not every organization has a dedicated events person or department to help plan successful events.
As someone who has been involved in just about every aspect of event planning, I can’t stress enough that enlisting help will make a world of difference in the end. Not only does it help to bounce ideas off coworkers, but having help with making phone calls, licking stamps, or helping with the RSVP’s as they come in is imperative.
As there are many steps along the way, go ahead and ask for help and chances are that you’ll be less stressed and better able to pull off a successful event because of it.
Buy the donuts and coffee if you need to, you will be thankful at the twelfth hour for the help!
Challenge # 5 – How Do We Invite Guests?
By first defining how you will get the word out about your event, you will be better able to ensure an adequate turnout.
One technique I like to utilize when inviting guests to a party is a tiered approach. Rather than doing an email blast to all of my potential guests, I like to first identify key people who I absolutely would like to attend.
Perhaps have a board member or thought leader invite them personally as well as mail them a customized invitation in the mail? This extra level of effort might prove to be more effective in the end.
Secondly, as you contact all of your potential guests, be sure to utilize an RSVP date. This will allow you to assess your attendance at various points and invite a new tier if needed. By setting up a clearly defined invite strategy, you’ll be better able to reach your target number of quality attendees.
Likewise, do not make the attendees jump through hoops to RSVP and be flexible as well. There are online tools you can utilize to collect RSVPs, but be open to the fact that there will be those who still like to pick up the phone and talk to someone about the event.
It is also essential that you make sure that everyone and anyone who might be fielding calls internally is aware of the event. The goal is to ensure that the guest feels as welcome and excited about the event as possible.
Challenge #6 – What Did We Do Last Time?
After an event, it is very important to regroup with your organization’s planning team and assess how the event actually went.
Were your goals met?
I like to conduct an internal survey to first gather everyone’s opinion of the event, and then form action items for next time where you can improve. Or take 5-10 minutes after the event and make some notes on what worked and what didn’t, as your peers to do the same.
Perhaps, you need to a better way to check guests in or improved audio/visuals. Or perhaps the speaker was so engaging that you might want to enlist them again at another event.
By simply documenting your successes and failures, you’ll be better able to plan for next time. Documenting is a key component that many skip and can help transform your event year after year.
When next year comes, you already have your list and don’t have to remember a thing. This will ensure continued success and growth year over year.
Obviously, you should also keep track of quantifiable metrics for each of your events.
Who attended your event and what has their participation been since that event? What sort of measurements can we use to measure the success of the event?
Although these should be determined ahead of time with your planning schedule, you also need to reflect upon the results when planning for future events. Doing the same unsuccessful event over and again might not make much sense.
You’re Going To Hear About It
I can remember one of my college professors saying, “Working in marketing can be rewarding when you see your hard work come to fruition, but you’re also the first person (or department) to lose their job if business turns south.”
The same is true with events. When your event is well executed, everyone will let you know. If it is an event that is not pulled off quite as successfully, you’ll DEFINITELY hear about it.
Every step taken along the way by an event planner is subject to the utmost scrutiny so you had better make sure you are ready. Be prepared, set goals, enlist help and you should be just fine.
Even for the most seasoned professional, when using event management software, there will be hiccups along the way. When doing events for either fundraisers or friendraisers, you’ll have an added responsibility of measuring the effectiveness of your event. Not only do you have to pull it off, but you need to produce results.
The most meaningful works one can hear as their guests leave is, “You’ll be hearing from me soon.”
Successful event planning is all about being ready and making sure that all of your efforts are meaningful. By ensuring all proper steps were taken, you should be just fine.
Omatic Software is dedicated to integrating disparate systems and democratizing data access for today’s nonprofits. Founded in 2002, Omatic has worked with thousands of nonprofits globally to remove their data barriers by integrating systems and enabling nonprofit teams to leverage their donor data rather than be burdened by it. The Omatic team has one goal – unleashing the power of data to show a complete view of your donor, enabling data-driven decision making and opportunity creation for your organization.