A lot can be at stake when hosting an event for your nonprofit. Events are often one of the most significant upfront investments you make each year, and that investment must pay off financially and promotionally.
In this guide, we’ll look at five tips for designing a rave-worthy event that receives the attention it deserves:
- Do your research.
- Make a plan—but keep it flexible.
- Leverage powerful software.
- Collaborate with other organizations.
- Thank your supporters
Along the way, consider feedback from your team and important stakeholders. Their advice and buy-in will help your nonprofit make smart decisions and avoid your event turning into a flop. With that in mind, let’s look at the first step to planning any noteworthy event: conducting research.
1. Do your research.
While you are likely eager to jump into the planning stages of your nonprofit’s event, conducting preliminary research is a critical step to finding event success. You should dig into every element of your event—even the things you may think are insignificant or already set in stone. Research the following:
- Who are the people who will attend or volunteer for your event? What do they want the event to look like?
- How and when do attendees want to receive invitations and information about the event?
- Who are possible organizations you can partner with? What will they offer you? What will you offer them?
- Are there other events on the schedule that will conflict with yours? Don’t force potential attendees to decide between events!
- Who are possible speakers, MCs, and performers? What needs do they meet for attendees?
Your research should include informal and formal conversations, interviews, and surveys with potential attendees, volunteers, and partners. During this stage, take extra time to research the needs of your existing and prospective major donors. Because over 75% of an average nonprofit’s gifts come from just 3% of its donors, it’s imperative that these major donors attend and love your event.
2. Make a plan—but keep it flexible.
With your research in your back pocket, you can feel confident designing a plan for your event. A detailed plan clarifies any ambiguity and confusion in the planning process—especially with multiple parties involved—and offers you a clear path forward.
While your plan will depend on your particular event, it will likely include a breakdown of your event’s:
- Budget. Be as specific as possible when you’re making your event budget. You don’t want to find you’ve overspent on appetizers and have nothing left over for marketing materials. As you define your budget, include in-kind gifts, such as publicity and event space, in the equation.
- Marketing strategy. In addition to attendees, you’ll need to decide how you’ll attract volunteers and organizational partners for your event. Leverage your research to determine how and when you will contact your target audiences. To reach everyone you want, you’ll likely need to take different approaches across multiple channels—including email, social media, phone calls, direct mail, and digital ads.
- Run of the show. What is the timeline of the event? Who will speak when? Will there be catered food, and when will it be served? Answering these practical questions ahead of time will help you avoid mistakes during the event itself.
However, flexibility in your event plan is key. Not everything will go according to your initial vision. That’s OK! With a flexible mindset and approach, you can look at these as opportunities rather than failures.
3. Leverage powerful software.
Events big and small have a lot of moving parts. Your plan will certainly help you keep track of these pieces. But it shouldn’t be your only tool. The right combination of software will make your planning easier and ensure nothing is lost in the process. Depending on your circumstances, consider:
- Integrated marketing software that supports multichannel advertising and robust data analytics.
- Dynamic event hosting software that will make attendee registration easy and offers streaming services for virtual and hybrid events.
- Emailing software that automates messages, personalizes content, and reports on metrics such as open rate and click-through rate.
- Powerful volunteer management software that efficiently keeps track of your volunteers’ schedules and assignments.
While your software won’t host your event for you, it will help! As you acquire new software, make sure that it fits into your budget, that it’s easy to learn and use, and that it integrates with your existing tools.
4. Collaborate with other organizations.
Especially if you’re a small team of one or two, hosting an event can be hard. Often, there simply aren’t enough resources in your budget for you to accomplish everything you want.
That’s where partnerships come in. Your partners can offer your event financial, in-kind, or promotional support—or all three combined! For the greatest impact, collaborate with a combination of nonprofits and businesses.
When deciding on your partners, evaluate their:
- Mission. What’s their mission? Does it align with your organization’s own values? For example, a gas company might not be a great fit to sponsor an environmental organization’s event.
- Available resources. What resources can they offer your event? While their support might be financial, it could also be in the form of event space, auction items, thank-you gifts, or entertainment.
- Target audience. Who buys their products or supports their mission? Ideally, there’s some crossover between your target audience and theirs. However, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same audience. Partnerships are great opportunities to expand your reach.
- Public image. When you form a partnership, you’re sharing each others’ cachet. However, look out for red flags. Generally, don’t partner with an organization that has a bad reputation in the community.
Ultimately, the best partnerships go both ways. Think about what you can offer your partners in return for your support, such as highlighting them as event sponsors or promoting them on social media.
5. Thank your supporters.
At the close of your event, attendees will hopefully leave with big smiles and rave reviews. Perhaps, they felt the speaker you hired changed their outlook on life. Or, perhaps, they loved the gift bags donated by your partners. Or, they simply appreciated being able to spend time with like-minded individuals in support of the same cause.
However, after a few days, as attendees go about their busy lives, that positive memory of your event will most likely begin to fade. While that’s not your fault, you can do something about it. Send attendees a thank-you letter or email that acts as a spark to remind them of the event’s highlights and the impact they continue to have on your nonprofit.
Leverage your software solutions to automatically personalize every message your send with each supporter’s:
- Preferred name
- Attendance information
- Donation amount (if applicable)
As a best practice, in addition to thanking your attendees and donors, send thank-you letters (and possibly gifts) to volunteers and organizational partners. Without their support, it’s likely your event would be a mess—and your stress would be through the roof.
Showing your gratitude helps deepen your relationship and ensures they’ll want to support your organization in the future.
After your event is over and you’ve thanked your supporters, you’re still not done. As soon as you finish your hosting duties and have a chance to catch your breath, take time to look backward to assess the event’s successes and growth points and look forward to how you’ll adapt for future events.
Consider surveying attendees, donors, volunteers, and organizational partners for a more complete picture. By following this practice alongside the tips above, you ensure each subsequent event you hold will be an even bigger success than the last!
Fore more information on Byrne Pelofsky’s special events services, reach out to us at 816.237.1999 or firstname.lastname@example.org.