With so many worthy causes competing for charitable dollars, how do you create a successful, branded nonprofit event that rises above the noise? We asked award-winning event professional Merryl Brown to give us some tips on how to stand out in this crowded space.
By Merryl Brown, president of Merryl Brown Events
Photography by Megan Sorel from the Art in the Garden event
Event producers are often asked by nonprofit organizations to create events for them that will help their organizations to prosper and gain recognition. It is important at the outset to fully understand the organization’s objectives. Here are five possible objectives, all or some of which may be goals of the nonprofit organization. It is imperative not only to identify these potential objectives, but also to prioritize them.
- Fundraising – Is fundraising a key factor in the decision to create this event and if so, what is the organization’s anticipated net revenue? Is this a realistic goal for them given their donor base, past event performance history, and the current economic climate in your region?
- Motivation and Inspiration – Is the organization hoping to better connect with and inspire their constituencies? Does the nonprofit want to educate attendees about their plans for the future? Are they hoping to reinvigorate giving amongst existing donors through event-generated inspiration?
- Friend-raising – Are they looking for an opportunity to invite new friends to discover their organization? Are they looking to form long lasting relationships with new potential donors and supporters?
- Organizational Brand Awareness – Do they want to educate the broader community about their organization’s unique brand?
- Gala Experience – Do they want to wow attendees with a memorable experience that is exciting, unique to their organization and buzz-worthy? Are they looking to earn a place on the annual social calendar as a “must attend” event?
Once the organization’s event objectives have been established, it is important to have a clear sense of what your budgetary parameters are, who your audience is going to be, where the event is going to be held and why guests are going to want to come.
- Who are you targeting as the attendees of this event? Who will your committee be? Who will help you to fill the room?
- What will your target audience connect with in terms of style and theme?
- How much will guests pay to attend? What will the sponsorship levels be for major donors and what are the incentives for their participation at higher monetary levels? Do the numbers make sense in relation to the expenses? Are these numbers realistic for the intended demographic?
- Where will the event take place? Is it convenient, interesting, unique, functional, beautiful, and comfortable?
- When will the event be held so that you are not directly competing with other major happenings in your region on the same date (or same weekend)?
- Why will people want to attend? What is special, unique or compelling about the event that you have created? How does it connect to the organization for which it’s being created?
When these questions have been answered, you can begin to create a recognizable and uniquely branded event. Here are several ways that you can successfully create a memorable branded event for a non-profit organization:
- Design a unique and recognizable logo. Once you have designed it, make sure that it shows up thoughtfully, but don’t plaster it everywhere! It should show up on collateral, social media pages, step and repeat, and on pre and post event correspondence. It should not show up on every décor item.
- Choose a color for the event that is either already associated with the organization or with its larger mission or choose one that will really make a statement and work within the context of what you are proposing to create.
- Create a memorable event name that you can use annually. Be sure to attach the organization’s name to the event name in some way so that there is a clear connection between the two. Make sure that the name that you choose is not already being used by someone else and check that it is not trademarked.
- Design an event environment that tells your story effectively through décor, lighting, sound, projections, entertainment, etc.
- Invite top notch working and honorary committees and pack those committees with as many influencers as you can get to. It will be their guest lists that help to fill the room, lend support at higher levels, bring in major auction items, etc.
- Use your and your committees’ connections to get celebrities on your invitation as honorary chairs. Even if they can’t attend, their endorsement will go a long way to ensuring the success of your event. Having celebrity association with your event brand is critical to its success and visibility.
- Be sure that your event sells out and that there is an air of exclusivity. Make sure that it is the “must attend” event in your area. Social media and pre-event press will be a big help in this arena.
- The event’s brand should be easy to articulate. Your army of “word of mouth warriors” (your two committees) should be able to speak easily and fluently about your event brand and tell it to all of their friends. The same information should be available on your social media pages and widely shared among your supporters. Committee evangelism is key! Your Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn pages should be on fire as the event draws near.
- Post-event is a great time to keep the story going, cement the organization’s newly formed relationships and further build the event’s brand! Publish great photos and any press to all of your social media pages and keep the conversation going for as long as you can. Encourage people to remain involved with the organization, to join the event committee and to attend the event the following year.
There is nothing quite so satisfying as creating a recognizable and uniquely branded event that makes a difference to a nonprofit organization that you care about. In the immortal words of Winston Churchill,
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give”.
Merryl Brown Events is an award-winning event design and production company, specializing in elegant corporate events, nonprofit events, social events and weddings.