(Last month I posted an article that basically said, “fundraising special events are a waste of time and energy”. Most agree with my general statement as it relates to events that have a fundraising focus. However, several people were quick to point out that events do have their place in well-rounded, nonprofit fundraising operations. I agree. They can be great for donor cultivation, volunteer engagement, public awareness, and can be just plain fun. But if you do pursue a special event, best to go about it in the right way. )
One thing that most people don’t realize is that it takes a lot (I mean a WHOLE lot) of careful planning and execution in order to conduct a good special event, especially one that you plan to hold year after year.
So how is a great event created? Lots of things go in to developing an idea or proposal into a successful event and there are some tried and true steps you can take. These are a few of the steps I run through when embarking on a new project or event.
1. Write down your event idea into a single sentence or thesis statement. Then, answer these questions:
- What’s your big hairy audacious goal? People will think you’re crazy, but if you can dream it, you can do it.
- Who’s the audience?
- What’s the theme or message of our event?
- Who’s going to do the actual work of executing the plan?
- What are your assumptions? Are they accurate?
- What might a three to five year plan look like? Give yourself a chance to dream. If you don’t do it, no one else will.
- Draft a budget. Include expenses and revenue. It can be rough at this point.
2. Scheduling. At this point in the process you have to begin discussing possible dates for the event. There may be a very logical or natural time of year for the event. Or you may have an entire year to consider. Either way, this is one of the most challenging parts of the planning process, especially for a new event. As you know, there are already more than enough events around to keep most people busy every weekend of the year.
3. Discussion. Next, you need to find a few people that you trust (or who might be excited about the event) to meet and discuss the event. What do they think? Are they willing to help? Listen to their feedback and ask probing questions.
4. Testing. Before you go any further or waste any more time, take a moment to get together with some potential attendees and see what they think of the event idea. It can save you a lot of time and energy later. Discuss the idea with them in person.
5. Draft a To Do List (I’m a huge fan of lists). Start from the proposed date and work backward. This is one of my favorite parts of the planning process. (I was probably a scheduler of some type in a former life.) Write down absolutely everything that will need to be done in order for the event to occur. Don’t forget a post-event list. There’s always a bunch of things to do after an event. Sometimes it’s as much work as the actual event!
6. Decide. Are you moving forward or not? Does it make sense?
7. Committee. Invite a few people to join the organizing committee. Select people who have a mix of talents. You want people with connections, people who have a record of getting things done and people who have a passion or keen interest in the event. Meet and discuss the to-do-list and the general concept. Come to some consensus about feasibility and how to proceed to implementation. And don’t forget to test your assumptions with the group. All of them.
Important: Don’t leave the first meeting until you’ve discussed AND agreed on next steps and who’s responsible. Take notes and send them out to everyone after the meeting.
8. Implementation. Find the right people and resources you’ll need for implementation.
Make sure to give yourself enough time to go through the planning process. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to coordinate or organize an event that’s just a few months away. That’s a recipe for disaster. You need at least a year to plan an event that has any complexity or is intended to attract more than a few dozen people.
One final bit of advice: start small. You’re better off planning a smaller event that you can repeat the second year with little or no trouble. Once you’ve got the hang of it, then you can implement growth strategies.
Have I missed anything? Is there a step that you always make sure to take?