Event planning. Does the thought itself bring on feelings of dread, images of overwhelmed staff members, or the urge to avoid calendars? Planning any kind of event—annual gala, recognition dinner, campaign launch, campaign close celebration and more—can be a daunting task. With such a huge amount of detail to consider, the best way to go about event planning is to break it into stages.
Stage 1: Determine Event Objectives
This stage sets the groundwork for the entire event and is typically directed by senior leadership. If the annual gala goals for this year are vague, work together to create key objectives to ensure your donors and attendees feel engaged as a result of the event.
In this stage you will:
• Create/define event objectives
• Select your audience
• Determine your budget
• Assemble your event team
Tip: Get buy-in from your key stakeholders (anyone who needs to sign off) at this stage of the process. It’s much easier to modify the direction of the event while it is still being conceptualized.
Stage 2: Choose Event Partners
Some events can be created, directed, and executed entirely with your in-house staff. Other events will require venue management, stage directors, catering staff, publicity coordination, and more.
During Stage 2 you will:
• Select necessary partners to augment your event team
• Choose an appropriate venue
• Set a date
• Design the overall experience
• Create a communication plan – invitations, programs, media relations, etc.
Tip: Consider details such as parking arrangements, venue availability before and after the event for setup and teardown, potential construction plans, union agreements, and other events that may be nearby.
Stage 3: Create Event Content
While the logistics of event planning are important for obvious reasons, the content of the event is critical for creating a meaningful experience rather than “just another event.” Revisit your defined event objectives and work with your internal staff and chosen event partners to create truly inspiring content that speaks to the audience while helping meet the event objectives.
Throughout Stage 3 you will:
• Confirm key performers – musicians, speakers, VIPs
• Create video elements to enhance the content, considering what you might want to use for post-event material (in Stage 5)
• Implement a communication plan or plans
• Finalize all event details
Tip: Confirm a rehearsal time for all event performers and speakers, no matter how seasoned or busy they may appear. They will be grateful that you are helping them be successful in front of the audience.
Stage 4: Execute the Event
Host an amazing and engaging event that connects, inspires, and energizes donors. With the right partners—and with so much work done ahead of time—you can relax a bit and ensure your audience is enjoying the event.
• Greet the guests as they arrive
• Monitor the venue – room temperature, beverages, any safety concerns
• Assess the audience – interest, engagement, enjoyment
Tip: Utilize volunteers to help with the event basics such as running the check-in table, distributing party favors, and directing attendees to their tables.
Stage 5: Develop Post-Event Materials
Many events end as soon as they are over, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Well-designed roadshow tools can help the meaningful experience live beyond the event itself. Determine the most effective way for your team to maximize the resources and materials you’ve created for the event.
Some materials may include:
• Excerpt of event video for guests who couldn’t attend
• Roadshow video for small group presentations
• Personalized impact stories for website
Tip: If possible, provide a copy of the post-event materials to any volunteers, donors, and board members who participated in the event. This will demonstrate your appreciation as well as provide something tangible to show and remember their personal time and/or talent investment in your organization.
This approach to event planning can make the process more enjoyable for you and your entire team, while also ensuring a successful event that engages donors and results in greater philanthropy to support your cause.