Planning an event for a non-profit is both a privilege – and a challenge. With tight budgets and big dreams, creating a spectacular event for a non-profit is often one of the most rewarding planning experiences. However, there are a few things you’ll need in your toolkit if you want to create the best non-profit event experience.
1: Budget, budget, budget
Non-profits often operate on shoestring budgets with the large focus on providing the service for which they exist. Keeping the event budget top of mind is a must in the non-profit realm. Pay close attention especially during the planning phase, and be sure to be transparent in terms of cost and expectations with all of the decision makers. Setting a hardline budget at the beginning of the process and sticking to it will create less of a headache for all involved. This is one reason why we create detailed, line item budgets and update them regularly so that everyone can track in real time. We also pay specific attention to tracking negotiated savings – this is all a part of the value and return of an event or meeting and belongs in an ROI summary at the end of the event.
2: Call in some favors
Many organizations have vendors they use time and time again. Over the years, you’ve probably developed a friendly professional relationship with your local providers and experts. For a non-profit event, it doesn’t hurt to call in a favor (if you feel it’s appropriate). Vendors are sometimes happy to do a little pro-bono work if it’s for a good cause. Source vendors regionally and all across the country that you use regularly, and have thus are able to leverage for discounts when budgets are tight. We invest in building true partnerships nationally and focus on relationships for many reasons but knowing who to call when things are tight is an added bonus.
3: Know the benefits
Outside of the primary benefit of a great cause, be sure to dig deep for all of the positives. Remember that donated time from a vendor can be a tax deduction if the non-profit is categorized as 501(c)(3). It is also good to note that time or talent given to a charitable cause can often be a great PR boon to a company. Or offering to help arrange photos of the work and create social media posts referencing vendors can be the tipping point in getting some donated help.
4: Get creative
For some, a tighter budget means less room to be creative, but for the savvy professional, it’s an opportunity to do more with less. With a smaller budget, you need to figure out how to wow people with small details and personal touches that leave an impression. For an annual charity gala we plan each year, our negotiated prices for food and beverage allowed for a sumptuous plated three-course dinner. And our negotiated price savings for A/V allowed us to secure a company that we knew would provide a high-quality experience for the charity and the guests. On a small budget, we succeed in making the event feel like a high-dollar production because of the value provided. For another local charity event, we recreated the luxurious feel of the red carpet with custom music selections that we mixed in-house, expertly-scripted delivery, and a truly live-produced experiential show complete with high-quality graphics and presentations. To save time and charity dollars, we invoked our own in-house experts and our knowledge of the client rather than adding an extra vendor into the mix. This created an even more personal and curated experience for both the client and the attendees at the event.
5: Keep the goal in mind
At the end of the day, the event is about meeting objectives, whether it’s raising money or raising awareness. As with all events, sometimes things are not going to go according to plan. But when that happens, or when tough choices need to be made focus on the details that are important to the end goal. Make sure to keep the mission (or the brand, or the brand experience) top of mind, and the rest will follow.