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9 Cardinal Rules for Special Event Success

Barb is an expert special event planner and has been active in the philanthropic community of Kansas City for over three decades. As the Director of Major Gifts for Byrne Pelofsky, Barb provides expert consultation and guidance on individual donor solicitation, cultivation and growth for our clients. 

It’s officially Fall and you know what that means….special events season is upon us! While there are many different ways to approach the planning of a special event, no one can deny that they all require significant preparation well in advance.

That being said, here are my 9 Cardinal Rules for Special Event Success. In my three decades of special event planning, I’ve found them to be pretty useful along the way.

Cardinal Rule #1Make sure there are no major events that fall on your special day.

There is nothing worse than confirming your date and getting all your ducks in a row only to find that all your guests will be attending another event that same day/evening. The success of the event depends on the right people showing up and having a good time.

Initial preparations, like setting a date and choosing a theme, should be made at least a year in advance. The Independent Magazine publishes a Charitable Events Calendar once a year –  this is your Events Bible! The big organizations try and hold their events in the same month each year and around the same weekend if possible. Check there first. Then, once you think your event won’t conflict with another event, call and get it on their calendar. Many of the big magazines print their events calendars three months out.

Cardinal Rule #2 – Once you’ve chosen a venue, utilize the Banquet Manager.

Once the event is booked, consider the banquet manager your new best friend. He or she will help you sweat the details – food, table linens, A/V, etc. The banquet manager can always provide preferred vendors for all your event needs.

Cardinal Rule #3 – Recruit an excellent Chair and/or an Honorary Chair.

While you’re busy confirming logistics, work on recruiting a Chair and/or Honorary Chair to work with a nominated volunteer group or committee. If you have a good working Chair and committee, they lessen the burden tremendously. This group can take your vision and make it come to life.

Cardinal Rule #4 – Choose your speakers and performers wisely.

Excellent guest speakers and performers are very hard to come by. They need to be lively, engaging and ultimately serve as a good ambassador for your organization. One thing you don’t want is a speaker that goes on and on and everyone can’t wait to get out of there. Think of the restaurant business – you have once chance to impress your guests. If they love you, they will come back and bring friends. If they get bored and the speaker goes on too long, anything positive gets washed away and the rumors spread.

Cardinal Rule #5 – When it comes to Save the Dates and Invitations, timing is everything.

If it’s during the holiday season, you don’t want your invitation to be lost in the mail pile. Send something that will stand out and send it early. A save the date should go out at least six-seven months in advance if you have that luxury. The formal invitation should go out two-three months in advance. And once you know the date – perhaps a year in advance –  start the social media promotion. This builds hype and gets people talking about your event well in advance.

Cardinal Rule #6 – Start a budget plan once the concept is in place.

Most organizations know what they need to raise. From this, work backwards. You will know how many people need to buy tickets and at what levels once you know the cost of the event space, guest speaker/ entertainment, food, marketing materials, travel and invitations.

Cardinal Rule #7 – Prepare a run of show.

A formal timeline will help your event run smoothly. Put someone in charge of the run of show and make sure you rehearse the event several times. The last thing you want is for a two hour event to run three hours.

Cardinal Rule #8 – Make it easy for your guests.

Make it easy for your donors, sponsors and guests to attend the function. Make the RSVP and registration process seamless and stress free. An email or note the week of the event is always a nice touch. It presents an opportunity to share information about parking, how to access the event location and instructions once they arrive if necessary.

Cardinal Rule #9 – Say THANK YOU!

After an event is over, it always feels good to open your inbox and see a thank you from the event organizers or organizational leadership. Thanking your guests for helping you reach your fundraising goal and making the event a success goes a long way. Above all else, communicating with the attendees is key to creating a positive experience for your guests and volunteers.

Questions for Barb? Click here to get in touch.



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