how to:How to Hold a Successful Event
Offline events can raise awareness about your cause, bring in new participants and funds, and strengthen the role of your organization within the community you are working in.
As the Meetup cofounder and CEO said during his keynote as AYM’s London Summit, “how to use the internet to get people off the internet is the trick.”
Here are some tips for successfully moving online action into the offline world.
Develop a purpose and goal for your event. As you plan, you should be considering how it will add to your community and your cause.
Make sure your goal is tangible: Define what you want to have accomplished the day after this event. Consider publishing this goal. For example, announce that you are trying to get 100 students to show up in support of your cause.
- Don’t over-promise! Set a goal that is both impressive and possible.
- You should also have action-oriented goals in mind: What do you want the 100 students who showed up to do the next day? How will you keep them involved?
- Your goals should be SMART: Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Time bound
Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. If you are looking to mobilize people like yourself, what kinds of events do you and your friends frequent? If it is a different target audience, what types of events is that audience attracted to? What matters to them?
Organize a strong team. You should have at least five people working on the event with you, each with defined duties that may change depending on the specifics of the event. Examples of roles might include:
- Event Coordinator – Responsible for following up with all the different members of the team and keeping everyone on track
- Outreach Coordinator – Responsible for reaching out to local organizations and asking them to help promote the event. Also could focus on promotion such as flyering.
- Press Coordinator – Responsible for reaching out to and coordinating any press. This may include both spreading word about the event in advance as well ensuring that things run smoothly for any press that may attend.
- Speakers Coordinator – Responsible for coordinating any speakers, making sure they are on time, and making sure that all their questions are answered.
- Others: Logistics, Volunteer Coordinator, Registration Coordinator, Online Outreach, etc.
Budget. Take a look at your team’s finances. How much money do you have and how much money will you need to raise for this event? Below are a few things to consider when putting together a budget:
- Be realistic with your fund-raising goals. It is much better to go under budget and raise more money for future events than to go over budget and pay for it yourself.
- Keep in mind that your budget will change as you plan your event. A flexible budget is okay as long as it does not exceed your final amount.
- Always pad your estimates to account for taxes, rising prices, or additional needs.
- Always keep a 10 to 15 percent line item for contingency. (Do not touch this until the day of the event. It is for emergencies only!)
- Determine how much the necessities are going to cost. Examples of necessities are: flyers, posters, venue, and entertainment.
Now that you know how much you need to spend, start soliciting donations from members of the community. Ask local businesses to donate space or restaurants to donate food. When asking for donations, it is often best to do it in writing (you can send an e-mail!), share your budget with the possible donor, and even list a possible line item that their support would help out with. Emphasize how their donation would benefit the local community.
Never forget to ask yourself how you can amplify your offline efforts online and vice versa. Your online organizing should be completely integrated with your offline events.
Promote. Use every online tool available to promote your event. Then seek out interested participants and members offline, or on another medium, to encourage them to attend. Don’t forget to send a reminder e-mail for the event the day before at the very least.
Take advantage of any partnerships you have formed, whether it’s with donators of free food, businesses who have given you space, or like-minded organizations in the community. Even if you haven’t worked with other local like-minded organizations, reach out to them to ask them to help promote the event. By getting people to partner with you on the event you are bringing in people who also have a stake in seeing a big turnout and will therefore help to spread the word.
Gather attendees’ information. This should ideally be done at point of registration and utilized for follow-up to remind them to attend. Additionally, if they came to your event, it means they are at least a little interested in your cause and will be more receptive to an e-mail or phone call at a later date than the average person (especially if they had a good time). Don’t forget to have a registration table at the event where people sign in with their information whether they RSVP'd or simply showed up.
Don’t choose a venue that’s too large—a lot of empty space won’t be appealing. Don’t make your event too long, because you might lose people’s attention. Always reserve the venue longer than the advertised time so people can come early and hang out afterward, but only supply programming for less than two hours.
Share your event with the press. Publicize your peak time—if they are going to come, make sure they do so when the event is most popping.
Choose the right organizational tools. Lots of free tools are available to help you and your team plan the event. Here are a few:
Google Wave, Google Docs, and Google Calendar: These collaborative tools allow different members to post what they are currently tasked with in real time, so there is never any overlap of resources.
Skype: Use Skype for conference calls and chats about event planning. Bouncing ideas back and forth via video or audio can make the brainstorming process move much faster. Gchat is also a fast and easy way to engage audio and video conversations.
PB Works or Mediawiki: Mediawiki (the software that runs Wikipedia) allows you and your fellow organizers to share notes with each other, edit information, and organize content. PBworks also has RSS notifications and a few more features.
Facebook: A Facebook event is a good way to easily create a listing of your event and spread the word to other people. It is primarily useful if your organization already has a presence on Facebook through the form of a page. This fan base can then be leveraged to promote the event. There are various pros and cons that are worth considering when deciding whether or not to use Facebook for your event.
• Easy for people to RSVP
• Easy to promote
• Lets people see if their friends are attending—as people RSVP to attend, this will generate stories on their newsfeeds that allows word to spread about the event through word of mouth online.
• People that RSVP with the click of a button will not feel strongly compelled to actually show up.
• Does not allow you to collect contact information from RSVPs. Evaluate this option carefully before deciding whether to use it to host an event or if you want to make e-mail gathering part of the RSVP process.
When building an advertising budget for an event, Facebook ads should be factored in. These ads are inexpensive (you can either pay per impression or every time someone clicks on an ad) and can take advantage of the social nature of Facebook. As an example, ads can be shown only to people who have a friend that has already RSVP'd as attending the event. This fact is also shown in the ad. This then creates a social incentive for people to check out the event once they see their friends are attending.
A note on RSVPs:
While Facebook does not allow you to easily get direct contact information for people listed as “Yes” or “Maybe” in their RSVP for your event, certain steps should still be taken. Messages can be sent through the Facebook platform to people urging them to RSVP (if they haven’t responded to your invite) or reminding them to come (if they have said "Yes" or "Maybe"). These messages should be sent out in a planned manner before your event so people do not forget.
Furthermore, for events with less than a hundred people it is worth taking the time to send individual messages through the Facebook platform to everyone who RSVP'd asking them to confirm if they can make the event. This has been proven to dramatically increase actual turnout.