Events are a key component of many nonprofit organizations’ annual development plans. The most successful events are strategic in nature and focus on building community to advance an organization’s mission. At this year’s NCDC Conference, Chris Bicknell and Timi Paccioretti from Little Green Light and Madelyn Thompson from the University of Illinois at Chicago shared the building blocks for creating successful events and offered some suggestions for how data can make your next event more strategic and more successful.
For every dollar raised through special events, more than $0.50 goes to putting on the event.1 For anyone involved in managing a special event for a nonprofit, the costs are often compounded by the amount of staff and volunteer time needed to make the event successful. Because events are expensive and labor-intensive, isn’t it important to ensure they’re bringing more value to your organization than just revenue?
How can you ensure your special event is about more than just “raising money”? We suggest leveraging it by focusing on one or more of these strategic objectives:
Hundreds of great ideas about different types of events are waiting for you out there (check out Pinterest, for example). As you’re deciding what will work best for your nonprofit, consider events that will:
The key to the most successful event is developing a clear plan that takes into consideration the needs of your target audience. The plan should include a comprehensive budget with clearly defined projected revenue and expenses, should be realistic in terms of your organization’s capacity and resources, and should adhere to a comprehensive calendar of tasks to ensure you stay on track. Planning tips include:
Take into consideration how events will fit into your overall development plan and your goals for the year (i.e., engage more alumni, increase leadership-level donors, recapture lapsed donors, etc.). To make sure the event will engage your intended audience, use your data and committee to thoughtfully identify prospective attendees who fit within that target audience. And be sure you inject mission-focused activities to cultivate new donors and steward current ones.
Designing and adhering to a budget for your event is essential to its success. When creating your budget, incorporate both attendance and non-attendance-dependent revenue streams. Be realistic in your projected revenue; expense items and ensure those projections accurately reflect your organization’s overall goal for net profit. Be on the lookout for in-kind donations, and solicit sponsorships to help you offset your expenses.
Corporate and/or philanthropic sponsorships can be an integral part of a successful event. Madelyn Thompson, Director of Corporate and Community Relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) College of Engineering, has much experience in securing sponsors for some of Chicago’s largest and well-known events. Here are some tips for getting a strong sponsorship program off the ground:
Want to ensure maximum attendance at your event? Chris Bicknell, President of Little Green Light, suggests performing a data review well ahead of mailing your first invitation to ensure maximum success. Consider employing a data audit before your next event:
Once the event is over, data can play a key role in ensuring the success of next year’s event. Consider implementing some of the following data strategies:
Remember, strategic events that are well-planned and successfully executed can be a win-win for you and your organization’s supporters! Be sure to allocate the time necessary for planning and follow-up and you, too, will reap the rewards by not only generating much-needed revenue for your organization but also helping to advance and promote your organization’s mission.
1 According to Supportingadvancement.com.
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