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Event Planning Lessons Gleaned from the Oscars

Section: Blog

The Academy Awards ceremony is back this Sunday and is celebrating its 90th anniversary. If the ceremony is anything like last year, we are in for lots of excitement. Remember last year’s major mix up, with presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing the wrong winner for Best Picture? While it made for great television, it was a huge embarrassment for all involved. But there are event planning lessons to be learned from this this situation, and here are just a few…

Mistakes Happen: The Academy Awards is one of the “most overly produced” annual events. It attracts the most talented and competent event planners in an industry known for producing big galas. And yet they blew the big moment. It’s a great reminder that no matter who you have planning your big event, mistakes happen. People are human. Things aren’t perfect. If you accept that premise, then you can take the steps necessary to minimize the impact of those mistakes when they occur.

Plan for the Worst: PriceWaterhouseCooper had a plan to avoid mistakes. Just days before the event, they claimed they had systems in place to ensure the right envelope ends up with the right person. Oops. When the worst happened PWC shifted into emergency mode, which was to notify a stage manager. As we all witnessed, that plan worked … sort of. At the end of the night, the right people did go home with the award, but a tremendously embarrassing path was walked to get there. Moving forward, one would assume that presenters will be comprehensively briefed on what to do if they think they may have been handed the wrong envelope.

Be Gracious: Can you imagine a moment more difficult than standing up in front of all your peers and a broadcast audience of millions, to accept an award with a heartfelt speech honoring your accomplishment — only to be told a few seconds later that you didn’t actually win? Kudos to Jordan Horowitz who went through this and emerged as a model of grace and elegance. He stepped up to the podium and graciously told the world that he hadn’t actually won. He wasn’t bitter. There were no recriminations. Instead, he gave another heartfelt speech honoring the real winning film’s accomplishment. Classy.

When things go wrong at your event, you can run away and hide. You can blame everyone else. You can cry. You can yell. Or you can be like Horowitz.

Apologize Promptly: After the big mistake of ‘17, lots of people were quick to blame the presenters. Luckily, PWC put out an apology quickly, accepting full responsibility for the mix up.

Do Your Best to Set it Right and Move On: So the unthinkable has happened. What next? Even the biggest mistakes don’t have to keep your event from accomplishing its goals. We can all learn a lot about how to handle the unexpected from this most public stumble.

Read this article in its entirety at Utah Live Bands.

Does your ad journal tell a story?

Section: Blog

Ad journal … obligatory collection of typed out messages or unique opportunity to tell your story? If your organization is like many, you are thinking of the ad journal in the former sense and thereby doing a disservice — both to your organization and your supporters — by not aligning journal ads to your mission.

When you hear the word “journal” (or program book), do you think of a tired, old print book … black Times-Roman font on a white background? We don’t blame you for feeling uninspired. We wanted more for the journal. And with all the buzz on the importance of storytelling, we were certain that many organizations were missing a valuable opportunity. That is why Event Journal developed a digital platform, which allows organizations to communicate their story through impactful visuals. In creating a journal, we ask NPO’s to share images that exemplify their mission. Then we integrate those images into the journal ads themselves. When presented at the event on large screens or iPad centerpieces, the journal engages your guests, instead of putting them to sleep. We create these custom ads as part of our standard service.

What about camera-ready ads? These ads are submitted by corporations, ready to go. You have two choices: 1) Say nothing, and most organizations will submit a generic “journal ad.” 2) Suggest organizations connect their ad to your mission, something they already have a desire to do. After all, that is why they have chosen to support your organization! Reach out personally to your sponsors and let them know what you are trying to achieve via your journal. Offer up images that can be incorporated into sponsors’ camera-ready ads. View this as an opportunity to engage with your sponsors and deepen your relationship. In turn, they will appreciate you trying to make their support more relevant and impactful.

Here are a few examples of journal ads, both Event Journal created and camera-ready ads, that truly tell a story. If you like what you see, call us to find out how we can do this for you! Click HERE to view examples of journal ads that tell a story.

Fundraising Events: What’s your story?

Section: Blog

Stories allow users to capture brief moments by way of photos or short videos and easily share those experiences with other social media users.This has become the “new normal” in social media and can be used to your advantage in promoting your next fundraising event.

Little did Snapchat’s founders know this when creating the photo app back in 2012. Snapchat ended up changing the way people interact and share photos and videos with their friends — and changed the way people interact with online content. In 2017 everyone else caught on and now “the story” reigns supreme across many of the major social media platforms.

Where special events are concerned, stories are the perfect tool for creating FOMO (fear of missing out). The photos and videos are stitched together in real time by a platform-of-choice to create a chronologically ordered narrative. After 24 hours, the story disappears, never to be seen again, adding to the sense of urgency.

While social media platforms and websites come and go, this particular format seems to have transcended the platform and is becoming a communication standard. How can event professionals put this technology — and this phenomenon — to work for them and encourage event attendees to share the load? Read more at EventMB.

How will new tax code affect charitable giving to your organization?

Section: Blog

As widely publicized, the new tax code will reduce the percentage of Americans who can claim charitable deductions on their taxes — from about 30% now to just 10% of all taxpayers beginning this year. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that itemized deductions will drop by $95 billion in 2018. However, remember that this 10% of taxpayers includes many of the highest earners who are likely to give the most significant dollar contributions to nonprofit organizations. So what does that mean for the other 90% of charitable donors?

Thankfully, the majority of donors do not give simply for a tax deduction. Most often, donors give because your cause resonates with them in a very personal way. Sometimes, they are supporting a colleague, as with an event honoree, or a friend’s campaign on a personal fundraising page. Often, donors are moved and care about your mission as a personal matter. For smaller donations, the net difference with the tax deduction is minimal. These donors will likely continue their largesse.

What’s more, businesses in our communities stand to benefit from the new law, with a decrease in taxes. This will put dollars in company pockets, some of which can be donated to nonprofits, either directly or in the form of sponsorships. This cash flow windfall can actually become a corporate incentive, as some sponsorships are budgeted as marketing expenses, which remain deductible.

While none of us has a crystal ball, giving to charity has become part of the American landscape. Generous people have discovered that giving yields its own rewards. Corporate influencers will continue to be motivated to give. Individual donors will continue to support organizations they find meaningful. In the era of the new tax code, the challenge for development teams is to simply “stick to basics.” With a focus on clearly communicating the significance of their missions and the value of their work, lives will continue to be touched.

Strategize your Fundraising Event

Section: Blog

In the frenzied world of event fundraising, development staff is often pulled from project to project and from event to event with little time to focus on strategic planning. So, often, they enlist the comfortable triad of pre-event communications: the save-the-date card, sponsor solicitation letter and the printed invitation/reply card. But this one-size-fits-all, tactical approach to event promotion is facing obsolescence because it hasn’t changed with the times. Without first identifying event goals and strategy, it’s like throwing something against the wall and hoping it will stick.

We all know the adage that those who “fail to plan,” in fact, “plan to fail.” Only after formulating a strong strategy can we begin to determine and enlist effective tactics, both traditional and innovative. Begin with key questions about your event objectives and think big picture:

What are the primary and secondary goals of the event? To raise money? To demonstrate impact? To inspire participation? To strengthen relationships? As you plan your event, it is important you keep these goals in mind.

What is the takeaway? What is the most important piece of information about your organization you want to impart? Make sure that message is being communicated before, during and after the event.

Whittle down your audience…

Whom do you wish to engage with this event? This includes both past attendees plus first time participants. Are past supporters vendors / acquaintances of your honoree? What about age, sex, income, geography and connection to your mission? How might the above strategies differ for each of these audiences?

When is the best time to reach your supporters? How early should you start marketing the event? If your event is in the fall, are your supporters accessible over the summer – or do you need to begin marketing in the spring?

How do you want the event to make people feel? Inspired? Empowered? Like a team member?

Based on your event strategy, determine which tactics to employ to help achieve your goals. While some organizations hold onto the status quo with all their might, others push the envelope each year, deploying new ideas. It is important to add new tactics each year because your donor base is evolving. Tactics should be analyzed post-event to determine which to keep and which to abandon. Determine a return-on-investment for each tactic, wherever possible.

Mass print media has been eclipsed by the advent of targeted, digital media. Email marketing, online ad journals, a/v presentations, social media and mobile technology all contribute to opportunity for greater engagement and better returns. Segment your list and target different messages to different audiences. For example, try sending different appeals to corporate sponsors, emerging donors, honoree supporters, etc. Each of these groups has a different reason for their involvement in your event, so it is important to craft a message that will resonate with them.

Because the digital landscape is changing rapidly, organizations need to keep pace with technology. While larger, sophisticated, nonprofit organizations are able to embrace best practices with the latest technologies, smaller agencies can benefit too. They just need to understand their limitations and know when to outsource to seasoned event professionals.

Progress doesn’t move in reverse, so don’t be afraid to step back and ask the hard questions, such as “Why are we doing this?” Organizations and board members who bury their heads in the sand risk alienating the next generation of supporters. More strategic and  progressive nonprofits will be quick to scoop them up.

5 Pro Tips for Your Guest Check-In Area

Section: Blog

Event Check-In: Last minute detail or critical element of event success? In a world where first impressions mean everything, we think the latter!

Does anyone remember studying “the halo effect” in sociology 101? This theory asserts that first impressions lead to an overall bias as to how follow up experiences are perceived. It’s a fancy way of saying that first impressions count, and pave the way to guests enjoying (or not enjoying) an entire event. Talk about a lot of pressure! For this reason, the importance of a smooth guest check-in cannot be underestimated. With over 20 years of event experience, Steve Feder, founder of CheckIn Tech, shares with Event Journal his 5 tips to make guest check-in areas both inviting and seamless:

1. Don’t Overwhelm Guests – Throwing around copious amounts of staff and signage isn’t always a fail-safe check-in approach. When possible, ensure that 1 smiling human being greets guests when they arrive, (versus a “Welcome” sign on an easel). A little personal warmth goes a long way!

2. Meet Guests at Eye Level – Greeters sitting behind traditional 6-foot tables should be reconsidered. There are times low banquet tables are unavoidable, but try using high-top tables instead. This allows greeters to meet and check in guests, eye to eye, and facilitates a more personable interaction.

3. Consider Your Ratios – Use the 100:1 rule. For every 100 guests, assign one individual to check them in. If check-in is more involved than simply looking up a name, then adjust this ratio. The appropriate ratio will yield an optimal check-in time of under 5 seconds to avoid long lines.

4. Avoid Alpha Order Check-In – Do you still use the old “A-F, G-L, M-P, Q-Z” signs that funnel guests to their respective check-in lines? This antiquated approach has been supplanted by more efficient, high-tech options, such as tablet check in. Typically, folks use alpha order when they need to distribute assigned name tags or guest materials. But we have a better solution for that too … read on!

5. Embrace Two-Step Check-In – One stop check–in is perfect for a seated formal event or cocktail reception. However, when name tags or materials assigned to specific guests are indicated, consider enlisting a two-step check-in process. It will speed things up and eliminate lines. Instead of handing out name tags and materials when a guest checks in, split the two procedures up. First, check the guest in using tablet technology. You can even use a service like CheckIn Tech (shameless plug). With tablet check-in, you eliminate the need to send guests to specific tables to check in. Instead guests approach anyone free with a tablet. Once guests have been verified and checked in, they proceed into the event and stop at a second table. This table has name tags and labeled materials displayed outwardly in alpha order. Guests help themselves, with a staff member on hand to assist. If someone can’t find their name tag or were added at the last minute, send that guest to a help desk where a name tag can be printed. This two-step system dissolves the stress and chaos associated with name tag check-in.

Remember, the event check-in area is THE introduction to your event! Consider the above tips and don’t minimize the importance of creating a positive first impression.

Steve Feder is the founder of CheckIn Tech, the #1 on-site, event check-in service in the country. Focus on your event and leave the equipment set up, orientation of volunteers and processing of guests to the experienced on-site managers, included in your packaged pricing. Want to take it up a notch? CheckIn Tech can also provide wireless printers for on-the-spot name tag printing and additional staffing, if volunteers are not available. Contact CheckIn Tech for additional information.



Income prediction & price setting for special events

Section: Blog

Annual events build community and raise critical, unrestricted income. But how can an organization effectively set sponsorship levels, predict revenue and plan for income?

If this is a new event, start with a little research into organizations of a similar size and geography. What types of sponsorships do they offer for their events? You’d be surprised how much information is available online. While it’s hard to determine if their event fundraising goals were actually met, it can still be a good indication of what your specific market will bear.

Katherine DeFoyd, Founding Partner of Growth for Good, a nonprofit consulting firm advises that 80% of your income will likely come from 20% of the top prospects. DeFoyd recommends creating a chart, such as below, to calculate how many gifts are required at each level to meet your organization’s goal.

DeFoyd advises, “It is critical to identify at least three prospects for every gift needed at every level.” Each identified prospect must possess either a previous history of giving at the desired level or a close personal relationship with one of the event honorees, chairs, or board members.

When establishing sponsor levels, it’s okay to have one or two levels that are truly a reach, says Karen Perry, President of Event Journal. She has observed that large donors often gravitate toward the second highest level, so she recommends bumping up the value of the second level. Perry says, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”

Be very clear and specific in the way you establish your sponsor levels. The highest levels with the most benefits should be promoted first. Try to offer some kind of unique, value-added benefits for top-level sponsors – something that will tie in with their business objective. At every level, benefits should be clearly spelled out. You may also wish to offer advertising alone, for those who wish to support your organization, but cannot attend the event. There should also be a level available for young professionals — a great way to cultivate young donors.

Remember to reach out to all past attendees, even if they attended to support a specific honoree. Your organization’s mission may have resonated with them and they may wish to stay involved. So don’t assume otherwise and pass them over.


Be empowered. Be a “Samantha.”

Section: Blog

When it comes to fundraising, who wouldn’t like to have a few secret powers? The power of absolute persuasion, the power of duplicating money, to name a few.

Some of you may have grown up watching the TV show, Bewitched, or its reruns. Others may be familiar with the 2005 movie of the same name. Bewitched arrived on TV sets back in 1964 and ran for eight seasons. It starred Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens, a witch who falls in love with and marries a mere mortal, named Darrin. Samantha’s “power” poses a problem for Darrin and seems to cause him emotional discomfort. He makes Samantha vow not to use her powers. But, of course, she can’t quite help herself.

It’s no surprise that the strength of Samantha Stephens struck a chord with many people, especially women. Samantha always accomplished her goals, no matter how ridiculous her methods may have been. Bewitched enjoyed high ratings and sitcom longevity with its zany, yet resonating message.

How does this possibly connect to our mission as fundraisers?

Recognize and tap into what makes you unique. Samantha played down her natural abilities to appease her husband, but always managed to assert her power and individuality in the end.

We all have “secret powers” – things that come easier to us than others. Uncover these talents in yourself and your team members, and then figure out how to monetize them.

Be bold like Samantha! Engage donors with novel approaches deploying the best team asset for the particular challenge of each ask.

Make it look effortless – like Samantha’s cute little twitch of the nose. When you employ your special talents with the challenge at hand, getting to the “yes” can be magical!

Be proud of what you bring to the development team at your organization. No one does or sees exactly what you do or works it quite like you. Own it! See the special talent in each teammate, as well, and let them put it to work. Achieving “power”ful fundraising results may be just a nose twitch away!

Summer Reading (& Writing) for Nonprofit Professionals

Section: Blog

Writing and publishing a book has never been easier, thanks to the upswing in self-publishing, e-books and on-demand printing. Nonprofit organizations are among those reaping the benefits of publishing their own books. Writing a book can help promote your mission in several ways, such as creating shareable content, bringing in new supporters and positioning your organization as a thought leader. To learn more about what a self-published book can do for your organization, review this article on the topic posted by Jay Wilkinson at Firespring.

In the meantime, check out these “summer reading” titles of note:

The Blue Sweater is the story of a woman who left a career in international banking to spend her life on a quest to understand global poverty and find powerful new ways of tackling it. It all started back home in Virginia, with the blue sweater, a gift that quickly became her prized possession — until the day she outgrew it and gave it away to Goodwill. Eleven years later in Africa, she spotted a young boy wearing that very sweater, with her name still on the tag inside. That the sweater had made its trek all the way to Rwanda was ample evidence, she thought, of how we are all connected, how our action — and inaction — touch people every day across the globe, people we may never know or meet.

The Promise of a Pencil chronicles Adam Braun’s journey to find his calling, as each chapter explains one clear step that every person can take to turn their biggest ambitions into reality. Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request led to a staggering series of events that took Braun backpacking through dozens of countries before eventually leaving a prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise.

Almost Home tells the stories of six remarkable young people from across the United States and Canada as they confront life alone on the streets. Each eventually finds his or her way to Covenant House, the largest charity serving homeless and runaway youth in North America. From the son of a crack addict who fights his own descent into drug addiction to a teen mother reaching for a new life, their stories veer between devastating and inspiring as they each struggle to find a place called home. This book includes a foreword by Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

The House on Henry Street is part of the history of New York City, as well as a key moment in the growth of social work in the United States. It is integrally related to the story of progressivism and social reform. Although the book’s style is simple, it tells a complex story, both of one woman’s indomitable nature, and of a special institution in a particular neighborhood of New York City. “The House on Henry Street “reflects the spirit of an optimistic era in which actors were part of larger social and political changes. It is also a history that moves easily from the personal, through the community, and finally to the national levels of American government. Professionals in the fields of volunteerism and philanthropy, women’s studies & social welfare will find this absorbing.

It Takes a Dream is the story of Hadassah, beginning in the early days of the twentieth century, when the Jewish population of Jerusalem was enduring very difficult living conditions, and suffering disease and hardship. It was in this setting that the renowned and beloved founder of Hadassah, Henrietta Szold, became inspired to help improve the lives and health of Jerusalem’s citizens. Spanning two centuries, reaching virtually every corner of the globe, the epic story of the Hadassah organization is the inspiring and fascinating history of generations of determined women who worked to heal, enlighten, educate and save lives.

Event Sponsors Seek a Meaningful Connection

Section: Blog

As a representative of a nonprofit organization seeking corporate event sponsors, you are in the unique position to serve as a matchmaker. You have something corporations want — a loyal, engaged community with a passion for what you do. Corporations seek to engender goodwill by supporting organizations with relevant social missions. In doing so, they care about being seen by as many of the right people as possible. Your job is to entice these corporations your way.

This means you should only approach corporations that are truly a good fit for your event. You need to do your homework! Sending email blasts like shotgun pellets to large lists of companies not only doesn’t work, but it dilutes the sanctity of the trust that you need to foster with your supporters and constituents. In safeguarding that sanctity, you make selecting your organization for sponsorship all-the-more attractive.

As a result of your research, it is important to approach decision makers with a unique idea that was developed just for them. You should be familiar with the corporation’s goals and initiatives and be able to demonstrate how your concept will benefit them. Arm yourself with information (including past attendance and donor demographics) that draw a clear picture of your supporters. Remember, you are the gatekeeper to a community that is the ideal target market for this well-aligned corporate partner. Be ready, willing and able to clearly demonstrate that this is a win-win scenario.

It is said that “people give to people,” meaning the influence of board members and honorees is critical in securing sponsors. Your job is follow their “ask” with a compelling story and a proposed sponsorship package tweaked to the needs of each prospect. The right match will create a charge, and that positive energy that will shine through when you speak to corporate decision-makers.

In order to make the right “match,” you must always make sure the trust you have developed with supporters and constituents remains paramount throughout this process. For example, you have a responsibility to align only with those corporations that share your ideals.   By becoming a sponsor, a corporation is admitted into your organization’s “inner-circle” and you are the conduit of extending that trust to them.

At the end of the day, corporations are seeking to connect and to differentiate themselves from competitors. As a matchmaker, you hold the key to this golden opportunity that will lead to your ultimate goal: advancing your organization’s mission.