Does your organization or business have an event in the planning stages? Have you participated in an event planning committee, only to have event day arrive and underwhelm? This list of 5 ways you may be sabotaging your event will help guide you through some of the major pitfalls of event management.
1.) Failing to Set Clear, Specific, Realistic Goals
Creating goals for your event is crucial to its success. These goals have numerous possibilities. For example, it could be fundraising and revenue generation, providing an engagement and/or stewardship opportunity for current donors, providing a community service, or educating the public. Regardless of what is chosen, the importance is in the act of choosing. Without a clear goal, you will be unable to set a barometer for success.
Pretend you’re hosting an event that raises $5 and has 1,000 attendees who stay and engage in the programming for 3 hours. Do you consider this event to be successful? Well, that all depends on your goals! If your goal was to provide an opportunity to engage 500 community members, then it was incredibly successful. However, if your goal was to raise a million dollars for your organization, then it was not successful at all.
Setting clear metrics for success, in the beginning, allows your organization to decide how to measure the success of your event when it’s finished. These metrics will help with other tasks such as streamlining the marketing, determining potential attendees, and creating a budget.
Simply having a goal is only the beginning. Choosing the right goal is important. Setting a realistic goal is only slightly more complicated than simply choosing an option. The backend work of setting realistic goals can include tasks such as localized market research and examining organizational history. When completed, this information will generate a better understanding of your community’s needs and opportunities.
Pretend, again, that your organization hosted the event above.
This organization runs on an annual budget of half of a million dollars, expects to invest approximately $20,000 and 40 hours of work into the event, and has a minimal current individual donor network. This organization’s target service area is a charitable, yet, predominately low-income and semi-rural community. Targeting and engaging 500 community members could be an appropriate goal. However, fundraising with a goal of $250,000 is likely, not realistic.
2.) Lacking Effective Planning
One of the major misconceptions of the nonprofit sector is that it should not operate with a business mentality. This is completely untrue. Numerous articles discuss how nonprofits and business strategy, maintaining that they should act like businesses because they are businesses. A major component of the business world is budget creation.
Most people, businesses, and organizations operate on a budget. Planning an event is no different. It requires a complete and thorough budget. Additional costs can add up quickly, so earmarking money for buckets such as the venue, catering, and marketing ahead of time is important. Then, these larger buckets divide to encompass smaller details such as parking, print marketing, and official swag.
Not only does creating this budget help determine (possible) sponsorship opportunities, but it also makes sure that your organization stays within the allocated spending limits. Predetermining a budget also helps ensure that your spending is cost-effective, an important factor in the ongoing cultivation of public trust.
Planning logistics is just as important as the budget. This includes the planning of all details and needs such as space, volunteers, catering, setup, teardown, etc. Clearly defined goals and budgetary restrictions for your event will help build the framework for your logistics planning. However, there are a few important key tips of which to be aware.
See the Big Picture
Don’t let the minutiae details stress you out. Of course, it is important to get any major kinks worked out ahead of the event, but an easy way to keep the big picture in mind is to keep the event goals and the organization’s mission at the forefront of all planning.
For example, pretend you have already coordinated and scheduled all the volunteers that you anticipate needing. But, when the day of the event arrives, many of your volunteers fail to show. This has happened in the past, so you planned ahead by scheduling extra volunteers. However, enough people failed to show that you’re still experiencing a shortage.
This problem is not uncommon. Not having enough volunteers can absolutely be detrimental to the success of the event, but problem-solving strategies can sort this problem out quickly. Examples include asking organizational staff or board members to fill the necessary slots, eliminating unnecessary positions so that those volunteers can fulfill a different duty, or even asking volunteers if they would be able to work an additional shift.
Although they’re not all going to be great options, the importance is in solving the problem to meet the big picture needs: having a successful event.
Much like focusing on the big picture, clear goal setting will help with prioritization. Priority confusion occurs when the event’s goals are not communicated to all involved staff and volunteers. It might happen during the volunteer example above.
Is it more important to have more volunteers covering the registration table, have a person placed at the donation table, or have a person assisting the photographer?
Without clear goals and priorities, the volunteer coordinator may be unable to prioritize the shortage effectively. Backed with the knowledge that the event’s clearly defined goal is to raise money, the volunteer coordinator could make the decision to forego a photographer’s assistant to ensure the donor table is staffed appropriately.
3.) Ambiguous Marketing Strategy
Marketing is important. Regardless of the goal of your event, creating a marketing strategy is key to achieving your goals. If asked: what is your marketing strategy, what would your answer be?
One of the most common answers I hear is: “we plan to post on social media.” Unfortunately, posting on social media is not an actual strategy. It’s an action that could be a part of your strategy but isn’t the strategy itself.
Building any strategy, marketing included, must begin with goal-setting and follow with actionable steps determined from research, data, best practice, and internal capacity. Ideally, your organization will already have a communication and marketing strategy in place. Therefore, devising an event marketing strategy will simply be a piece of the whole.
A common mistake when planning a marketing strategy is the failure to align the marketing strategy with timeframes. Aligning your goals to a timeframe is necessary to determine metrics and allow for evaluation. This timeframe needs to be as specific, yet flexible.
For example, if your marketing strategy involves using social media to drive ticket sales, it may have set dates for early-bird tickets. Therefore, all early-bird ticket marketing needs to occur prior to the close of those sales. But, what happens if you haven’t met your goal for early-bird ticket sales?
A flexible marketing strategy could offer early-bird extended sales for an additional period of time. Without having a specified timeframe around this type of marketing goal, your organization would be unable to know if these extended sales are necessary or even viable.
4.) Failing to Set and Manage Expectations
Community partnerships can be great resources for your event. Whether they supply funding, volunteers, or act as a platform for marketing, building a great relationship with your partner requires developing and managing their expectations. These expectations will help to guide your community partner’s desire to take part in your organization’s event.
Will the partner have a seat at the planning table? Can the partner engage their employees in volunteerism during the event? Is your organization only offering sponsorship opportunities?
Does your volunteer think that s/he is the lead for a project when in reality they aren’t? Does your sponsor expect your organization to purchase co-branded marketing supplies when you expect them to provide their own?
Each scenario described could end in disaster, and in the worst case, a failed partnership.
Failure to set and manage expectations before an event will harm your event. It might seem ‘nice’ to give sponsors and donors every single thing they request, but the reality is the opposite. Agreeing to unreasonable requests can hurt your team and shift the focus from the most important things: your mission and the goals of the event.
Weighing the Benefits
It becomes tricky because sometimes the request may not seem unreasonable. However, building a successful partnership means setting and then managing expectations for each partnership from the onset. In many cases, your team may have the capacity to support the request of your partner.
To determine if this is the case, you need to first evaluate the viability of the request. This determination includes assessing your organization’s internal capacity and the resources required to successfully complete the task.
Once you have determined the viability, it needs to be weighed against the value of the partnership. Although it may be a stretch for your organization, sometimes it is more important to value the relationship of a partner who frequently donates to your organization, sends volunteers, or sponsors your events.
However, sometimes the value of the partnership is perceived to be smaller than the weight or feasibility of the request. In this case, it is important to have a discussion with the partner about the organization’s capacity and ability to fulfill the request. It’s always a good idea to bring a counter option to the discussion. For example, “although our organization is unable to fulfill XYZ request, we’re happy to do XYZ instead.”
5.) Skipping the Post-Event Debrief
This is probably the number one, absolute, fastest way to sabotage an event. A debrief does not need to be difficult or laborious. Even a brief, simple meeting with key staff, volunteers, or partners can help determine an event’s successes, opportunities, and places for improvements.
Many nonprofits (and businesses) operate under an unspoken rule of consistent improvement. A post-event debrief is a great chance to perform an overview assessment, determine if the event’s goals were achieved, and find opportunities for the future.
Hosting a debrief may seem obvious for an annual event because it offers the organization clear avenues for replication and improvement the following year. However, the debrief is just as important for a one-time event.
Like those mentioned above, this debrief may answer many of the same questions as it would if it was a recurring event. But, it will also help refine the organization’s overall event strategy. It can help address areas such as parking, directions, ticketing applications, or venue.
For example, perhaps your organization hosted a one-time fundraiser in a new location. This location is new to the area with competitive rental prices, so you’re hoping to book it again for future events. Overall, the event raised a significant amount of money, but during the post-event survey attendees mentioned that the venue was difficult to find and the parking lot was not well lit.
During your event debrief, your organization might discuss the survey results, and find ways to improve the situation for the future. If you decide the event space is too great of a deal to pass up, perhaps there’s a way to provide more clear directions and event-day parking lot lighting in the future.
Doubtless, you have been invited to and attended many events throughout your life. Which ones were the most memorable? You may have attended a major gala thrown by one of the big-named, heavy-hitting nonprofits and are experiencing event envy. What made that event so amazing?
Now, realize, your event can be just as great. This is true even if it’s on a smaller scale and has a smaller budget. Just answer these questions to make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself before you even begin.
- Are you setting clear, specific, realistic goals?
- Are you planning effectively? Do you have a budget?
- Do you have a clear, targeted marketing strategy?
- Are you working to set and manage the expectations of your community partners?
- Are you having a post-event debrief?
Mia is a committed, cause-driven consultant who partners with nonprofits to grow their impact, achieve their mission, and actualize their vision. She believes in the power of nonprofits and their ability to solve the most challenging problems if they have the right resources.