Event Planning Tips

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Overall Event Timeline

Before you even begin recruiting volunteers for committees surrounding a big event, develop your all-inclusive timeline for the event. You can even do this in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with separate columns for the item and the targeted due date.

If you're doing an event that will reoccur year after year, you might also add a column for actual date and then at the end of the event you can re-evaluate the timeline. For instance, if there wasn't enough time built in to proof the event program draft and the rush job cost extra money, next year you can proactively plan to get away from that. An example might be to back up the due dates for the program items or give the committee more time to proof the program than in this year's timeline.

Fundraising for Dummies says, “If you can begin a year early, do it. Many organizations begin planning for next year's event the same day they evaluate the one they just had.” Plug in your event date and back-up from there considering again the first things that need to be done include choosing an event type, deciding event goals, and deciding an overall theme if necessary.

If you are booking any type of entertainment like a band or even a speaker to do a keynote or comedian or anything, they'll need to be contacted and booked almost immediately as well. Choosing and booking an event venue will also need to be done almost immediately. This will be critical if you're sending out any type of save the date to past event attendees, or those in a database or mailing list you've purchased and are targeting.

You'll also need to be identifying and targeting sponsors right away so you can deliver on all the promises in your sponsorship proposal as the pre-event activities (including publicity and printing of items, recognition at kick-offs or other parties) go on.


The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side!

Just as you thought the multi-level event looked to be the way to go, let's look at some definitive pluses to going the chair/multi-committee route:

1) Since different volunteers are working on different committees, the multi-committee or chairperson event enables you to place volunteers in an area they enjoy working in, an area of natural strength, or an area they're very committed to. When people get to choose what they get to do, they're often more committed.

Have you heard the quote, "People support what they help to create?" That is definitely at play here. If Natalie gets to pick being on the ticket sales committee, she's picked something vs. having it assigned to her.

2) This type of event frequently has multiple streams of revenue, where the revenue at the multi-level event usually comes from the attendees bringing the donations, and possibly some event sponsors. But at a multi-committee event, you've got revenue from people who purchased tickets to the event, revenue from sponsors, revenue from the silent auction, revenue from the live auction, and sometimes even revenue from raffle ticket sales or something else.

Multiple revenue streams mean that if sponsorship sales are going poorly, the whole event isn't necessarily ruined! There's still the silent auction that could go over their goal and help other parts of the event that are weaker in making the overall goal. Also the ticket sales can help to overcompensate for the lack of sponsorships.

3) These large-scale events tend to be quite fancy and there's not usually an issue drawing attendees who want to "see and be seen" at this event bidding on a piece of art or a condo get-away, and these events are usually easily covered by the press. They are also very fun to work on, and since they take a bit longer timeline-wise to implement you really get to know volunteers and tend to build some longer-lasting relationships and true friendships than the quicker events.

Ultimately, it's a decision that has to be made by the boss, the overall committee who's decided to put on a fundraiser, or whomever the decision-maker is. There are pluses and minuses to both; look at your goals and timetable when making a final decision.


Pros of the Multi-level Event

Let's examine a few of the positives, and negatives to each of these predominant event types.

Starting with the multi-level event:

1) Since you have multiple people doing the same thing, if one or a few drop out or drop off (for a variety of reasons, not being paid for the work, not having the time, family emergency comes up, etc.) your group is not totally sunk. In the committee event, if you have a committee of six handling both the live & silent auction and three drop out, your auction is in serious trouble!

Something to consider on this type of event is the "over-recruit." Just like a wedding where only X% of the people you invite will come, you should plan on approximately 25% of your volunteers dropping off during the process. Of course this percentage can vary depending on community demographics, and, for example, how many other fundraisers have been happening there lately.

This is why it's so important to have those specific primary and secondary goals set before you determine your event type. If your primary goal is to raise gross $15,000, and you're hoping each person attending donates $100 and each board member gets ten people to attend or $1,000, in an ideal world you've have at least 15 board members working towards this.

2) Since everyone is performing relatively the same function, a good team building idea is to make a fun competition or game out of the fundraising and reward the highest achievers/contributors. Whomever confirms the most attendees at the event will receive . . a massage at the spa, movie tickets, or a restaurant gift card! The friendly competition amongst the board members can drive results and a healthy bottom line!

3) Once you recruit the right volunteers to your board, this event pretty much runs itself. All you have to do is follow-up with the board and keep encouraging and rewarding them. That level is in place and they know what their job is - to recruit the money-makers!


Chair/Multi-Committee Event

Another way of organizing an event type is to recruit one central chair to oversee everything. And then there are many different committees tasked with different functions.

Unlike the multi-level event, where each volunteer is essentially performing the same function (recruiting, confirming and encouraging the front-line fundraisers), here different committees are tasked with completely different functions. For example, maybe one committee is charged with handling the auctions, both silent and live. Maybe another committee is charged with getting sponsorships for the event. Maybe another committee is charged with handling the program - getting everything in, proofing, and printing.

In this instance, instead of the committee recruiting another level or the front-line volunteers to do the fundraising, the committee is handling the fundraising and breaking up that task amongst all the committee members. For example, if you have someone who doesn't mind at all asking for donations place them on your auction committee. If you have someone who's very comfortable asking for money, put them on the sponsorship committee. If you have people who do not like asking others for either of the above, put them on the logistics or PR committees! They can handle putting corsages on all committee members and the chairs the night of the event, showing emcees or celebrity figures where to go the night of the event, or write press releases and fax these to the local media and make follow-up calls to see who is attending and covering the event.

An example of an event following this structure would be a special evening event, such as a Gala where people from the general public or sponsors have purchased tickets to get in the door to this exclusive evening, and then there are food, drinks, usually entertainment, perhaps a celebrity or spokesperson for the cause, and a silent and live auction. Sometimes there is even a dance component with the band to cap off the evening.


Multi-level Events

Now that everyone has agreed upon very specific primary and secondary goals, it is imperative to consider these goals as you determine what type of event you want to implement/coordinate. There are several different event types, but let's focus on the two most common.

Multi-level event. This is the type of event where you (or possibly someone else, or someone in addition to you) recruit a board or committee of volunteers. Then your board, or committee, recruit another "level" of volunteers and you have multiple levels of people recruiting others.

When I worked for the American Heart Association, they put on events called "Cardiac Arrests," or basically the 'jail and bail' type event. I would go into a community, and recruit a committee. Let's say Cindy, Jean, and Adam are on my committee. Then I put them in charge of making a list of people they know who might be interested in helping to raise money to support the AHA's fight against heart disease and stroke.

The committee gives me their list of 'potential arrestees' -- people who would jokingly volunteer to be 'arrested' on behalf of the Heart Association. The Heart Association's central office would send out a form letter to them (see the communications section of this book for sample phrases to put in such a letter) asking them to be an arrestee, and raise 'bail money.' They would show up at the event with their bail money, go 'behind bars,' have their photo taken with a Polaroid camera so they had a souvenir, and then get a t-shirt, usually donated food like a luncheon, and it was a social event with others from the community covered by media.

The multi-level event is one option you have when looking at what type of fundraiser to implement. In this type of event, a committee is recruited who recruits other people to carry out other tasks as it relates to fundraising.

In an event of this type, the primary source of revenue would come from the front line participants in the event. In this instance, the revenue for the American Heart Association is coming from the 'arrestees,' not the board who recruited them. The board who recruited them does nothing but follow-up with the arrestees, confirm them, and encourage them in their fundraising. They may donate to them to get them to be an arrestee, but they are not the ones going around asking for the donations.

Find people who seem to know everyone to be at this position in your event, not necessarily those who aren't shy asking for money!!

A secondary potential source of revenue in this event could be sponsorships if you can find and solidify local sponsors for the actual Cardiac Arrest event itself.


If You Can't Measure It, You Can't Manage It!

Congrats on identifying and establishing your primary and secondary event goals! If you have any management experience in your past, you likely have heard the phrase that is the title of this tip. If not, please repeat ten times and internalize: "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it!" As you establish your goals ask yourself, your committee or boss, how this will be measured?

Something monetary such as:

"Benefit Concert will yield $15,000 gross in revenue including sponsorships, and ticket sales" is good and specific.

"Benefit Concert will yield $10,800 net in revenue for the Harrison family after all costs associated with event including..."

This is how you'll know if you were a smashing success and have cause for celebration or a big fat flop! If you don't have these measurements in place up front, people don't have that target to aim at or know how they are trending.

Have you heard the quote, "If you aim at nothing, you hit it everytime!" Decide as specifically as possible how you will measure your goals. People need to have clearly defined expectations.

If you walked up to virtually any one of your friends or family members and said, "Come with me!" eventually they are going to ask, "Where are we going?" Your volunteers/co-workers/subordinates need to know the exact same thing!

Will two stories with photos on the front page of the local newspaper make you extremely jubilant? Do you want your event to be the lead story for the local news that night at 10:00 p.m.?

Have clearly defined targets; the more specific the better!


Timelines for Committees

As each separate committee is formed you'll want to create or export from your master timeline a timeline for committees, including due dates. Each committee needs its own timeline versus trying to filter out from a huge timeline what pertains directly to them.

Hand out a copy of this timeline at the first meeting and take the time to go over it with each committee. Ask if there are any questions and as things are discussed, you may need to amend some items slightly. Once a final timeline has been discussed and agreed upon, encourage all committee members to put the timeline on their electronic planning software so items will pop up with reminders or show on their calendar.

Don't forget to include on the timeline post-event items you'll need your volunteers time commitment to, including sending thank you's to donors or sponsors, coordinating post-event publicity including newspaper and magazine articles, big thank you billboards, and any post-event events such as a thank you luncheon with event slide show.


Identification and Organization of Goals

As you begin thinking about your fundraiser event, you'll realize you have more than just one goal.

Make a list of all your goals for the event. Keep this realistic. One event at one school or one hospital in a rural area likely isn't going to have far-reaching impact across the country. But you could do a lot with a little or go really far in that one community.

As all the possible event goals are identified, it's then exceedingly important to order these according to already existing or agreed upon priorities. This sounds simple and easy to skip over, however taking time up-front to discuss and decide will ward off disagreements later. Have you ever seen different camps being set-up and people pulling in different directions because nothing was discussed initially?

Let's establish the meaning of the word "volunteer" right now. Dictionary.com defines a volunteer as follows: a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

Let's re-read that! A person who performs a service willingly, and WITHOUT PAY! So do volunteers ever quit? Do volunteers get upset when they don't get their way and decide to pull out of a project because they aren't being paid anyway but rather giving freely of their time?

ABSOLUTELY! We'll talk more about this in the section on "Volunteer Management!"

Do yourself and all those around you a big favor and discuss and decide immediately your:

  • Primary Event Goal (for example raising $x in revenue) and,
  • Secondary Event Goals
Then when disputes arise everyone can be reminded of what's most important surrounding this particular event, and what is really just, bonus!


Begin With The End In Mind

Dr. Stephen Covey penned an outrageously popular book entitled, "The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People." One of Dr. Covey's tips is so simple yet so profound. Covey states, "Begin with the end in mind."

So what? You may be thinking, "How does this relate to my fundraising event?" Well, you need to know where you want to end up first so you can craft the most effective plan for how to get there!

If you work in fundraising, your "end result" goal may already be defined by a boss such as an Executive Director, Field Supervisor, or even Board of Directors. If you're a volunteer, it's important that the Steering Committee all agree on this first and foremost.

What are our goals for this fundraiser? Most likely, you'll want to net x amount of money for a cause or 501 (c) (3) organization. What else?

Are you seeking publicity? Wouldn't you be thrilled to have a local TV station do a story, spotlight a survivor, and attend the event? Do you want to educate the general public or a niche portion of the market about the causes of something, warning signs, how to pro-actively ward this off, and what to do if it still happens to you?

When I worked for the American Heart Association fresh out of college, one of our biggest goals even on the development side was increased awareness. Most people thought cancer was the number one killer of all Americans; when I worked for the AHA heart disease was the number one killer and so we wanted to make people aware that cardiovascular disease claimed more lives than anything else. We wanted them to know the warning signs of a heart attack so they could react in ample time. In fact, when you log in to the AHA's web page today, Heart Attack/Stroke Warning Signs is at the very top of the upper left-hand side.

Is increased awareness of the warning signs of a condition one of your goals?


Timelines For Meetings

Setting meeting date/times can be accomplished a variety of ways.

As you're recruiting volunteers for your respective committee, you can tell them the already set meeting schedule, make sure it works for them, and give them a copy to write in their planners. The only issue is if you have a perfect volunteer for the committee and they can't make the pre-set meetings, they may not be able to volunteer.

A better alternative to setting the timelines for meetings would be to recruit your volunteers and then at the committee launch meeting, set a meeting schedule everyone can agree upon. What usually works best is to determine when members are available and then set a consistent time to meet. An example would be the third Thursday of every month at 6:00 p.m. You may have to make adjustments for major holidays or vacation times.


Other Timeline Considerations

It's always a good idea to "pad" the due dates by a few days. This ensures that late deliveries aren't necessarily "late." This is especially true when working with volunteers and the major components of a fundraiser such as sponsorship agreements and auction items.

Volunteers who aren't paid will have other things come up and by padding these due dates it'll save you heart failure or last-minute panic! In addition to the major things, make sure your comprehensive event timelines include those misc. things such as:

  • Visiting event venues
  • Food tastings to select final menu items
  • Listening to CD's or reviewing video clips of any potential event entertainment

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