Nonprofit Event Venues 101
By: Brad Ball
Big Buzz Idea Group
Most nonprofit organizations simply love to host events. Whether to fundraise, friendraise, educate or otherwise, the regular gathering of like-minded people is a standard tool in the nonprofit toolkit. One of the key traits of a successful event is choosing the right venue. To help make your organization’s next gathering a success, here are five things to remember when finding your next nonprofit event location:
Is your event date available?
While this may seem like an obvious place to start, the purposes of asking the question leads to this point: How far in advance do you need to book the location? For organizations that host events on a regular schedule, this is a critical question. An event can’t be the third Wednesday each month if that date is not available at a given venue. If you want to host an event at the city’s newest hot spot, you’ll likely need to book earlier than later. Depending on the location’s popularity at the designated time of day, you may also face different scheduling challenges. A venue that frequently books months in advance for a happy hour may instead be easily available for a luncheon or breakfast. Was last year’s holiday party a bust? Start the work for this year’s party in January; you’ll likely have the most flexible options of locations and dates. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There’s nothing worse than needing to scramble for an event location, so do your work early and book the venue today.
Is the space conducive to the event’s purpose?
You wouldn’t host a fundraising gala for 200 people at the corner Starbucks – it’s simply an inappropriate space for the event. The example is dramatic but demonstrates the point clearly. Which types of activities will go on at your event that the venue needs to accommodate? Some activities require room to move around for networking, table space for sit-down dinners, silent auctions (you need different space for 10 items versus 100 items – and remember an area for buyers to pay and check-out), audio and visual (A/V) needs, and table displays. You’ll probably also need a space for a registration and welcome table when your guests arrive. These suggestions are far from exhaustive but the list is meant to get you thinking about what will go on during your event so you can make sure the venue can accommodate your needs.
Where is the event located?
Location, location, location! Not just in real estate, location is crucial. If your attendees work downtown, an event venue in the suburbs may be hard to get to and draw a low attendance. And we need big attendance if we’re going to have great events! Other location-based elements to consider include public transportation accessibility, parking options, and ADA accessibility. A venue’s name recognition can also matter depending on your market and guests (Yes, we also love Cracker Barrel’s “Breakfast All Day Everyday” but probably wouldn’t want to host a dinner event there.)
How many people do you expect to attend?
There’s a clear difference between an event that needs space for 25 people versus 125 people. If you’re hosting a New Member Orientation and your organization brought in 30 new members last quarter, book your venue accordingly. A space that’s too big will make the room feel empty (no one likes to attend an empty event); book a space that’s too small and the event will be crowded, or worse yet, you may have to cut registration and alienate a number of people that planned to attend. A big part of this question relates to user/guest experience. The importance of finding just the right space for your event cannot be understated.
Quick Tip: Hosting your next gathering at the organization’s office may be a great way to have just the right space without paying someone else. And it can help attendees feel more connected to the organization by getting to be on the “inside.”
What are the menu options?
Let’s take for granted that everyone who eats food at an event wants it to be tasty. (Ever heard of “Wedding Chicken?” We’ve been there.) Beyond quality, cost and quantity are not the only considerations when it comes to the menu. Individual diet needs and preferences are a common challenge, as well. Creating a menu for all taste buds and simultaneously meeting all your guest’s dietary demands will be nearly impossible. (“I’ll take the caesar salad with salmon, please. And be sure to hold the chicken – I don’t eat meat.” Kidding, but, seriously, amiright?) Joking aside, food allergies are serious. According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), some 32 million Americans suffer from some type of food allergy. Common allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts and wheat, which are also common ingredients. The critical point is to make sure you have a menu flexible enough to meet the needs of your attendees but also won’t drive you crazy. **Remember – you are likely the one tracking your guest’s dietary requirements to communicate to the venue. Best to not have a guest go into anaphylactic shock because you forgot to inform the venue about a peanut allergy.
Quick Tip: Give your guests an easy way to submit their food allergies or dietary requirements during registration. This will help you keep track and it provides an easy way to submit the info to your venue for execution.
Nonprofit organizations love to host events. Start your next event planning work by considering these points for the perfect venue and you’ll be well on your way to a great event. For more information about creating successful events, be sure to check out these great event articles at the Big Buzz Idea Group blog.