Everyone loves a good party. A well-planned event can bring people together to enjoy conversation, food, and drink. Whenever a group of people are gathered, you can create the perfect environment to exchange ideas, knowledge, and networks. This is why event planning is so important for nonprofit organizations. If nonprofits harness the energy and collective power of their communities, they can achieve anything!
Recently, we invited 40 nonprofit leaders to join us for breakfast at AssoConnect. This meeting was an opportunity for us to put into practice some basic principles of event planning. Whether you are just starting your nonprofit, or have been established for many years, these tips can ensure a successful event.
Let’s review them today!
These are the main steps of event planning:
- Define event goals
- Confirm date and venue
- Assemble a team
- Create a registration link
- Send invitations
- Promote your event online
- Finalize event logistics
- Be in the moment!
- Keep in touch
- Review your event
Are you ready? Let's go!
1. Define Event Goals
Planning an event can take a lot of time and energy, so your first step should be to determine what your event should accomplish. This will help focus your resources, time, and team.
There are plenty of reasons to bring your community together: to announce a new project, welcome new members, connect with prospective donors, fundraise, and celebrate accomplishments. You may combine multiple goals for an event, but you should prioritize which is your primary goal.
Pro Tip: If you just officially registered your nonprofit, you should host an event to get the word out about your new organization! The primary goal of this event would to bring awareness to your community about your nonprofit.
Once you prioritize your goals, the remaining steps in event planning become more clear: what kind of event, who to invite, how to send invitations, and how to set up registration.
You should also decide how many attendees should be at the event. The number of attendees might be determined by your budget for the event. This decision will shape how you approach event logistics, and will later help you measure whether the event was a success.
Marine knows what her event's goals are.
She is ready for the next step of event planning!
In our case, the primary goal of our AssoConnect breakfast was networking - for us to meet nonprofit leaders and for them to meet each other.
We had other goals too: To collect questions that nonprofit leaders are asking, present new AssoConnect software features, and build an uplifting, supportive network. We aimed to have 30-40 attendees.
2. Confirm Date and Venue
No matter how big or small you want your event to be, it is essential to plan ahead! Even for a small event, we recommend that you finalize details at least 3 weeks before the event date. The reason is simple: your guests need enough time to save the date and time.
Setting the date and time can be tricky sometimes. You can begin by determining which dates work for the people who must attend the event. If your event must have certain people in attendance (e.g., the recipient of an award, your team, board members), you should consult them for their availability.
If you need to consolidate more than 3-5 people’s availability, we recommend Doodle! You can create a list of possible dates and times, and then send the survey to your selected event "VIPs."
If you don’t have any event VIPs to consult, feel free to ask a handful of people you’d like to attend the event. Their availability will help you determine which dates work for the majority of your invitees.
Your event venue depends on your event goals, number of attendees, and the event date.
If your event will be in a restaurant or café, you should make necessary arrangements to avoid unexpected surprises on the day of your event. For example, you can call ahead to make a reservation and request to be seated away from other patrons, to be able to converse without too much disturbance.
If you wish to hold your event in a public place, you must ask for permission and notify the appropriate city officials, to guarantee the safety of your attendees and organization. You should research and understand the fire department’s guidelines for occupancy limits, exit routes, and insurance policies.
Each city has different requirements for events held on public property (e.g., public parks, sidewalks, plazas), so please consult local health and fire safety requirements.
If your organization has an office, you can definitely consider hosting events there for breakfasts and lunches. You could invest in some indoor plants and dimmable lights to make your office cozy and comfortable! This could save you venue costs if you intend to host casual networking gatherings a couple times per year.
For our event, we had to decide between a breakfast meeting or "happy hour” after work. We surveyed several people to determine which format they preferred - breakfast was more popular!
Our office is in a building with a glass roof, so we booked the sunny top floor for our AssoConnect breakfast. It was lovely to invite everyone into "our home" to energize everyone with delicious pastries and coffee for the day!
3. Assemble a Team
Planning an event alone can be too much sometimes! We recommend involving staff and volunteers to lighten the workload and build team cohesion, all of which are beneficial to your organization!
You can ask each person what they would like to help with, and then split up tasks accordingly (logistics, communication with guests, decorations, food and beverage, welcome booth, registration, etc.) to have a smooth event flow. For each task, assign one person and a deadline.
There are great digital tools that help with task management. We like to use Trello, which keeps track of tasks and who is assigned to each task.
While planning for our breakfast, we used Trello to communicate within the team and assign roles. David, our digital marketing manager, posted live updates on social media during the event. Brian, who loves photography, was in charge of immortalizing the event in photos. Conrad, Jules, and Louis took care of shopping for food and beverages.
We also divided the speaking roles during the breakfast: Pierre, one of our co-founders, presented the history and mission of AssoConnect. Product managers Bertrand and Alexis introduced new developments for the software. Marine, a designer, unveiled the evolution of AssoConnect's visual identity, and Corinne wrapped up with a few words about the power of the nonprofit community.
4. Create a Registration Link
One of the biggest anxieties about organizing an event is how many people will come. In order to keep track of the number of attendees, create an online registration link for people to RSVP for your event. This will save you from receiving a flood of RSVP emails!
There are various options you can consider for your event:
If you have an AssoConnect account, you can use the Events feature, which was designed specifically for nonprofit events. There are other options too, such as Eventbrite, and Weezevent, etc.
Use an eye-catching photo or image for the event banner, which will catch potential attendees’ attention.
Add all the details that your guests need to know:
- Venue and Address
- Ticketing info (Free, or is ticket purchase required? Will there be a check-in at the door?)
- What to expect at the event
- Contact info (phone and email) in case anyone has questions
5. Send Invitations
Depending on your event, it may be a good idea to show extra care for special guests, such as partnering nonprofits, foundations, board members, and donors.
We recommend that you send them personalized messages, rather than a group email. This will show them that you particularly want them to attend the event! You can even give them a call to follow up after your email.
These invitees can also help spread the word about your event, so you should involve them in the invitation process early on. People like to attend events with their friends!
For the AssoConnect breakfast, we began by sending very targeted invitations to the people we were closest to. Everyone on the team also sent personal invitations to nonprofit leaders they knew.
6. Promote Your Event Online
You’ve done all the planning. Now you should tell the world about the event, so that you attract attendees! Post the event details and registration link on your website, and create posters or flyers to display at local businesses.
Social media is a powerful tool, as well! Depending on who you want to attend, you may use different platforms. For example, Facebook events can be publicly viewable by all users, Twitter can help you reach influencers in your sector, and LinkedIn connects you with professionals.
There is no golden rule, but here are some best practices for event promotion, such as:
Communicate at regular intervals. Avoid posting more than once per day leading up to the event! You should plan this in advance, so that you don’t annoy your followers with repetitive posts about the event.
Activate board members, staff, and volunteers to help forward invitations to their networks, and make it easier for them to do so (E.g., Create a template for an invitation email)
Share some behind-the-scenes photos or updates on social media, to show your followers how excited you are for the event.
As the big day approaches, you can announce how many available tickets remain. This will prompt some people to RSVP, if they know spots are limited.
If you send out weekly or monthly email newsletters, make sure you include the event information there.
Be careful though: If you have a mailing list that includes people living all over the country, you’ll want to make sure the invitees are actually able to attend. If you email people who live too far to join your event, you might cause more frustration for your member or donor. To avoid this, you may want to create a new mailing list specifically for the event.
After sending out the first wave of personalized invitations, we posted about the AssoConnect breakfast on social media. We also included the event in our email newsletter, but we sent emails to local recipients, to avoid sending invitations to people who live too far to attend.
7. Finalize Event Logistics
As your event approaches, it's time to confirm the event planning is still on track. There are many tasks to keep track of!
Some points to confirm include:
- Food and beverages
- Tech equipment (video projector, background music)
- Souvenirs or goodie bags
- Signs for venue entrance, check-in, restrooms, etc.
We also recommend sending a reminder email with the event details to all registrants 1 to 2 days before the event. This is a great way to communicate final details, such as instructions for finding the venue, what to bring, and the event schedule.
For our breakfast, the distribution of tasks helped us manage these last minute details so that we felt ready before the morning of the event. We were ready to go by the time the first attendees arrived!
8. Be in the Moment!
It may sound silly, but it's extremely important to enjoy and be present during the event you worked so hard to plan. If you're running around managing logistical details during your event, the attendees will sense the busy energy you give off!
On the day of the event, as attendees are trickling in, there should always be at least 2 staff members and volunteers welcoming everyone. By taking care of your attendees the moment they enter the venue, you can quickly create an atmosphere that will help you achieve the goals of your event.
Plan ahead for last-minute questions and situations by distributing responsibilities among your team well, so that everyone knows what they are supposed to do at each moment.
Here is the chart we created for our breakfast, which displays each person’s role throughout the event, and instructions for what to do.
9. Keep in Touch
After you have washed all the cups, tossed the empty bottles into the recycling, and waved goodbye to your last guest, you still have a few things to do! Since your event has goals to accomplish, you’ll need to continue communicating with your attendees to deliver those goals.
Send a thank you email to the attendees! It is a great opportunity to share your appreciation of their attendance, and set their next steps for how to continue interacting with your nonprofit. You can also include a quick survey to get feedback on the event.
During our breakfast, we achieved one of our event goals by collecting various questions posed by the nonprofit leaders. After the event, we reached out to continue the conversation regarding those questions.
Finally, if there were photos taken, feel free to share photos from the event on your nonprofit’s social media. You should share how much fun you had with your community, so that your next event will attract newcomers!
10. Review Your Event
A few days after your event, take the time to review, personally and with your team. It is possible to have different experiences from the same event, so you should ask for opinions from different people, such as board members, new members, staff, and newcomers.
Try to structure your event evaluation to gather quantitative (e.g., number of no-shows, total budget, donations received) and qualitative (attendee satisfaction, team management style) feedback.
You can separate the feedback into 3 categories: Keep/Improve/Remove.
This evaluation method will help you tackle your next event with greater efficiency and understanding of your attendees. Was the event too short or too long? Was there too many presentations, and not enough breaks for mingling? Did beverages run out too quickly? Was the background music too soft? By knowing where your event planning can improve, your next event will be even more successful!
🎉 Why organize an event for your nonprofit?
Planning an event can help your nonprofit in many ways, from celebrating a year of good work to fundraising for next year's projects. When you gather a room full of people who are dedicated and passionate about your organization, these people may leave the event as new ambassadors for your nonprofit!
💪 How do you plan the event?
Confirm your event date, time, and venue. Decide on the type of event (casual or formal), how many attendees you want, and divide the different tasks among your team. Once all the event details are confirmed, create an online registration link for the event so that people can RSVP or buy tickets!
📣 How do you spread the word about the event?
Promote the event on your website, email newsletters, and activate your community to forward invitations to their networks. Send individual invitations, promote on social media, and follow up with your attendees to confirm final details before the event.
AssoConnect helps nonprofits to set up event registration, collect payments,
and send emails to attendees easily.
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