One of the first key steps for many major events is the save the date message. From emails and simple cards to more flashy or elaborate invitation-style options, save the dates are the key to letting your guestlist know about an upcoming event and to block off their calendar accordingly.
While the function of a save the date is fairly standard, the goal of any save the date is to maximize the amount of guests who will actually attend your event. For casual or milestone events, like a wedding, this is important if you want as many friends or family there as possible.
More importantly though, if you are planning a fundraiser, gala, reunion, corporate event, or any event where ticket sales or revenue will be a consideration, the question of when to send save the dates to your guests is critical.
While different event types have drastically different planning timelines, there are some common planning elements that make determining when to send save the dates easier. Here are the key things to keep in mind while determining your event timeline:
Often the biggest expense for any type of event, working with your venue rep to figure out when a hard head count will be needed is one of the first determining elements for when to send save the dates. Some venues may offer multiple rooms/plans that offer your more flexibility to finalize your guestlist later in the planning stages. However, some venues may require a non-refundable deposit or refuse changes after a certain deadline (sometimes months in advance for more popular venues). The earlier you need a final headcount, the earlier you will need to send your save the dates in order to begin collecting RSVPs and formalize your guestlist.
Are you relying on ticket sales or donations to fund various elements of your event? Do you need to justify the ROI of the event to stakeholders in order to actually hold it? Earlier save the dates allow for you to move on to the steps of soliciting donations or opening ticket sales, and to start collecting event revenue to measure performance against your expected budget.
This is probably the most event type-specific consideration on this list, because there is a vast difference between inviting family and friends to a milestone event (like a wedding or anniversary) and inviting clients to a corporate gala, for example. For family and milestone events, your guests often have a personal reason for keeping the event high in their future planning. However, for corporate and nonprofit events, you want to time your save the dates to be early enough to occupy a spot on your guests’ calendars, but not to fall out of their mind if months go by before future correspondence.
For a general rule of thumb, you should work backwards from other event timeline milestones to determine your save the dates. For example, as you plan your event, start by working your way back from the actual event date to the first deadlines (vendor final payments, venue head count deadlines, etc). Then, work your way back two months to establish when you’ll want to send out formal invitations. Finally, move back a month or two to set a date for when to send save the dates. Here’s a helpful tool for considering how long you should expect guests to RSVP to give you an idea of the kind of windows you’ll need between each of these.