Preparing groups for special events

Published 3:19 pm Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whenever the term “special event” is raised within an organization you usually get the same response; shoulders drop, eyes become fixed on a specific target and glaze over, you loose all enthusiasm and the audience’s attention.

The reaction is similar but not as bad as when you mention the term Fundraising to your board of directors. So if special events are not received very well within nonprofit organizations, why host or hold them?

Considering the manpower and money it takes to put on an event – there are only three good reasons to do so; to raise money for the organization, program or service, to raise the organization’s profile, to attract new members/donors – otherwise known as a “Friend raisers.”

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Of course all nonprofits and nonprofit leaders want all special events to do all three. However the special event committee must select one priority of the three to focus on for the first event. Usually be doing this all three fall in line.

When setting out to host or hold a special event one of the first major steps, even before you choose the event is to take a look at the marketing for the event.

Start with assessing the community’s, tastes, and spending habitats. By knowing your market it will make the organization’s event more successful. The worst thing you want to do is pick an event that sells no tickets and has to be cancelled a couple weeks before the event takes place. Marketing is everything!

You also want to take a close look at the overall organization and ask the following questions.

How many reliable volunteers are there? Volunteers are the key to a successful special event. They help plan, set up, staff, tear down and evaluate the event. How much experience does the organization have at fundraising?

Special events take a lot of time and expertise in order to pull off. If your organization does not have a lot of experience, I would suggest classes, webinars or hiring a professional event planner.

What events have the organization successfully produced before? By looking at these past successful events it will help the committee with ideas and themes for the current special event.

Who attended the past events? By knowing who has attended it will help you assess the local community’s tastes and spending habitats.

Which is more important – raising money or building awareness?

This answer will help the committee decide the type of special event to host. How much corporate support is available? One of the worst feelings when hosting a special event is to have everything in place and the day/night of the event wondering if you are going to make money.

One of the easiest sells for corporate sponsors are special events. The last nonprofit I came from had an excellent policy, set by the board, that if the direct costs of the special event where not covered the event did not take place. With direct costs covered you then know the first ticket sold is profit – that is a great feeling.

What about individual major donors? If there is not a lot of corporate support available you and the committee may consider individual donors to sponsor the event.

How successful has the organization been in conveying its cause and mission?

In other words has the organization be successful in marketing the organization itself. Does the local community know who you are and what you do.

One important thing to remember when marketing your special event is that when setting out to raise money, a nonprofit sells its image right along with the tickets.

The next several articles will focus on special events and how to successfully host one for your organization.