69 Ways to Optimi$e Your Annual Event
So, you’ve decided: this year’s event will be your best ever. Great! Setting high goals is the first step. But, one big question has to be answered: Now what?
To create a great event requires a lot of time and effort. Maybe more than you can spare. After all, as I’m sure you’ve heard before, “It’s all in the details.”
And why do the details matters? One reason: the bottom line.
Will they come?
Will they care?
Will they give?
You need to take lots of small steps to reach one big success.
A step-by-step event checklist and optimization guide
Optimizing your own event is a bit like critiquing your own child. It doesn’t matter how hard you try; you can’t be objective enough.
Well, help has arrived.
To save you a whole lot of time and aggravation – and to ensure your event’s greatest success we’ve put together 69 key steps, your ultimate event checklist, that will help you optimize every element of your event.
This step-by-step guide breaks down the entire planning process into the 13 essential parts of any event.
Team → Purpose → Money → Theme → Message → Agenda →Invitations → Audio/Visual → Rehearsal → Greeting & Seating → Food → Volunteers → Follow-up
There’s a lot here, so we’ve turned it into a poster for you to download. Print it out, tape it up and get to work!
It’s time to start.
You aren’t looking for average results – you’re aiming for a victory. So start with the right tools. Start with a great team.
The obvious reason is because you need help. But remember to make this the best-ever you need different perspectives and ideas
You need experience AND a fresh point of view.
You could build your team, and get started, a year ahead of time. But I know that may not be possible. Even if you only have 2 months (I’ve done it!) start here…
- Experience: Who will join you on the team with experience and skills?
- Fresh Ideas: Who will bring a fresh perspective and different set of experiences?
- Tracking: How will you track your progress?
- Schedule: Do you have a detailed task list and timetable?
- Meetings: Have you created and sent out a meeting schedule?
Way too often events are planned without clear goals in mind.
Yeah, you want to raise some money but there is more to consider if you want to raise more money than ever before and make people love you in the process!
To discover your purpose, answer these questions at your first team meeting:
- Goal: What is the primary goal of the event?
- Alternatives: How else could this goal be accomplished?
- Other goals? What are additional goals? Be careful when you are mixing goals, if you want to attract new donors then this may not be the event where you honor volunteers.
- Measurement: How will you measure success?
- VIPs: Who must be there for the event to be a success? Who is your dream guest?
- Venue: What would an ideal venue look like?
Examine last year’s financials carefully, do this as a team. As you look you will make discoveries that will help your choices for this year.
If you didn’t do the event last year look at your sources of funding to see what has worked for you and what is untapped.
- Review: What were last year’s expenses vs. revenue?
- Return on Investment: Break it down, if there were many sources of income which worked best?
- Time suckers: What were the biggest investments of time (time is money)?
- Leverage: How could you expand what worked best?
- Potential: What have you missed? List any untapped potential resources, i.e. corporate sponsor, matching gifts, more attendees.
- Revenue: How will you make money from this event? Determine revenue source(s).
- Budget: What will your budget be? Set financial goals for this event including total revenue and expenses.
- Ticket price: What will it cost to attend? Consider what people are able to pay and what they are willing to pay for what you offer.
A theme is a marketing tool but it also makes your job easier.
Once you establish a theme many decisions can be made based on the theme. There’s real opportunity for creativity here!
Theme development will help you decide these:
- Logo: Do you need an event logo? A logo or graphical representation of the theme gives the event an identity and make it memorable.
- Color: What about colors? A color scheme simplifies your choices and makes an impact.
- Décor: How will you decorate? Explore the use of displays and centerpieces that enhance your theme without distracting from your purpose (or blocking the view).
- Take-aways: What do you want the guests to take home?
- Venue: Where will you have the event? Your venue may be based on theme but primarily needs to be well located and the right size and price.
Think of the message as what you want people to know and share after the event.
It’s not about how fancy your ice sculpture was, it’s about how visionary you are and how they want to be part of what you are doing!
- Speakers: Who will speak? Choose your best visionary leader to deliver the message.
- Message: How else can the message be delivered?
- Video: Will you show a video? Videos are a great way to enhance your message.
- Additional speakers: Who else will speak? Decide on guest speakers and testimonials.
- The Ask: Who will ask for money or make the case for further support?
- More: How else will you get the message out? As a team explore other ways to bring your unique message to life.
I’ve been known to be a bit fanatical with agendas – reviewing minute by minute to be sure each moment is working towards the goal.
Your guests will value a well-planned agenda that doesn’t waste their time.
Be sure you’ve explored each of these questions and found the optimal answer:
- Time: What time will you start and end?
- Elements: What are your must-do components?
- Order: Consider the order, then reconsider it.
- Less is more: What could you take out without harming the message?
- Focus: What is more of a distraction or side-show then an enhancement of your story? Auctions often feel that way to me.
- The Ask: Think carefully about the ask. You want something and they need to know what it is.
- Ending: How will you wrap it up? Be sure to end on an up-note. They should leave inspired.
Be sure your invitation includes everything a guest needs to make a decision – and a little extra so the decision is YES!
- Guest list: Have you updated your guest list?
- Have you invited the right people?
- Format: Did you consider all formats?
- Reminders: Have you scheduled reminders? Remind people who haven’t responded. We all have busy lives!
Audio and Visual
- Lights: Who controls the lighting?
- Showing a Video: Who will make sure the video is ready?
- Sound: Who checks for sound?
- Photography: Who will take pictures? You’ll want photographs for sharing online and possibly to print and mail to guests.
- Capturing on video: Who will set-up and run the video camera? Do you need high-quality video to share or just something good enough for internal review?
Schedule a rehearsal. This is your chance to iron out the wrinkles. Have your A/V person there and every speaker.
- Speakers: Don’t miss the opportunity to hear each speaker and address any concerns about content, delivery or projection (check the mic!).
- Lights: Check the lights, show the video, step though the whole program.
- Timing: Time the presentations and make adjustments as needed. Appoint a timer for your event and make sure everyone knows who it is and where they will be sitting.
- Emergencies: Decide who will make on-the-spot decisions.
Greeting & Seating
- Front door: Making people feel welcome is a great start to your event.
- Check in: Simplify check-in. You may have greeters with clip boards lead people to their tables; place the nametags at their places; or use technology to speed things up or for self check-in (but be careful, it could slow it down).
- Extra volunteers? Have them along the entry path to say good morning, show the way, or offer an umbrella.
- Cost: Unless you are a culinary institute they aren’t coming for the food. Make it easy, inexpensive and simple.
- Serving: Consider having platters at the table for easy selection and minimum service.
- Value: Food may enhance your theme or fit your mission.
- Energy: Try to use volunteers who share your enthusiasm for the organization and the event, it shows.
- On time: Make sure volunteers arrive early! Amazing that a check-in person would show up late, but I’ve seen it way too often.
- Youth: Children/teens tend to clump together. They are most helpful when they have very specific tasks. If they are clients or service recipients they can be living examples of your work.
- Identity: Provide shirts, aprons, oversize buttons or other obvious indicators so everyone knows who the volunteers are.
- Thank you: Start with an immediate thank you to attendees and a “we missed you” message to no shows. These should be set up well in advance so there is no last minute work.
- Personalize it: Be prepared for more personal thank you calls and notes. Start with those who gave the most – not just money but time and effort too.
- Feedback: Ask for feedback. Give attendees an opportunity to tell you what they loved and what they didn’t. Listen!
- Debrief: Pre-schedule an event team debriefing, you want to capture their input while it’s still fresh.
- Report: Create a written report for internal use that summarizes the event, any complications or problems and the highlights.
- Social media: How will you share the event with those who didn’t come? Create a written summary of the event to share on your website. Let people know what they missed. Include pictures.
The one thing your event must do
Answering each question from your event checklist helps ensure your event builds your base of friends.
Why does your event need to make your attendees love you?
Because if they don’t care they don’t give. Period.
Remember to download the poster of the checklist and use it to make every aspect of your event the best it can be.
Merle Benny is the founder of Nonprofit Champion, home to smart nonprofit leaders. Additionally, she’s a humorous and dynamic speaker, a skilled workshop leader and an enthusiastic host at Nonprofit Champion networking events.
Merle enthusiastically shares her passion for nonprofits, marketing and storytelling. As a consultant and coach she provides support and creative problem solving to nonprofit leaders and other consultants.
Merle is a presenter at the Nonprofit Consultants Institute, an annual training offered by Association of Nonprofit Specialists for new and rising consultants.