Nonprofit Event Planning: 6 Steps to Ensure a Successful Event

Planning events both large and small can be stressful, that’s why RSVPify was created in the first place! The unique thing about non-profit event planning, even large fundraiser events selling tickets) is that many times a volunteer is put in charge.

While some organizations have a full-time staff dedicated to their events or hire professional planners, small and medium size organizations tend to be largely volunteer-run. Many times, this is also the case for school-sponsored events which may be assigned to parents, community members, or teachers for planning.

Whatever category you may fall into, event planning may or may not be your full-time job, and time and resources may be limited. We get it! We’ve been there. And we’re here to help.

These nonprofit event planning tips are great for a first-time planner or someone more seasoned just needing some fresh insight. In our experience, with a team effort and organized planning, your nonprofit event is sure to be a success. 

1. Create a Timeline

When it comes to planning any event, having a timeline and a to-do list are key parts of staying organized. Start with key planning milestones and their deadlines and then break them down into smaller, more actionable steps. Once you have a plan in place, it is much easier to get to work and start delegating tasks that can be passed on to other volunteers or staff.

Using project management software is a great way to map out who’s doing what and ensure everyone is doing their part to stay on track for a successful event. Track progress and deadlines and have check-ins with your team to see progress and work through any blockers to progress. Be proactive in following up with your team! Especially when working with a volunteer team, everyone’s time is limited and distractions happen. Keep everyone focused on the goal and the bigger picture of the event.

2. Know the Big Picture

On that note, what is the goal of the event? Many times it is to raise money, but that isn’t always the primary focus. Engaging with donors or generating awareness are just a few examples of non-financial big picture goals. You can and likely will have multiple goals, but try to select just one as the primary focus. Events can serve many purposes and it is important through planning to have that big picture vision. Setting tangible goals will also help you measure and define the success of the event when it is over.

3. Set a Budget

If it’s your first time hosting the event, setting a budget might be more difficult but all the more important. Just like creating a timeline, take it step by step starting with the major expenses which typically include the venue, catering, entertainment, and decorations. You may have to estimate in the early planning stages, and that’s ok! A budget will give you an idea of what you need to fundraise, have sponsored, or charge attendees to help fund the event.

4. Collect Online Registrations

Whether attendees are paying for tickets or it is free to attend, you’ll want to have a clear event registration process. The first step would be to think through any important information that you need to collect from attendees. There are a number of quality platforms that can help facilitate event registration for nonprofit organizations. Sometimes a simple quick RSVP process with name and email may be all you need. Other events may require more information such as meal preferences, dietary restrictions, or t-shirt sizes. As registrations roll in, keep an eye out for major sponsors who will be attending so you can be prepared to go above and beyond to show appreciation to your organization’s biggest supporters.

5. Have Prepared Volunteers

The larger the event, the larger the village behind it. A key to ensuring things go smoothly is having prepared volunteers. One of the best ways to ensure volunteers are prepared? Hold training session(s) and distribute educational materials before the event. Volunteer training sessions work best in person, but you could alternatively hold training over a conference or video call. Offer multiple dates and times if you can to ensure everyone can attend. The goal is to ensure volunteers arrive to the event with a clear knowledge of what they are expected to do.

On event day, have a check-in process for volunteers so you know right away if you have any no-shows (and be prepared for there to be a few). The staff checking in volunteers should confirm that each volunteer knows their role and where to go. They should also help distribute any materials needed for the day. This may include t-shirts, name tags, and a schedule.

6. Get Ahead of Questions

When planning your event, try to predict the types of questions that will likely come up from both attendees and event staff. Make it your goal to answer them before they can be asked! For both groups, consider including FAQ-type information in the confirmation and reminder emails they receive leading up to the event. This might include things like:

  • Location information and directions. Venue name, full address, simple directions, public transportation options
  • Parking Options. Location, costs, handicap parking options
  • Arrival Process. Navigating the venue, what the check-in process will look like
  • Refund Policy. What guests can expect if they can no longer attend for any reason 
  • Hotels and Local Recommendations. Ideas and suggestions for out-of-town attendees 

Even if the information is bypassed in their inbox, having answers to these questions easily on hand can help you quickly respond to these questions.

When it comes to the actual event, the same rule applies. Clear signage, having schedules on hand, and providing volunteers with answers to FAQs can keep things running smoothly, and attendees will be more relaxed knowing what to do and where to go.

Focusing on these 6 steps is sure to help you plan a seamless event from the registration through the big day!


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