How to organize a special event

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					How to organize a special event
A memorable and successful event is one that is well planned and organized, is appropri-
ate for your community, fits the capacity of your organization, and is fun for the partici-
pants — both those attending and those organizing the event.

Don’t make it too complicated. A well-done luncheon with a simple agenda is far preferable
to an elaborate banquet that falls flat because you have overextended yourselves.

In addition to recognizing participants, an event allows you to increase recognition for your
donors or programs and celebrate your overall mission. An event can help attract other
donors, supporters, and volunteers and build a stronger relationship with your members.

Consider making it an annual event that people look forward to with anticipation each year!

Type of event. Based on your capacities, your community and your goals, decide on the
kind of event you will use to recognize your donors or programs. Will it be a luncheon? A
dinner? A simple reception? (This is easier than a dinner and can be much less expensive!)

Date and time. Select a date and time that your team believes will ensure maximum
participation and does not conflict with other community events, fundraisers, graduations
and the like. Be sure you have chosen a date far enough in advance to allow time for the
tasks involved. To establish a schedule for tasks, think about what you need to accomplish,
then estimate the time that it will take, and work backwards from the date you have chosen
for the event.

The place. Choose a place that is big enough—but not too big—to accommodate the group
you are inviting, and that is appropriate to the type of event you plan. If a meal is involved,
work with the appropriate person to decide on a menu and to learn when they must have
the final head count of those attending.

The plan. Whatever the event, develop a written plan, with tasks, timelines and deadlines,
including who is responsible for each task. Working backwards from the date you have cho-
sen, set timelines and deadlines for each task. Generally one person, or at most two people
working together as co-leaders, needs to assume overall responsibility for seeing that every-
thing gets done. Your plan should include six Ws and two Hs:

n   Why are you holding the event?
n   What kind of event fits best?
n   When should we hold it?
n   Where should you hold it?
n   Whom should you ask to volunteer?

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                                  n   Whom should you invite?
                                  n   How will you put it all together?
                                  n   How much will it cost?

                                  Covering your costs. Be sure to include a budget in your plan so you’ll know how much
                                  to request from individual, organization, or business sponsors to support the event. The
                                  kinds of things you might request from a sponsor will depend on the kind of event you hold.
                                  If you are hosting a Philanthropy Day, and perhaps holding it in a high school auditorium,
                                  you might ask the restaurant catering the meal to provide it for free. If a meal is held in a
                                  hotel, ask if they will give you the room for free. A printing shop might print invitations for
                                  free. A party store or grocery store might provide paper supplies, such as napkins, plastic
                                  dishes and glassware. And, of course, there is always cash. Use your imagination!

                                  Target audience and invitation list. Who do you want to invite to this event?
                                  Obviously your board and donors; but also think about the family, friends and associates of
                                  those whom you will recognize. These potential donors, supporters, and volunteers already
                                  have a personal interest in your event. Ask your board members and other supporters for
                                  names and addresses of people to include.

                                  The invitation. Design and send an attractive invitation, either a card or a brief letter,
                                  with the appropriate information, including the names of those to be recognized. You will
                                  want to ask for an RSVP, so be sure to include a phone number or email address so that the
                                  invitees can respond.
How to organize a special event

                                  Mailing. Give people enough time to plan to attend, but not so much time that they set
                                  the invitation aside and forget about it. Generally this is about two weeks prior to an event,
                                  but may vary by community.

                                  Invitation follow-up. It really helps to have a few team members make telephone calls
                                  to invitees who have not responded. This will encourage attendance and will give you a
                                  firmer idea of the number of people to expect. It is also a nice idea to have board mem-
                                  bers issue their own personal invitation by phone, especially to older invitees or community
                                  newcomers. Offer to pick them up and take them to the event. You would be surprised how
                                  many people would like to accept an invitation but are a little hesitant for one reason or
                                  another. A friendly personal connection can make all the difference.

                                  Have tables for materials. Have a table with your own materials attractively displayed,
                                  as well as a sign-up sheet or cards so that attendees can request more information or sign
                                  up to volunteer. Staff the table with board members or volunteers who are friendly and out-
                                  going to respond to questions and talk with people who come to look at the material. You
                                  can do this in “shifts” so your volunteers have the chance to enjoy the event too. Have pre-
                                  printed postcards available and distributed in several places, so that participants can pick
                                  one up and send it to you later to ask for information or for meeting.

                                  Leading   TacTics   for   ruraL   fund   d e v e L o p m e n T:   How-Tos   and   TempLaTes   version   3-06
If you are partnering with other nonprofit organizations or recognizing grantees or pro-
grams, allowing each to have a table for their own materials is a great way to emphasize
your leadership in philanthropy and community building. This will build positive feelings
from the nonprofit organizations and their boards, donors, volunteers, supporters and cli-
ents. Suggest that they arrange to staff their tables too.

The program. Even if you are having a very simple event, you will want to make sure that
you have a master of ceremonies to make introductions, and someone else to make a brief
presentation about your organization. The highlight of the presentation should be the rec-
ognition of the donors or programs and a presentation of a document or plaque, or other
appropriate gift. Provide an annotated agenda to the speakers showing how much time
each is allowed to speak and the main points you hope they will make.

Choose an inspiring spokesperson to represent the organization. Your spokes-
person should be someone who is a well-known and respected peer of your targeted invi-
tees. If the ideal candidate can’t actually speak effectively about your community foundation
or fund, have him or her welcome attendees, speak of his/her high regard for your organiza-
tion and then introduce the spokesperson.

The spokesperson needs to be able to briefly and clearly describe the work of the foundation
or fund, its role in community building, and how it is part of the national philanthropic field.
Try to learn beforehand if any of the invitees have had an association with similar organiza-
tions elsewhere. If they have, you may want to ask them to say a few words about their expe-

                                                                                                               How to organize a special event

Your spokesperson should briefly highlight the importance of your work to your local com-
munity, and touch on the attractive tax advantages of contributing now or through planned
gifts or bequests. Emphasize the special and unique aspects of your community and, if
your group includes newcomers and non-residents, let them know that you appreciate their
choice of location for a vacation, a new home or second home. Let people know how your
organization gives them a way to provide permanently for the community.

Meeting and greeting. Make sure there is someone at the entrance to the event to
greet people warmly as they come in. This sets a tone for the time that you will spend
together. They should feel that you welcome them and appreciate their attendance. The
same goes for when they leave; have someone at the door to say goodbye and thank you!

Follow-Up. You’ve had your event and it was a success! You probably think that it could
have been more successful and you can see room for improvement. Get all your ideas down
on paper! What worked? What needed improving? What would you do again? What will
you avoid at all cost next time? Answering these questions can be the start of the plan for
the next version of your annual event, or simply a good guide for any future event you may
want to undertake.

Leading   TacTics   for   ruraL   fund   d e v e L o p m e n T:   How-Tos   and   TempLaTes   version   3-06
                                  n   Look at both the immediate results — and the longer-term results. Did the
                                      event result in any additional pledges or gifts? Has anyone expressed interest in your
                                      organization? Did the event encourage any new donors or supporters?

                                  n   Send more information to anyone who showed interest in knowing more
                                      about your organization. Better yet, call and invite them out for coffee, where you
                                      can have a longer chat. Whichever way you decide to do it, don’t forget this important

                                  n   Remember to send thank yous! Write a note to everyone who helped in
                                      any way. Don’t forget to thank the professionals with whom you worked at the venue
                                      you chose, such as the manager of the restaurant, the catering director of the hotel, etc.
                                      If anyone provided especially good service, be sure to note this.

                                  n   If you haven’t already done so, use the event to help you start creating a
                                      potential donor database. Add all those who were invited (whether or not they were
                                      able to attend) to your prospect list. Also, add them to your mailing list so that they can
                                      start receiving your newsletter or annual report.

                                  n   Follow up with the media. Use the media to let your community know that you had
                                      a successful event. Many rural papers have a section where they print the “social news”
                                      of the community. If so, take advantage of this resource. In not, ask a participant or two
                                      to write a letter to the editor highlighting the event and thanking those responsible for its
How to organize a special event

                                      success. Using the media in this way can increase interest in your organization and boost
                                      attendance at future events.

                                  Plan for the next event. How many times a year should you have this kind of event? It
                                  needs to be infrequent enough to make it truly special, so people want to attend. Yet you
                                  may need to do it several times a year (perhaps with different audiences) in order to meet
                                  all of the people that you need to know better. Your organization and community circum-
                                  stances will dictate this. Remember, the next event will be easier since you have a plan, pro-
                                  cess, and ideas to improve it already in place.

                                  Leading   TacTics   for   ruraL   fund   d e v e L o p m e n T:   How-Tos   and   TempLaTes   version   3-06

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