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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.

What is “aspect ratio” and why should it matter to you?

Section: Blog

Aspect ratio refers to the “fixed” relationship between the width and the height of a display screen. It is always written in a ratio format with the width listed first and the height listed second.

An improperly formatted event presentation can really diminish the impact of your gala content, minimizing its impact and appearing unprofessional. It’s possible you could pay for wide screen displays, such as on LED TV’s, but if the presentation shows in the standard, 4:3 ratio, it will only fill part of the screen. It will leave gaps on the left and right. Or you might order a large projection screen or even iPad centerpieces, requiring a 16:9 ratio. Again, it only fills part of the screen, leaving gaps on the top and bottom. Not only does this waste space that is intended for sponsor recognition or to tell your story, but, aesthetically, it gives an amateur appearance.

What is aspect ratio and why should it matter to you? The truth is, when you work with Event Journal, you don’t need to concern yourself with this technicality. That’s because AV coordination is one of the many details we handle. We ensure that your event presentation is professional and on point. Working with the Event Journal team, ensures you’re getting the most bang for your buck. You will definitely use the entire screen you paid for and present the very best version of your content.

Additionally, if you are using multiple of screen sizes, Event Journal formats your presentation for each. This is not as simple as just hitting a “reformat” button. Often times your presentation content needs to be redesigned to fit the additional format without stretch distortions.

For more information on aspect ratio, see IMS Technology Services’ newsletter.

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.

Top 10 Secrets of a Nonprofit Event Specialist

Section: Blog

Chris Lipari, is founder and owner of Lipari Production Group, event specialists providing production and consultation services to nonprofit organizations. LPG has produced events ranging from large star-studded benefits to “K9K” walks across the Brooklyn Bridge. Chris shares his top 10 “insider secrets” for successful fundraising events. These tips resonate with Event Journal, because they are many of the same suggestions we give our clients:

  • Think strategically about your event. What is your organization hoping to gain from the event? What do you want the event to achieve and communicate? Set goals — and not just financial goals!
  • Determine how you want your event to make people feel. How do you envision the complete event experience, from start to finish?
  • Build an infrastructure into your development team to anticipate, plan and manage your annual major special event. Your other development activities should not come to a screeching halt each year when the event is being planned. If this is the case, consider outsourcing more responsibilities to seasoned event professionals.
  • Engage all departments in your organization: development, communications, finance, and programing to work as a team – you all have the same goal!
  • Be smart about budget – both revenue and expenses. Dinner Galas are costly to produce and are not the right fit for every organization. Consider other possibilities, such as a cocktail party or tasting event.
  • The planned flow of an event is always likely to change. Who is the one person who knows the objective of the event, what should happen and (most importantly) is empowered to make real-time decisions to create a positive outcome?
  • What are you spending money and time on?  Do you really need a printed journal?  Make use of video projection to recognize supporters and sponsors at the event.  Consider a digital event journal. It lives online year-round, saves paper and is one less thing for guests to carry home (and throw away!)
  • At the event, you have a captive audience. How are you going to communicate with them? Attendees should walk away with new knowledge about your organization and its mission, and why you need their support. There must be a compelling call to action.
  • Who are your guests? Often, tickets get passed down the line and may end up in the hands of a table sponsor’s guests who have no connection with your organization and its mission. Find a way to engage these people too. Make sure there are giving opportunities for guests at every financial level. Not only will this yield more revenue, it will allow your organization to capture guest information and begin to cultivate these new donors.
  • Make sure to hold a post-event debriefing: the good, the bad and the not-so-good! Consider sending a short survey to board and committee members and a selection of guests.  Take specific notes, so you can start to build a year-to-year dossier of the event and build on your success.

Treating Event Sponsors as Major Gifts Prospects

Section: Blog

Do you treat event sponsors like one night stands? Many organizations are guilty of this practice and it can make an individual or business feel used, undervalued and less than invested in your organization’s success. Icema Gibbs, Director or Corporate Social Responsibility at JetBlue, said at a recent AFP event, “I gave a large donation to an organization for its event and I thought we were dating.  But when the phone call never came, I realized I was just one of many.”

Instead of taking an event-centric approach, focus on cultivating long-term relationships with event sponsors. Give them the same level of respect and the same mindset you bring to prospects for major gifts.

Kristin Steele of Swaim Strategies said in a recent webcast, “If we can create emotional resonance between our organizations and our donors, we’re going to evolve out of the transactional relationship that we have with them. When people feel they’re treated like a checkbook, eventually they’re going to move on to someplace they’re seen as people taking action to change the world.” Steele continues, “The event is an opportunity. When people walk into a room and the event wraps its arms around them and brings them into the organization, they feel like they’re a part of something.”

Here are some tips to help you change up your event approach:

1) Research and Target Prospects
Too often, event sponsorships are solicited via a onetime letter and a follow up call. Instead of using this “shotgun” method of reaching out to a large number of unsubstantiated prospects, selectively target a “Top 10” list of prospects and dig in.

Find these prospects by talking to people who already support your mission: board members, community supporters and even existing sponsors. Who else do they know for you to approach? Remember, you’re just asking for recommendations. By offering to do the heavy lifting, aka “the ask,” you make it more likely they’ll participate with suggestions.

Do your research of that person’s or company’s past community giving and see if you can identify any patterns. Utilize a Donor Search firm to help your organization pinpoint your most likely prospects for long-term engagement. Look for “signs”, such as previous donations to your organization or a similar nonprofit and review personal information, such volunteering history and membership on boards. (Learn more about prospect screening.)

Add these prospects to your newsletter lists, mailings and holiday appeal letters and then communicate with them regularly. This will foster familiarity and will ensure they’ll have some awareness of the work you do by the time you reach out and ask for a substantive contribution.

2) Talk to Potential Sponsors
In Major Gifts, “asks” are personalized and done in person. To acquire major corporate sponsors for your event, follow suit by asking for an appointment. Remember, your contact at the sponsor is a “real person” and people give to people, most often for emotional versus logical reasons. Be prepared to illustrate what your organization is doing and invite your prospective sponsors, as individuals, to participate. Getting prospects personally involved will directly affect their company’s involvement.

Build a compelling case as to why this potential sponsor should be invested in your organization’s mission. When you meet, know your statistics and the impact of your mission’s work on their own employee base. For example, if you work in a mental health agency, you might cite the statistic that up to one third of Americans report they’ve struggled with mental health issues. Then, break this down to the number of people in the company who may be affected and possibly helped by your agency. Make the case that your agency helps their company be more stable by providing a valuable service to the community.

Ask questions to determine their “sweet spots” and motivations:

  • Do they have any direct connections to your work?
  • What do they look to gain from supporting your organization?
  • What can you offer to make supporting you more appealing?
  • Is it in their interest to engage their employees to volunteer for your agency?
  • Can you plan a day on site to discuss your work and rally employees behind the mission?
  • Would they be interested in spending time getting to know your nonprofit personally?

3) Propose a Multi-Year Commitment
Let the company know that the problems you tackle are not a “quick fix.” Ask for a 3-5 year commitment of annual sponsorship dollars or donations. Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And any good business person should understand that successful ventures are not realized without a multi-year investment. This is good business and a “major gifts” strategy that has been proven to work.

Your long term donors are people and organizations that you are able to move along your cultivation cycle because they’re known donors. They feel valued and validated in their generosity and in supporting your organization.

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.

Take event presentations to the next level…

Section: Blog

Want something to really wow and inspire guests at your next event? Consider using Event Journal for a  digital sponsor presentation. Event Journal’s presentations are custom-designed to highlight your event graphics and your organization’s mission. Supporter ads are beautifully produced to tell your story, and are replicated  to display at a frequency in line with sponsor level. We also highlight your honorees, board lists and other key event information.

Ads or ad copy can be submitted via a customized ad submission dashboard, which can be linked to from purchase receipts. Presentations can be displayed on large screens or on iPad centerpieces. After the event, we provide a digital flipbook that can be easily embedded into your website or shared via email.

When you outsource the journal ads and presentation to Event Journal, you free yourself up for other more critical pre-event responsibilities. So breathe easy and let Event Journal handle your next presentation.

A Host Committee can Boost Event Revenue

Section: Blog

When planning a fundraising event, some nonprofits fail to form a strong event committee, (also called “host committee”). Event committees can make or break an event, according to Joe Garecht from The Fundraising Authority, who shares these thoughts:

What does an event committee do? This committee does not do the actual work of planning, setting up, breaking down, and working the event. Instead, a host committee’s primary responsibility is to raise money for the event by selling sponsorships and tickets. Think of it more as an event fundraising committee, and putting the right committee in place is critical to your success.

Why is an event committee important? If you want to raise significant funds from your next event, you’re going to need help — even if you have a large staff or dedicated group of volunteers.  You’re going to need people who feel like they are part of your team, who commit to helping you raise money for the event — and who get their friends, neighbors, colleagues, vendors, clients, and associates involved in your event. Your event committee is at the center of an event fundraising network. The members of the committee should be expected to open up their own networks to the nonprofit for the purposes of the event.

Who should be on your event committee? Anyone who supports your mission, is willing to fundraise, and has a good-sized network they are willing to open up to your organization.  Ideally, your event committee will include a chairperson who is incredibly supportive of your mission and who has a massive network, as well as 5-25 major donors.

How do you get people to join your event committee? You ask!  You’ll need to treat this like any other fundraising ask. Look at your donor list to see who might be a good candidate.  Call or meet with each of these people to tell them about the event, why it is important, and what is expected of event committee members.

What should your event committee do? Make sure that everyone on your event committee knows their primary goal is to fundraise. Be sure to share the ultimate fundraising goal, and how you expect that goal to be met.  Be sure to give them the tools they need to reach that goal, including print collateral, event invitations, sample scripts, etc. You should also track the work of the committee … ask who they are approaching and how many tickets and sponsorships each member sells.  Hold regular meetings of the whole committee to talk strategy, check on progress, and offer thanks.

No matter how great your event committee is, never rely on them 100%. Your staff should also be working on the event by contacting your donors and selling sponsorships, as well as tracking the progress of the committee.

How to recognize event committee? It’s very important to let the committee know just how critical their role is in your event’s overall success. In addition to your written and spoken words of thanks, consider putting members’ names on the event invitation, thanking them as part of the event program, offering them special lapel pins or a number of free tickets for the event.

10 Tips to Beat Pre-Event Stress

Section: Blog

April is here and, for many of our clients, that means the peak of the busy spring event-planning season. So this post is likely reaching you at an elevated level of STRESS! Here are some of Event Journal’s favorite tips to keep your stress level at a minimum while planning your organization’s spring events:

  1. Take a 10-minute walk: We know it’s tempting to work straight through the day. But it’s definitely not healthy, and can even be counter-productive. So, schedule in a 10-15 minute walk each day – and leave your cell phone on your desk! The weather is getting nicer, so go outside and relax for a few minutes and walk off some of that stress.
  2. Breathe: There are many great breathing and meditation apps available on your smartphone. These can remind you to take a “time out” at regular intervals and can guide you through deep breathing and meditation.
  3. Employ aromatherapy: Unlike scented candles, ultrasonic diffusers are office-safe and healthy for you, generating a fine mist. Toss in a few drops of your favorite essential oil, such as lavender, frankincense and chamomile — which are known to reduce anxiety. Or for a more spa-like feel, try eucalyptus or tea tree oil. It’s amazing how mood-elevating this tactic can be!
  4. Outsource: Have you discovered you’ve bitten off more than you can chew? Don’t panic — outsource! It’s never too late to identify qualified professionals who can help offset your load. Think logically about which projects would be the easiest to outsource. Many clients turn to Event Journal for just this reason. By outsourcing the journal, they are free to pursue other, more meaningful pre-event activities
  5. Play relaxing music: Music certainly helps relax many of us. Whether you fancy classical music, new age or something more contemporary – music can help take the “edge” off our day.
  6. Bring your pet to work: We are all “better people” around out pets, and an increasing number of office environments have become pet-friendly. LinkedIn has over 4,000 results for “dog friendly” jobs, which presumably means they either have a designated “office dog” or multiple employees who bring their dogs to work. Dogs can significantly relieve stress and anxiety. However, if your company is not Fido-friendly, speak to your therapist about pursuing a “service-dog” designation.
  7. Bike to work: If you are fortunate enough to live close to your office, consider biking to and from work. It’s a great way to save money, reduce stress and “sneak” some exercise into your otherwise busy day.
  8. Set aside time to organize: The work-week can be a blur. So, it may make sense to pop into the office for a few hours on a weekend morning. It will be quiet … no emails, no colleagues, no phone ringing. And it just may give you a much-needed block of time with which to organize.
  9. Drink herbal tea: Part of taking care of yourself is staying hydrated. For those times you want something other than water, keep on hand a nice arrangement of herbal teas. Many teas offer relaxing properties.
  10. Eat right: It is tough to eat well when your stress level is high. Perhaps, for a limited period of time, subscribe to a healthy food delivery service and keep meals around for your weekday lunches. If you don’t take time to plan your meals, you may end up grabbing cookies or chips, or whatever is laying around the office – which will only make you feel tired and sluggish. Avoid simple carbs at lunchtime, opting instead for “power foods.”

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.