Does your organization host an annual event? What is the purpose of the event and why is it relevant? Do your members know and understand this? Are your guests fully aware of the purpose of the event?
Far too often when we meet with NPOs, they are not at all clear why they host an event. And at least half of the stories begin with “a key member of the leadership team wanted an event so they created one.” It takes a great deal of time and money to plan and produce an event, so it is imperative that you outline the goals and how the event affects your organization.
The first step is to hold a strategic planning session and the first thing that should be established at that meeting are the goals of the event. Try to identify two to four goals that you hope to accomplish with an event. Will it be a fundraiser or a friend-raiser? Will it be educational or entertaining? Will this be a membership event?
And most importantly, how will this event serve the mission of the organization? Many NPOs have gotten sidetracked by fundraising events only to realize after 10, 15, 20 years or more that they are not in the “fundraising” business, and thus, these efforts are distracting them from serving their core mission.
Once the goals of the event are determined, they need to be documented. Turnover on committees and nonprofit boards is natural, so it’s necessary that the purpose for holding the event is well-documented so that future leadership will understand why an event was launched and what it is meant to accomplish. I recently worked with on organization that initially launched a fall fundraiser to connect with local schools to promote their services to parents and students. After a recent leadership change, the new committee is now talking about moving the event to the middle of summer – and while they could certainly do so, they will not be able to connect effectively with the area schools that are closed for June, July and most of August.
When goals are set, decision-making is simplified and the desired outcomes help guide the planning process. Who should the target audience be? What type of event will accomplish these goals? How will we tell our story? How does this specifically fit into our larger mission? Should we plan this event in-house? Will we need a volunteer committee? Every question that is asked during the planning process should be answered with the end goals in mind.
And finally, the most successful events clearly communicate targets and goals to the invitees and attendees. It is crucial to explain why the event is being held and how they can participate in helping the organization achieve the desired goals. By effectively sharing your story and the purpose for the event, you can recruit additional donors, members, future committee members, etc. And in addition to already planting seeds for future events, you are also generating a small army who can help share your story and purpose with others.
Finally, take time to measure your outcomes against your goals. How many attendees came? How much money was raised? Were new leaders secured? Did new members join? Were you able to collect new donors? How about additional contacts for your mailing list? How many more people will be served? By evaluating the data, you can see how the event measured up against the goals to assess how effective the event was. This analysis will also help the organization identify where tweaks might need to be made, and all of this allows next year’s committee to analyze the data to set new goals for next year’s event.
If your organization has been hosting an event “forever,” and you aren’t sure why it exists, it might be time to re-evaluate how the event ties into your mission. Sometimes, events that used to be a cornerstone of an organization are no longer effective and need to be scrapped. With limited resources available, it is imperative that nonprofit organizations evaluate the activities that are making demands on their time to ensure that the demands are conducive to moving the mission forward. If an event isn’t delivering ROI, and it’s draining the staff, then the leadership must make some tough decisions that will be better for the nonprofit going forward.
When you set clear goals for your event, it is easier to determine if the event is serving a clear purpose for your organization and if it is the best use of resources. Strategic goal-setting is the key to building successful events.