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August 15, 2020
Think Carefully and Ask Questions Before Hosting an Event
By Carolyn Edwards

Carolyn Edwards
Carolyn Edwards
Determining the appropriateness of hosting an event is the most important step a nonprofit can take—before forging ahead—as events can provide a tremendous return on your investment or strain your resources by costing more than they gain.

The time to evaluate whether to hold an event is not when you are in desperation mode but when your organization is relatively stable. This allows you to evaluate more objectively your goals and the resources to assure everything is balanced.

The reality is that events take tremendous amounts of time, organization, money, and marketing to be successful. This doesn’t mean you can’t have an open house or a small get together. However, if you are planning to hold an event at another venue or have more than 50 people, make sure you have the time and staff to get the return you expect for your efforts.

Events are held for two reasons and preferably, a combination of both: to raise money and raise awareness. Ideally, if you are raising awareness and meeting a need, money will be raised. Mature organizations struggle with high awareness and the inability to distinguish themselves from other causes to compete for funding. These organizations need to find a way to distinguish themself from the pack to attract new funding, a mistake that they often overlook when holding an event strictly to raise money.

Before deciding to host an event, you should ask yourself some key questions:
  • Time: Do we have the time to plan an event and put together a comprehensive program, choose a venue, and market to our target audience?

  • Staffing: Do we have enough staff and volunteers to plan, develop, and execute the event including staffing the actual event?

  • Financing: Do we have the upfront money needed to obtain a venue, pay for food and beverage, pay for staffing, get insurance, provide speakers or entertainment, and provide advertising and promotion (including printing costs)?

  • Awareness: Do we have an honest perception of how we are viewed compared to other organizations and is there a database of potential people to invite?

  • Marketing: Do we have the resources to put together and execute a marketing plan including print, media, direct mail, and social media?

  • Objectives: Is the purpose of the event balanced with what we would consider a successful event? Is the goal to increase your database names by 20%, increase our yearly revenue by 20%, or both? Is this measurable and reasonable?

  • Budget: It takes money to make money. This can be offset by sponsorships but this also takes a tremendous amount of work and selling expertise. It is critical to prepare a budget with your anticipated expenses and your best case and worse case revenue projections. Ask yourself: If an event breaks-even but increases our database by 50%, can we accept this return on investment? Thinking that if you throw an event the money will come will likely result in disappointment and financial setbacks. Never plan an event if you can’t accept the worse-case scenario for revenue generated.

  • Flexibility: Sometimes the best plans have to be modified. First choice of venues are not available, vendors are price prohibitive, and dates are unavailable. Organizations need to be flexible enough to have an acceptable Plan B and even a Plan C. Very few events are executed exactly as first envisioned.
Well executed events can create a real buzz and generate new organization fans and revenue. On the other hand, an event can be well executed but not in alignment with the goals: everyone has a great time but there has been no measurable increase in donors or revenue. Poorly executed events can be a financial fiasco and create a public relations disaster if it reflects on the organization.

When evaluating the need for an event, take an objective view of each of the required resources, your organization’s current positioning, and your goals for the event. It is best to form a committee with people who have complementary skills to cover all of the aspects of planning and execution. This also allows for people to raise potential areas of concern and plans to minimize risks. Planning an effective event should be considered a serious marketing endeavor.

Events are successful when resources and goals are in alignment. If you are not sure you have all of the needed components, do some research and get advice from those who have experience with event planning.

Carolyn Edwards is executive director of Community Call, an organization that teaches the business of event planning to at-risk Boston area high school students. Email her at .
March 2013
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