Step 3: Develop and Host Special Events
Special Events are considered part of an organization’s overall fundraising strategy. That you decide to host a special event really depends on your particular organization: its mission, values, vision and culture. Given your organization’s purpose and reason for being, is hosting special events imperative to raise funds? Or would an event be a novelty, something that your organization has yet to attempt but is now considering? Only you can decide what is appropriate for your organization.
Once you have decided that you want to include Special Events in your portfolio of fundraising strategies (either regular events, such as an annual gala, luncheon or run, or the occasional event that targets a specific objective), then you must begin to do your planning and your research well in advance. Expect to do as much due diligence as you would with any other project or duty your organization undertakes. Hosting a special event might seem like a lighthearted and enjoyable project (and it should definitely be appealing, pleasurable and rewarding for the invitees), but special event planning is not for the faint of heart and must be taken seriously, for it demands strong organizational skills and much patience.
That said, the rewards of a well-organized and successful special event are manifold. Not only will you raise needed funds, by extension you can raise your organization’s profile in the community: you can generate goodwill for your organization and provide good memories for all participants. A very special event is something people remember. It continues to pay dividends for months, possibly years to come, in terms of its positive public relations factor.
All event planning begins by identifying the objective of the endeavour. You must first determine the purpose for holding the event and the outcome you hope to achieve. Set a measurable objective so that you can evaluate your outcomes against a stated aim afterwards. If you are planning to raise money, then target a specific sum. Launching an appeal or a campaign—how much do you need and what do you plan to do with the funds raised?
Once you have clarified the objective for your event and identified the specific aim, then you must determine the type of event that best suits your organization and will yield the best returns. You can be as creative and imaginative as you want to be at this stage. Just remember that once you have decided upon the type of event you want to host, you must draft a budget. Include all of the elements that will require an expenditure in the budget. This will help clarify what you can and cannot do. You can make modifications to your plans at this stage rather than later, when it could damage your organization’s reputation or image.
Here are some of the more common event-related expenses:
- Venue rental fees (if not at your site)
- Advertising (you need to get the word out, regardless)
- Design (professional artwork just looks more attractive and appealing)
- Mail and postage
- Food, beverages, entertainment
Every event requires different and special purchases—luncheons will require tableware and food, or a caterer. A jogging or walking event will require brightly coloured running vests and post-race refreshments. You get the idea!
To budget properly, get quotes from contractors. Make sure you get contracts in writing. Determine your break-even point. In a sense, this early budget planning is part of your research and serves as your risk management analysis. At this point, with some figures at your disposal, you can determine how much your organization would lose if the event fell short of its objectives for some reason.
Doing Your Homework
Determining costs is only one aspect of the research you must do before the actual planning, organizing and assigning of tasks takes place. Here are other steps you must take before “going public” with your event:
- Target Your Audience: You must reach the right audience, and this is the single most important factor in determining the success or failure of your event.
- Timing and Timeline: Both are critical. Before you finalize the date(s) for your event, find out what other events and activities are being held in your community around or on the same date. Take into account seasonal factors. A timeline is important because you will need to detail the tasks and the steps involved in the planning phase and factor in the right amount of time to see them completed successfully. Don’t forget to build in time for the “unforseen”: contingency planning is imperative. Be realistic when drawing up the timeline and include all relevant details. The more detailed, the better.
- Risk Analysis: True, this is part of the budget process, but don’t forget to consider all aspects of the risks you run, such as the legalities.
- Legal Matters: Make sure that you have researched laws affecting special events generally and in your community specifically. What bylaws may affect your event? Make sure that your organization is adequately insured and that your organization complies with relevant laws.
- Research the Competition: Find out as much as you can about similar events held by other organizations because their experiences can prove invaluable. Determine your organization’s Unique Selling Point (USP), because knowing this and being acutely aware of what sets your organization apart from others must precede the marketing process.
Promoting Your Event
Armed with your research, you can now begin to think about the marketing and promotion of your event. Marketing is marketing. In both the private and public sector, the procedures are identical.
- First, determine the right marketing method for your organization and the event in question: word of mouth, telephone, mailings using your database, posters or flyers, a press release, radio promo spots and advertising in other media, such as TV, newspapers and magazines. (Don’t forget to consider email and text messaging.) Regardless of what you choose, make sure the event is posted on your website!
- Second, work out the fundraising mechanisms: how will the tickets be paid for and when? In advance only? At the door? Will there be an early bird special discount? Prizes? Incentives? Be clear about your messaging because you will need to include specifics like this in any marketing materials.
- Now you are ready to develop, produce and dessiminate your promotional literature and materials. You can do this in-house or use professionals for any or all of these steps. Just make sure your messaging will appeal to the audience you have targeted, whether it is a 60-second radio spot, an email or a formal letter.
In the days leading up to the event, you will need to marshall all of your resources, and that includes your people.
- How many staff members will you need? How many volunteers?
- Draw up a task list for everyone involved. (As important as the timetable.)
- Meet with everyone together at least once prior to the event—if possible.
- Make sure that everyone knows his or her assigned task and/or role.
- Circulate contact details—the “just in case” scenario!
- Work out all issues pertaining to transportation to and from the event.
- Cover every aspect of the event from beginning to end. For example, who will be clearing up? Looking after the cash?
It is not enough just to hold the event, you have to give the best customer service possible during the event. That means ensuring that everyone is on the same page in terms of event objectives and outcomes. Therefore, brief everyone who is helping out and make sure that they will be wearing their best smiles on the day of the event. That means being courteous, helpful and attentive, with a clear grasp of the event’s goals and the organization’s mission overall.
Perfecting The Details
Have you thought of everything? Will you need audio-visual equipment? Are there issues of security? Accessibility? Parking? If you are inviting celebrity guests or speakers, have you sent them an agenda? What kind of briefing will they require? Who will look after them on the day of the event?
Build contingency plans into your overall event planning—just in case. For example: have backup plans in place to counter last-minute problems, such as no-show volunteers, weather-related issues or any number of other unexpected occurrences that could impact the success of your event.
Last but not least, if you have outsourced any or all of the event tasks, don’t wait until the last minute to see if everything is running smoothly. Stay in contact for the duration. Give suppliers an earlier deadline than you are working toward yourself, if possible. Make sure that you have given suppliers all the information they’ll need to meet your requirements and deadlines. Inform them of any changes that could impact their ability to meet their work schedule.
Most important, remember that everyone on your supply chain is a potential supporter and ambassador for your organization. Make the most of every arrangement and encounter along the way.
After The Event
The event is over, but your work is not yet done. Now is the time to evaluate the event’s success. The budget figures will help you measure the quantifiable success, but post-event discussions with the various committees and those involved will complete the picture. Post-event evaluation and analysis is critical: it will help you and your organization make sound decisions with regard to the hosting of future events.
A special event is a fundraiser, but it is also a public relations exercise. If you decide to host an event, you must do everything in your power to make it a success. It should make more than just money for your organization’s coffers—it should make a positive impact on the community.
Permission is granted to reprint and distribute this material provided it is attributed: “Reprinted with permission from The Goldie Company”.
Step 2: Develop a Fundraising Strategy
Step 4: Develop an Integrated Stewardship Program