It wouldn’t be summer gala season without a new string of articles by nonprofit bloggers and journalists questioning the efficacy of special events. We found this one from the Nonprofit Quarterly especially thought-provoking, as it highlights some of the most common gala dangers and pitfalls: your audience’s ambivalence to your cause post-event, questionable return on investment, and misuse of your Board and staff’s time and energy.
But wait – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! We submit that a strategically planned event is one of your nonprofit’s most effective tools for building awareness and loyal supporters. (Notice the adverb and adjective there — they’re crucial.) Before nixing the idea of a gala or special event, consider the following three details, which are among the most frequently neglected components of event planning. When ConceptLink plans events for our clients (all of which, we’re proud to say, have come in under budget and resulted in a net gain for our clients!) we make sure to:
1. Prepare a Detailed Run of Show
We’ve heard this from some event planners before:
Once everyone has made their way into the dining area around 7, each of our speakers will talk for 3 to 5 minutes or so. We will serve dinner after the speakers are done, and once it seems like everyone is about finished eating, around 8:30 or 9ish, we’ll move on to the live auction which will take between 30 and 45 minutes. Then the CEO will give some final thoughts we’ll wrap up the program.
Based on that plan of action, your program could take anywhere from 2 to 3 and a half hours. The problem with a vague run of show is that each of the program elements creeps outside of its poorly defined time limit. Crowd-herding doesn’t finish until 7:09, each of your speakers ends up speaking for 5 and half minutes (ish), dinner is served late, and the CEO waxes poetic for a whopping 20 minutes. The result? Your audience becomes disengaged from the lengthy program, and running off-schedule reflects poorly on your organization.
Keep things timely and running smoothly with a detailed run of show. Not only does a chronological list of what’s-happening-when guide components your guests experience directly, but it can also help manage elements that should be occurring behind the scenes. For example, if you want people to move out of the cocktail reception area by 7, your run of show might include a note for the bar tenders to stop serving alcohol at 6:50. If people will be leaving the event at 10, you can schedule volunteers to start preparing the gift table at 9:15. A run of show also gives you a sense of how much time you’re budgeting for each component of your program. A common mistake we see is that nonprofits try to cram too many speakers into the program. This has the dual negative effect that speakers have to rush through their commentary and guests start tuning out.
A detailed, down-to-the-minute run of show ensures your program is tight and stays on schedule.
2. Create a Line Item Budget in Advance
One of the biggest anxieties our clients face is creating (and maintaining) their event budget. Most have an easy enough time determining the overall budget for the event, but things quickly become more complicated when determining what percentage of that overall budget should go to each event expense. Let’s say your event budget is $40,000. If your approach to event budgeting is to deduct expenses from that total amount as you go, you run the risk of unwittingly going over budget. $10,000 for the venue, $10,000 for catering, $5,000 for printing, $10,000 for A/V, $5,000 for decor and… whoops — we’ve already blown through our entire budget and haven’t factored in insurance, vendors, taxes, accommodations for honorees…
Avoid a monetary shock half way through your planning by creating a detailed line item budget at the start of the project. Having a baseline to compare your budgeted vs. actual expenses will help you see where cuts and compromises need to be made. Did your venue end up costing $8,000 instead of $10,000 as you anticipated? Great! Or, did the venue end up costing $12,000? OK, just keep in mind that you’ll need to pull $2,000 from some other line item or increase your event budget accordingly. Preparing these numbers in advance will ensure your event stays on budget and won’t cut into your profits.
3. Develop a Follow-Up Strategy
There’s a common adage that “people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” We couldn’t agree more; in fact this advice should live beyond the day of the event into your post-event follow up. There’s no way your event will be wrapped up when the lights go down at the end of the night. In fact, a sign of a successful event is lots of loose ends: new donors to thank personally, potential partners to meet with, and a whole new audience to engage with in a strategic and timely fashion. Before the big day, be sure you’ve created a follow-up strategy. Some good questions to get you started include:
- How will you get contact information for people whose information you don’t have from the RSVP list? Your approach can be as simple and straightforward as having a bowl for business cards at registration.
- What is your post-event communications plan? Categorize and prioritize your audience (both those who attended and those who did not). Establish how key contacts will be contacted and by whom.
- Is the event being hosted out of town? Schedule a few days post-event for a representative of your executive staff or Board to follow up with important contacts in person.
- Draft a thank you email in advance so you can send it to attendees shortly after the event. Find a way to personalize the message with a sample of photos from the event, quotes or major highlights, etc.
What crucial components would you add to this list? Share your thoughts with us!
This article was recently shared on Event 360 site.