Create an Unforgettable Experience: 6 Powerful Event Planning Tips for Nonprofits
Working for a nonprofit comes with many challenging duties, one of which is often planning spectacular events to “wow” your sponsors and volunteers, while serving the mission of your organization.
Particularly, smaller nonprofits rely on fundraising events to generate income within a short amount of time.
When given the role of planner, suddenly you’re not attending an event as an outing to support a cause you care about. Your passion runs deep into the backstage details. The whole process probably feels overwhelming—especially when you’re new to planning larger-scale events (or any events at all).
Nonprofit size, the type of cause and donor levels all impact the planning of an event. Still, no matter the organization or event size, the elements of planning a powerful event remain the same.
1. Start With a Base Budget
Avoid going into a deficit when planning your event by developing and sticking to a sound budget from the beginning. What funds can be allocated to this event?
What scope of event supports the initial budget? You’ll need to judge whether your event will function best as a reception with just drinks or an extravagant dinner. That extravagant dress-up dinner with an auction may work better with a farm-to-table menu and limited seating.
As you persuade other organizations and sponsors to donate space, food, drinks and materials, your possibilities open up. So it’s best to start with a simple idea that your budget will support no matter what happens with donated supplies. Don’t break the bank in your determination for perfection.
2. Gather Volunteers
Gathering volunteers to participate in making an event successful can feel like herding cats. Aside from the planning committee, create subcommittees intermixed with donors and volunteers to promote and work the event.
Your core will be your most loyal helpers, but newer recruits may be paired with more experienced people and organizations to raise motivation and impact.
Match personality and skill set to duties to create a rewarding volunteer
experience. Pair marketing volunteers with advertising organizations that have donated assistance with design work. Send out social butterflies to gather
Everyone possesses unique talents and a desire to grow their network while
giving back. It’s a win-win for all.
3. Focus on the Experience
Many who attend fundraising events see giving their time and money as an exchange for an experience. Your donors who gift materials and advertising
assistance will want brand visibility, but the focus of event planning should be on
delivering an unforgettable experience.
What atmosphere and emotions do you want the event to communicate? How can the venue choice or activities reflect your mission?
For example, if you’re supporting arts in schools, auction off student works and give students awards. Host a pizza party as a part of the reception, which is unique and appeals to all ages. Pizza can be vegetarian and gluten-free or cheesy and loaded with pepperoni.
4. Research Past Event History
Most nonprofits keep up tradition and host annual events that donors and volunteers come to expect to be of a certain caliber.
When planning an event, even for the fifth time, research the past event history and check in with donors, sponsors and volunteers to see how their expectations of the event were met or not met. Change what didn’t work, such as shortening a long event or speech that droned on.
5. Use Sub-Networks
While social media is powerful, getting the word out is still all about who you know and who they know. Marketing executives believe word of mouth is the most powerful social advertising tool at 64 percent, but only six percent claim to have mastered it.
The key is to focus on connection over collection. Use sub-networks to advertise the event and source materials to engage and empower while equipping those interested with reasons to keep talking.
Where can students and volunteers leave small postcard invites? In your newsletter, do a write-up on the event encouraging readers to share the event with those they know. Does one of your volunteers know a journalist? In combination with the event announcement, try to secure an interview regarding the event in the local newspaper. Don’t forget area bloggers!
6. Always Follow Up
Following up is the simplest and most forgotten tool in a nonprofit’s event planning toolbox. In business and life, people get busy and they delay or forget their commitments, too—not because they don’t care. So continue to check in every few days or weeks as appropriate and try to make it easier on them. Offer to pick up donated materials on a specific day, for example.
Use these six powerful event planning tips to create an unforgettable experience for sponsors, donors and volunteers—whether your event is large or small.
Your mission is to provide a memorable experience to serve your community and show that making a big impact involves everyone pitching in, because little splashes make big waves.
Kayla Matthews writes about AI, the cloud and retail technology. You can also find her work on The Week, WIRED, Digital Trends, MarketingDive and Contently, or check out her personal tech blog.