Many nonprofits rely on a few big events throughout the year as an essential part of their fundraising efforts. Events that are planned and executed successfully can lead to more donations and deepened connections with volunteers, sponsors, and donors.
Plus, hosting an event is fun! Think of an event such as a gala or an auction as an opportunity for you to create an engaging experience (and great memories!) for your supporters. It can be a very fulfilling experience for your supporters to come together over an issue or cause they care about. It is the experiences like these that will deepen your supporters’ connection and commitment to your cause.
In reality, hosting events over the last year or so of the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy. We’re only just starting to see nonprofits host bigger events again in new ways.
Returning to in-person or hybrid events soon? Not sure where to start, or need a brush-up on event-planning essentials?
You’re not alone. Events have a lot of moving parts--from budgeting to acquiring sponsorships to registration software. All of these elements make events a bit tricky to plan and execute smoothly, so it takes a lot of dedicated time and planning to see an event come together.
Luckily, there’s no need to fear--you can significantly reduce the stress of event management by taking the following steps to thoroughly plan and manage your event:
- Create an Event Timeline
- Set Measurable Event Goals
- Invest in Event Software
- Use Digital Marketing Strategies
- Focus on Volunteer Retention
By implementing these steps in your event-planning journey, you’ll set yourself up for success now and lay the groundwork for easier event planning in the future.
1. Create an Event Timeline
When planning an event, it’s crucial to start early and to commit to staying on schedule during the planning process (not to mention the day of the event itself).
There are a variety of components you’ll want to block out time for in the planning process, including:
Budgeting for the event. Give you and your team ample time to determine all the expenses your event will require and to be as detailed as possible. You’ll also want to set aside time to get board approval.
Recruiting volunteers to help run the event. You’re going to need a workforce leading up to the event, and the day of. Offer sign-up in advance online, and provide detailed descriptions of needed roles and expectations. You might also want to provide an app for the event that allows you to manage and communicate with volunteers.
Reaching out to sponsors. One of the best ways to secure a sponsorship is by writing a strong sponsorship letter. Plan out time to draft these letters, send them, and await responses.
Scheduling venues, entertainment, catering, and rentals. Reach out to schedule these things early--you’ll want time to look for backups if needed.
Marketing the event. Take a multi-channel approach so you can have as wide a reach as possible. For example, you might plan to spend time pushing the event on social media and local radio shows to reach multiple demographics of potential participants.
As you make a timeline for your own event, remember to stay organized and give yourself ample time to fulfill each task. You’ll thank yourself on the day of the event!
2. Set Measurable Event Goals
All events should have individual goals specific to the event itself. For example, your goal might be, “Raise awareness about Leprosy stigma in India through a video presentation,” or “Sell 45 donated items in a silent auction.” Keep in mind that these event-specific goals need to fit into your nonprofit’s overall fundraising strategy.
In other words, don’t forget to look at the big picture as you plan an event!
Once you determine what your event-specific goals are and how they fit into your mission, you should invest in analytics tools and software to track key metrics that will help you see whether or not your event was successful in helping you meet those goals. If you’re exploring or adopting new event tools, make sure you choose providers that offer complete and secure data features. Check out Regpack’s virtual event registration features for an idea of the full functionalities to look for.
Using these tools, you can track metrics such as:
Registration and check-in reports
Average donation size
Overall donations collected
Once you know how well your event worked in helping you further your cause, your future event planning will become much easier. You’ll know what to expect and what to change to have a bigger impact.
3. Invest in Event Software
Event software is a necessity for most events today, especially as more and more events take on a hybrid or virtual format to meet supporters’ needs.
In addition to tracking important metrics like the ones mentioned above, event software can also make your event run more smoothly. Using an event app, for example, your supporters can:
Purchase tickets or register to volunteer. Event software can make the process of signing up to attend or signing up to help faster and easier, making it more likely that people will follow through with the sign-up process.
Check-in for volunteer shifts. The last thing you want to be doing the day of your event is chasing after volunteers with a check-in sheet. Make the process easier on yourself and have them check-in online.
Receive direct communication about your event. Is inclement weather going to force you to move your dance-a-thon indoors? Do you want to remind people about the 5K a week in advance? Software can help you get the word out quickly.
Another thing to keep in mind is that by streamlining your registration or sign-up process with a specific app or form, you can direct supporters to an online merchandise store, donation page, or recurring donation option.
When they don’t have to go through the hassle of re-entering their information, this can encourage supporters to quickly make a purchase or donate. It’s simple. When it’s easier for you to accept transactions online and for your donors to make donations right when they sign up, your attendees are more likely to give (and to give more), making your event a success.
4. Use Digital Marketing Strategies
Digital outreach should be a high priority when publicizing your event. Using the web to your advantage is not only cost-effective--it also gives you access to a larger pool of potential attendees for your event.
Despite the low investment cost, however, online marketing doesn’t let you off the hook from strategizing. You’ll need to make digital marketing a priority in the planning stages of your event in order for it to yield successful results. Make sure you and your team have discussed what strategies you’re going to implement in order to get as many supporters as possible attending your event.
Here are some strategies you might consider:
Using effective event branding. Choose the imagery, design, color palette, logo, and voice of your event carefully. You want to make sure the event’s brand matches your larger cause, and that the branding shines through in the digital materials you produce to promote the event.
Posting effectively on each social media platform. Social media is where you’ll grab the attention of many supporters--if your posts are effective. Remember each platform is different. What works on Instagram won’t be as impactful on Twitter, for example.
Personalizing your message. Even an email invite that simply includes a supporter’s name will make them feel like the cause they care about needs them! Look for ways to communicate personally with supporters and make them feel important to your organization.
As you incorporate effective digital marketing strategies into your event’s outreach efforts, you’ll be able to find more volunteers, potential donors, and sponsors. Again, start implementing these strategies early on so they can have a full impact by the time your event rolls around.
5. Focus On Volunteer Retention
Volunteers are essential to running a successful event, but recruiting new volunteers diverts important time and money away from your event planning. Ultimately, this means that it’s more effective to retain volunteers who are already committed to your cause.
One great way to engage with your volunteers and show them you appreciate their time and effort is by giving them meaningful responsibilities. When you host an event, take the time to flesh out the responsibilities of each volunteer role. Your volunteers will appreciate the clarity and the trust that this communicates.
Another thing you can do to thank your volunteers is to host events just for them. This motivates volunteers to keep coming back to your organization. And over time, as they keep coming back, they’re likely to bring others, which makes your recruitment process easier.
As you retain committed volunteers who help out with multiple events, volunteers can even qualify for a volunteer grant. According to Double the Donation, volunteer grants are provided for through corporate giving programs. When an employee at a participating business volunteers regularly, the employer has the opportunity to donate to the nonprofit their employee cares about. For example, Verizon has committed to donate $750 for every 50 hours volunteered by an employee. Volunteer grants like these bring more funds to your cause and can also motivate your volunteers to keep donating their time and talents.
As volunteers keep returning to help out at your events, make sure to express your appreciation to them, and don’t hesitate to encourage them to seek out opportunities for more funding provided through corporate giving programs.
Asaf Darash, Founder and CEO of Regpack, has extensive experience as an entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building, and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.