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Whether planning for a local charity event or something on a much larger scale, the basics for successful event management generally stay the same, so if you follow some simple steps you should be well on your way to success. Outdoor events can be very important for charities so here you do need to think through things beforehand. The same with indoor events, e.g. conferences and launches. Big fundraising dinners are in a class of their own but many of the suggested approaches below still apply to them.
I would advise charity event organisers to ask themselves a series of question so as to focus their minds on certain essentials. Let's go through these questions now.
WHY EXACTLY ARE YOU THINKING OF HOLDING THE EVENT IN QUESTION? Before spending valuable time and money on an event, you need to be sure it’s the best way to achieve your objectives with your target audience. Would direct mail work better, or a campaign on social media? You need to be clear on what you’re trying to achieve and make sure this is always at the front of your mind, so you can’t be tempted to go off on a tangent.
WHAT IS THE BUDGET WITH WHICH YOU HAVE TO WORK? As long as you know your budget from the outset, you should be able to stick to it, no matter what size it is. If you’re holding a charity event, it’s likely that local or even national businesses or publications will want to get involved and provide support.
Help from people
Spread the word about what you’re doing early on, so you can try and get as many people on board as possible. Even if you can’t get any financial support, people might be able to help with the promotion, the venue, volunteering on the day.
WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO TARGET? You need to be 100% clear about the people you want to attract to your event: families, teenagers, parents, young professionals, business representatives? Once you have confirmed your target audience, you can then start to plan the activities, which will be staged at the event, and also shape how you promote it to try and generate interest and encourage people to attend.
WILL YOUR EVENT BE OPEN TO THE MEDIA? This is something that needs deciding on from the word "go" because it will influence the content and schedule of the day. Put yourself in their shoes – what would make you go along to an event, and write about it before and, ideally, afterwards too.
WHEN SHOULD YOU HOLD YOUR EVENT? If you’re hoping to have hundreds of families at your event, then holding an event mid-week when the children are at school just won’t work. Weekends would probably be a better idea.
Time of the year
If you’re trying to reach stay at home mums, then a coffee morning or daytime event could be spot on. You also need to think about the time of year. Depending on what you’re looking to achieve through your event, a particular time of year may be more suitable than another. If families are a target, don’t forget about school holidays and times when they are more likely to be away or busy.
If you’re holding a larger scale event and want to attract political representatives, try and avoid parliamentary recess and key dates in the political calendar.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO HOLD YOUR EVENT? Is your event local or national? If it’s local, is there a venue or location that automatically springs to mind for people living in the area? If it’s national, it’s important to think about transport links – how will people get there? Is there parking? Do you have to pay to park? This is information that all needs communicating before the event itself. It’s your job to make the lives of visitors as easy as possible!
Wherever you hold your event, you need to make sure you’ve secured permission from the venue to carry out all of the activities you’re planning. From taking photographs to serving alcohol, refusal on the day could be embarrassing.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO SPREAD THE WORD? Once you’ve got the venue and date planned, how are you going to spread the word about your event? Do the people you’re trying to attract use social media? Can you call on a PR agency to support you? If not, pick up the phone and speak to the local papers yourself As daunting as it may sound, all local papers love good news, especially if it’s charity related.
Think about the publications that your audiences might read, the broadcast programmes that they watch, and remember to include social media channels like Twitter and Facebook, as many people use them instead of more conventional avenues like newspapers and magazines.
It’s also important to send out reminders in the run up to the event. People may have good intentions but, unless they RSVP or make a note in their calendar there and then, your event can easily (and innocently!) slip off their radar.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON THE DAY ITSELF? Have you thought about the logistics on the day and what experience your visitors will have? After they’ve parked their car, is it clear where they go? Is there a clear order of events? If so, how is this communicated? Think about signage and having people there to welcome visitors and point them in the right direction.
Incident handling procedure
You also need to have a clear incident handling procedure and crisis communication plan in place – just in case you’re faced with the worst case scenario on the day. It’s always better to be safe than sorry…
WHAT ABOUT REFRESHMENTS? Are you providing refreshments for your visitors, or is there somewhere nearby where they can pick up a drink and something to eat? This requirement will depend a lot on the time of your event and how long you expect visitors to stay, but it is important to have all bases covered.
WILL THERE BE ANY SPEAKERS OR ENTERTAINMENT? Are you having any speakers or third parties at your event? If so it’s important to make sure they’re organised and know exactly what time they’re expected, how long they’re speaking for and what you’d like them to talk about.
It’s all very well having a perfectly planned event but if the main attraction doesn’t turn up on time you’ll find yourself in a sticky situation with visitors. You should allocate one person (who has the event schedule down to a tee) to escort each VIP to make sure they’re properly looked after.
Responsibility for equipment
If any equipment is needed (projectors, microphones, cameras) make sure somebody has this as their responsibility and test that everything works effectively before the doors open to avoid any last minute panic on the day. You should also insist on seeing the speaker’s presentation prior to the event, to avoid any nasty surprises.
Out of courtesy, you should also make sure any VIPs know who else special is coming – to make sure there are no awkward moments on the day!
HAVE YOU ACHIEVED WHAT YOU SET OUT TO? It’s important not to lose sight of why you were holding an event in the first place. Was it to encourage visitors to sign up for something, to raise funds or just to increase awareness of your charity in the community? Did you achieve this objective?
If the answer is yes then your event was a success. If the answer is no, do not be disheartened but consider what you could have done differently? Use your learnings, and those of those at the event to shape how you plan your next event.
HOW CAN YOU PROMOTE YOUR EVENT ONCE IT'S OVER. Publicity after an event is a powerful way of communicating its success. Did you raise a certain amount of money or achieve something else? Share this positive news with your local papers and through social media to continue building the profile of your charity.
Planning is key
The most important thing to remember is that planning is key – before, during and after an event. If you’re organised and have a good, reliable team in place, then there is no reason why your event won’t be successful.
"Even if you can't get any financial support, people might be able to help with the promotion, the venue, volunteering on the day."
"You need to be 100% clear about the people you want to attract to your event."
PAULINE BROOMHEAD, chief executive officer of the FOUNDATION FOR SOCIAL IMPROVEMENT, says: Events have long been a staple activity for charities of all sizes. They are a great way to raise income, increase awareness of your cause, attract new supporters and involve the wider community. But remember events can be costly and resource intensive – as a result the return on investment can be low, when compared to other types of fundraising. Here, I share our top tips for small charities for getting the most out of your events.
BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR OBJECTIVES. Be very specific about your goals before the event, if generating income was your aim make sure that this is what you do. We often hear “we didn’t raise what we planned to but that’s OK, we increased awareness for our cause”. That isn’t good enough. Be honest with yourself about what you truly want to get from the event and assess whether the event is the best way to achieve your objective. Just because you have held a specific event for the past few years, does not mean you should continue with the event if it isn’t meeting your objectives.
PLAN, PLAN, PLAN! A robust project management approach should underpin all your event planning. There are a host of project and event management tools available. Choose those which are appropriate for the size and complexity of your event. You want a tool (e.g. the RASCI approach) which can be useful to establish a clear structure so that all concerned are aware of who is responsible and for what.
MAXIMISE YOUR INCOME OPPORTUNITIES. Think about different ways that people like to give, and try to include a range of opportunities in your event. For example, can they add a donation to the ticket price, or purchase a raffle ticket at the event? Can you get the auction prizes donated or the pre-dinner drinks reception sponsored? People want to give in different ways so give them options.
GET THE MARKETING RIGHT. Identify your audience and make sure that your marketing and PR for the event are focused on that audience or audiences. Social media is a great and simply way of communicating your event and can create a real buzz, but if your audience doesn’t use social media it won’t work for you. Just "getting your message out there" isn’t enough.
If your purpose is not clear at the beginning you will get your message wrong. A music festival will have a very different marketing plan and materials compared to a black tie gala dinner. Throughout all of this don’t undervalue the importance of telling your charity’s story.
BE CREATIVE WITH YOUR RESOURCES. Identify roles for supporters and volunteers. The formation of an organising committee reduces the paid resource which in turn pushes up the ROI. Also identify other key resources that you need to make your event a success, and shop around for the best value. Is there anything on your list that you can get donated as a gift in kind? Think about what you can offer in return, for example marketing, logo placement or free tickets. Beware free venues, as sometimes these are tied into single catering options which drive costs up.
PROTECT YOURSELF. Public liability insurance, local authority licences, cancellation cover, and risk assessments – not something we associate with the excitement of events, but vital to protect your charity, staff and volunteers. Many venues now require that you have public liability insurance, or have completed a risk assessment. Check whether your current insurance policy covers events; if not you should be able to arrange short term cover.
THANK AND STEWARD YOUR SUPPORTERS, SPONSORS, DONORS AND VOLUNTEERS. Stewardship is vital to maximising the impact of your event. If you have ever organised an event where people supported and you didn’t thank them, or you had a gift from someone and didn’t follow up afterwards to continue the engagement, then you are guilty of having missed huge opportunities! Research shows 87% of donors would give again on the back of good stewardship.
The long term opportunities are just as important as what you deliver on the day and need to be a part of your plan. Make a list of all those who have been involved in making your event a success, and find an appropriate way to thank and recognise every one of them.
EVALUATE, REVIEW AND DEBRIEF. This is a vital step that many charities often miss out. Review your event success against your planned objectives. How could you improve the event next time – what would have made it even better? A debrief with all staff, volunteers and selected stakeholders should take place as soon as possible after the event to capture key success factors and learning points. This should be recorded and saved on file so it can be easily found for when the next planning cycle begins.
WHERE DO YOU START? Plan what success looks like before the event takes place. It should be integral to the planning process. What do you want to achieve, what is the desired outcome of the event? Most charities aim for a profitable event but ROI is more than monetary. Did the event reach your target audience? This could lead to an expanded database of supporters. Is the charity more visible?
Obviously all of these can lead to an increase in fundraising in the long term but short term these can be seen as intangible ROI metrics. It is very much worth seeing ROI as a mindset and not just a tool for calculating success.
WHAT IS THE METHODOLOGY? At the moment three key methodologies need to be considered;
1. The Event (expected attendance, media coverage, satisfaction): success gained from pre-event marketing.
2. The Consumer Experience of the event (Value: Costs vs Benefits): focus on the success and quality of the event.
3. The External Response to the experience (attitude and behavioural change).
SO HOW IS IT MEASURED? Each event should have an individualised set of key performance indicators (KPIs) and each stage of running an event should have set KPIs to measure against. If these KPIs are not set in advance of the event then what is the benchmark? Everything needs a starting point to grow from, only then can the true impact of the event be measured.
In the past it was believed that ROI was a relatively straight forward calculation:
But surely it isn’t that simple. I would say that a new effective framework combines the 3 key methods of measurements mentioned above in order to cater for different event objectives. This will allow charities to trace how to increase ROI and highlight the "ripple effect" of an event caused by effective pre and post event management.
By having KPIs at each event management stage a combination of objective related equations will give a broadened but more focused analysis, a kind of multi-ROI event framework. This will enable charity event managers to highlight strengths and weaknesses within their planning framework.
Looking at the bigger picture, charitable event organisers should also consider the long term value of their event. After all, it’s not all about sales (ticket sales, raffle money and auction bids) but also engagement. This is where SROI can apply.
WHAT IS SOCIAL RETURN ON INVESTMENT? Quite simply it is social return on investment. This mirrors the usual core aim of generating sales and has a greater focus on improving society. It puts financial value on the important impacts identified by stakeholders that do not have market values.
WHAT'S DIFFERENT? The main difference is SROI has very action-orientated objectives. Each event should have unique targeted and focused goals such as greater awareness of the cause, not just the charity. For health awareness charities an increased uptake of healthy living and perhaps increased screening rates are obviously desired goals but by utilising SROI metrics these objectives can now be measured.
Within the SROI framework there are three factors that should also be considered when planning your event:
DEADWEIGHT – Would these social objectives occur regardless of the event? For example, carbon emissions – how many road users are converting to riding bikes per month without the event?
ATTRIBUTION – How much can this attributed to the event? Are other charity event/government schemes having a similar impact? For example, congestion charges in London = more bikes used, so this cannot be attributed to the event.
DROP-OFF – How long does this attribution last? What are the drop-off rates?
SENSITIVITY ANALYSIS. By using sensitivity analysis the strengths and weaknesses of your event can be highlighted and help you identify what trends will increase deadweight/decrease attribution? Utilising all of these methods will help create future actions for running subsequent events and help start a culture of continual improvement.
Seems logical really as who doesn’t want to ensure that their charity's time, energy and money have been well spent? Considering it is seen to be this simple why isn’t everyone using this way of looking at charity events?
It is usually said that event managers are like swans – they glide around looking calm and collected whilst paddling away below the surface to ensure every aspect is as near perfect as can be. Running a charity event, whether it is a fundraiser, community event, or a conference or exhibition, is not dissimilar to running a small business in microcosm.
It requires high level idea generation, planning and detailed management of a diverse range of aspects, utilising skills from sales and marketing through to project and financial management, and logistical and health and safety delivery on the day.
So what are the top tips for delivering a successful event?
Sorting out your objectives
SET OBJECTIVES. An obvious starting point perhaps, but as a charity event organiser you have to ask yourself why you are organising a particular event. Valid reasons may include simply generating donations or PR, launching a new campaign, building/facility or service, to promote the charity's brand, or to impart learning.
A critical analysis should ask what it is that a live event is going to offer which other marketing and information channels do not. As with all objectives, make sure they are SMART.
FORMAT AND CONTENT DESIGN. Once you’ve completed your feasibility study and determined that a live event is the best use of your budget to achieve your aims, an organiser need to consider the most appropriate format. For instance, is it the intention to create intimate, niche events or large scale public events? What do you want the look and feel of your event to be?
Is there a theme? If so, how are you going to ensure that the venue, speakers and ideas reflect the theme. Creating a diverse project team with the right skills mix will ensure that elements from idea generation and creativity to practical logistical thinking, marketing and financial management are covered.
EVENT PLANNING. Broadly speaking the events process falls into three categories – logistics, marketing and content. Every event will need a detailed project and financial plan, breaking down all these activities into the timelines, resources and responsibilities required to deliver the event. Financial questions to consider may include, how many attendees are needed to break even and how this impacts on cash flow.
A contingency and risk management plan for all events needs to be implemented, and the higher the profile and larger the scale, the greater the contingency planning. Larger venues and local authorities are usually able to provide some guidance, however, if your event attracts large numbers of participants a dedicated health and safety consultant may be money well spent.
Timing is the key here. Never underestimate how long it takes to get certain elements of the project completed and allow for slippage in the plan.
The actual venue
THE VENUE ITSELF. This is probably going to be one of the largest costs of your overall budget and there are many issues to consider when selecting a venue. Is a purpose built venue required or could consideration be given to a neutral space, such as a warehouse or outdoor marquee, which could be used as a blank canvass and dressed? Or perhaps an unusual, outdoor venue would be appropriate?
Some of the key issues to think about include cost and service delivery. What are the hidden costs, such as stewarding, traffic marshals, first aid provision, furniture, electrical supply and, most importantly, the catering? There are numerous venue sourcing agencies which can help you find the perfect venue and negotiate the best rates.
Catering requires a special focus
CATERING. Along with the venue, catering may well be one of the most significant event costs and the area likely to receive the most comments and feedback! Are the caterers tied to the venue or can you bring in your own? If you are using an established venue then the chances are you will be tied to their caterers.
If, however, you are using a space such as a community hall or marquee, you may well be able to bring in your own caterers. But remember to include all of the on-costs – it’s not just the food, but chefs, waiting staff and of course kitchen space and equipment hire.
What is your food and wine budget per head? How will you deal with special diets in a creative way? I hope that the days of vegetarian meals consisting of a melon starter and pasta main dish are over!
Depending on charitable aims, sensitive consideration should also be given to the provenance of food. This is particularly important for animal and conservation charities where foie gras is a definite no and a large part of your audience may well be vegetarian and vegan and will be anticipating a creative and ethically sourced menu.
Don’t be fobbed off with a standard menu and price. Tell the caterers your budget and ask what menus their chefs are able to create for you. Do you need an alcohol licence? Again an established function venue will most probably be licensed. If you are selling alcohol via a cash bar and using a non-conventional venue, an alcohol license will be required, so allow plenty of time to apply for one.
Logistics can be complex
LOGISTICS. Other suppliers and contracts you may well need to negotiate and manage include signage, furniture, audio visual, flooring, crowd barriers, flowers, stewards, health and safety consultants, marketers, printers, designers, transport, insurance, portaloos, registration and box office and licences including alcohol and music.
It is always good practice to obtain a couple of quotes for each required service but even with tightest of budgets care should be taken to think more broadly than pure cost when appointing a new contractor.
Relationships are key to good service delivery and it is often a good idea to ascertain exactly who will be responsible for the onsite delivery of the contract, each suppliers’ contingency plan and what time they will be arriving on site.
Asking when suppliers require payment is key to cash flow. No event organiser wants to be paying out for services before attendees have booked to attend, and it is worth asking suppliers if payment can be made by instalments to ease cash flow.
MARKETING, PR AND COMMUNICATIONS. Don’t underestimate the lead times required to successfully promote the event and how long it may take for your message to filter through to ticket buyers. The type of event, target audience, internal resources and budget will dictate your marketing approach.
However, for scale public events, finding media partners often proves fruitful, along with direct marketing and PR. Partners will view this on a commercial basis so think carefully about the opportunities you are able to offer and the audience reach, profile and monetary benefits for the partner.
The people element
PEOPLE. It should go without saying that people are your most important asset in delivering a smooth event – your own team, volunteers, venue, caterers and all other suppliers. If it is a fundraising event being organised, it is likely that volunteers will be utilised. Recruiting volunteers should be on a par with recruiting employees. Design a brief job description, interview and hold a detailed briefing session.
Having a professional appearance, a "can do" attitude and being able to think and take action quickly are key, so the overall event team should be chosen to reflect these qualities. Every attendee who comes into contact with your team needs to see the dream team in action!
DELIVERING YOUR EVENT. So you've been planning meticulously and now the big day has arrived. Essential is the creation of a master event plan, running order and team briefing for everyone involved – your team, volunteers, all the suppliers, venue, caterers, security and any other relevant parties.
Remember the complexity of many events mean that challenges may occur during the course of the event and this is when a strong, skilled and, most importantly, well briefed team really comes into its own. Ensure that all team members know the decision making structure and what to do in an emergency.
EVALUATION AND FOLLOW UP. A post-event meeting should be planned well in advance of the event and take place immediately after to ensure all the good energy and goodwill is capitalised on and turned into increased donations or other support.
As an organiser you will be elated (hopefully) from the success of your event and most probably exhausted and running on adrenaline, so build time into the project plan before the event takes place.
Decide what a successful event looks like – is it financial success? I would argue that charity events must always be financially viable both immediately and as a longer term strategy. In the case of fundraising events this should be by creating more donors and regular givers, or the number of attendees, or the amount of media coverage.
If it is a fundraising event, then securing new donors and increasing and managing relationships from existing ones are paramount as part of the follow up.
So, by really thinking about your objectives, meticulous planning, a strong team of people and early follow up, should ensure a hugely successful event.
"Every event will need a detailed project and financial plan, breaking down all… activities into the timelines, resources and responsibilities required to deliver the event."
"Tell the caterers your budget and ask what menus their chefs are able to create for you."
"Recruiting volunteers should be on a par with recruiting employees."
If you want to run a good event and have it on as tight a budget as possible, the key is to establish what the basic needs of your event are – the number of attendees, how long it is going to go on for, how much space you need, if catering is required and what equipment you can source yourself or need included with the venue. Once you have the bare essentials in place, anything else is an added bonus.
Venues are in an increasingly competitive marketplace putting you, the charity client, very much in the driving seat. Getting the right venue within your budget means you are halfway to a great event. Once you have a clear idea of exactly what your requirements are, check out a variety of venue options to obtain quotes before committing to anything, and be sure to negotiate prices with at least three to five venues. Some venues may simply offer a delegate day rate which in recent years have come down significantly, but bespoke packages are always better as they are tailored to your specific event.
A venue should be practical and convenient before being aesthetically pleasing, so try to be open minded and flexible towards all options, focusing on whether the venue can cater for your immediate needs. If it’s a couple of miles out of the area you had in mind, weigh up how important this is versus a cost saving. It’s equally important to remember there are a wealth of unique venues out there now, not just hotels, and they all cater to very specific requirements.
So you might come across something you hadn’t considered that will add that wow-factor, without you having to spend extra on the "niceties". Some more unusual venues have also started to offer accommodation if you should require it, so don’t discount anything until you have had a look.
Discounted charity rate
Most venues will have a seasonal rate which they will offer first but there is usually some room for manoeuvre and many will offer a discounted charity rate. Start at a lower price than you would expect them to accept and work from there towards an agreeable target.
If you are not comfortable negotiating, a venue finding agency can do this on your behalf and often their experience and contacts will mean they have greater buying power which could help you make an additional saving on top of your charity rate.
Similarly, if you find a venue you are happy with and you plan to run a series of events over a length of time, then the venue may be able to offer an extra discount for multiple bookings. If they can’t offer any further discount, see what else can be made available to you at no extra charge such as an organiser’s room, which is always essential for storing marketing material, or perhaps the donation of a prize. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Time is a major factor
Time is also another major factor to consider. Try, wherever possible, to allow plenty of time to organise an event. If you are trying to arrange something within a few weeks, it gives you less flexibility and puts venues in greater control over negotiation. Similarly, avoid times and locations around other major events such as big football matches or concerts where hotels will have less availability and prices will be higher.
Working with a tighter budget doesn’t mean you have to compromise on quality. It means you are forced to be more inventive, scrutinise your plans and see what unnecessary parts you can economise on, whilst ensuring the day is a cost effective success. For example, if arranging a training event for a large number of people, consider whether the venue offers a half day rate or a flat fee for the full day, and whether they charge more for a larger room instead of a smaller one. If this is the case, would it be beneficial to split the group, hire a smaller room, and run a morning and afternoon session?
Catering and refreshments can be the one element which really bumps up the cost of an event and might not be something you have previously considered when making initial enquiries, but in fact, is crucial. There is little point driving a hard bargain for a great room hire rate and then being stung for the set price of a two course lunch per delegate. Ask to see the menu options in advance and see what packages can be arranged.
Inclusive teas and coffees
If using their facilities for the whole day, most venues will be happy to come to some sort of arrangement which includes lunch and a couple of refreshment breaks where all teas and coffees are included. You would be amazed how important tea, coffee and biscuits are to a tired delegate! If organising a larger function where wine will be served, ask to see the hotel’s wine list, and then weigh up the price comparison between the hotel supplying the wine or sourcing it yourself and paying corkage. Some hotels will waiver or reduce corkage charges for charities, or if not it might be you can secure sponsorship for this element of the event.
However, it is all too easy to get caught up with the peripherals and lose sight of why you are running the event in the first place and what you hope to achieve from it. When taking this approach, you have to ask yourself “does it really doesn’t matter if I provide a selection of sandwiches or a modest buffet for delegates over a hot meal?” for example. Whilst this is not feasible for all events, those organising smaller gatherings may wish to consider sourcing a local restaurant or café for lunch or dinner which could work out cheaper than in-house catering from the hotel and will avoid the charge for an additional break-out room.
In conclusion, my top tips for organising a great event on a tight budget are as follows:
1. Set your budget.
2. Establish your basic needs.
3. Give yourself time, more time equals more discount.
4. Be flexible on venue style and consider location.
5. Obtain at least three to five quotes.
6. Negotiate hard or get an expert to do it for you.
7. What extras can the venue throw in?
8. What 'unnecessaries' can you take out?
9. Don’t cut corners, but think smart.
10. When on a tight budget, worry less about the small things, more about the big things…but never forget tea and biscuits!
The following revelations do not come into the same rocket science category as those offered by Professor Brian Cox, but they may offer new ways to approach the sourcing of reasonable priced venues or, even better, sourcing expensive venues at a reasonable price.
DON'T MAKE CHARITY EVENTS SOUND SCARY. One of the most feared opening sentences amongst venue operators is "I'm calling on behalf of a charity". It makes many a venue manager run for cover especially when it is followed up by "I am enquiring to see if you have a special charity rate for the hire of your venue". There are many reasons for this terror and it is not just the request for a higher than normal discount. There are other factors which do not make this type of enquiry or approach attractive for venues.
Firstly the price. Then this can be compounded by the fact that most charity enquiries do not know how many people will attend the event and the organisers are not experienced in running events. Therefore the enquirer cannot specify a room size. There is then the issue of the date as most charity events are for 1 day or less and many take place mid-week. This is exactly the time that the venue is hoping to secure a 3 day booking at full rack rate from a large pharmaceutical corporation. Put this together with the likelihood of an enquiry to booking rate of less than 5% and it is obvious why this type of enquiry is not at the top of the list.
DO VENUES WANT TO HOST CHARITY EVENTS? Of course the venue would like a booking, especially in these difficult times, even if they have to discount heavily. Venues try to fill all of the available spaces all of the time and would like to agree a date, time and capacity with potential venue bookers as soon as possible. Most venues would be prepared to host charity events at a reasonable and equitable rate as long as the date does not prevent full rate paying events. I would expect that most venue managers can look back on charity bookings which they turned down but later wished they had taken on.
Differing levels of experience
Venues are contacted by dozens of charities on a weekly basis. However, the differences in the level of experience and expertise amongst the charity event organisers is huge and this is one of the issues for the venues. There are obviously the international charity organisations – with large events teams and a diary full of events – which know exactly what they want and how to get it. At the other end of the scale there are the families and friends of sick or bereaved relatives who want to raise money for the charity they have been involved with, but they have never run an event before. The venues receive all of these enquiries and, to be completely frank, 90% of the enquiries never go anywhere – and so it is understandable that sometimes a venue may seem uninterested.
Therefore on one side of the equation is the enthusiasm of the charity event organiser who has visions of a glittering event with a list of celebrities supporting a worthy cause, and on the other side you have the venue reservation person anticipating that the event won't happen. Or even if it does it will be lots of hassle with an inexperienced client looking after the event and taking too much of their time. It will probably have a low income and their boss will be demanding to know why they are wasting their time on an event with no revenue.
HOW TO SECURE A VENUE AT A DISCOUNTED PRICE. As every event professional knows there is no set of rules which cover all events or the circumstances surrounding events. Therefore to get the most suitable venue at the best price it is as well to utilise a mixture of flexibility and compromise, and then add a huge dollop of confidence and negotiation.
Before you contact the venue have a clear picture on what you need; for example:
What is the purpose of the event? Is it:
a) A "thank you" to the staff or donors?
b) A fundraiser?
c) An AGM or board meeting?
d) A concert?
e) Designed to raise the profile of the charity?
FLEXIBILITY. If price is your main concern then you need to be flexible and need to compromise in some areas. Work out a number of suitable dates for your event and consider all available dates in addition to your preferred dates. Be prepared to look at some dates which are not your first choice but ones which you would accept for the right price.
Discounts for certain days
A conference venue is always looking for a 2 or 3 day conference booking and therefore, as the conferences normally take place on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday the venues are more amenable to giving discounts for the Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. However, a private club or country club hotel whose main business is weekends away, weddings and parties would be more flexible during the week.
CELEBRITY/PR INVOLVEMENT. Why should the venue give you a better discount than anyone else? What is in it for them? The venue cannot see an immediate financial benefit for themselves and so there needs to be some other benefit. A good PR story from the event will add value to the event for the venue as it will enhance their reputation. If you have a famous benefactor or patron who supports your charity they should be utilised throughout the whole process, and so try to get them involved at an early stage. Use their name and a personal letter from them to request space and rates at the venue. This approach will obtain more PR for the venue and could persuade the venue to reduce their prices.
NUMBERS. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Many managers of charity events base their cost calculations on higher numbers than actually arrive. This will therefore put the price per head up on the final calculation. It will also mean that you may book a room which is too big for the numbers that attend and you end up paying for empty space.
SET A BUDGET. Then input all of your costs so that you know what budget you have available for the venue. Do not inflate the likely number of guests for calculation purposes.
A TWO YEAR DEAL. Once you have got to the lowest possible price with the venue enquire if there is a better price if you were to confirm a second event a year later. But before you sign an agreement it is vital that there is a "get out clause" in case the event does not go ahead or the event outgrows the venue etc.
CATERING. To save money you may be able to take your own caterer into a venue. This is another area which can be very confusing and the rules that will decide whether this will save you money are dictated in the catering contract. The main contracts are:
VENUES WITH NO ON-SITE CATERER. This will mean that you can choose your own caterer and on occasion you may not need to pay a catering fee or a corkage fee.
VENUES WITH THEIR OWN CATERING OR AN ON-SITE CATERER. It is very unlikely that another caterer can be used at these venues, but it is not entirely out of the question. This may be possible if you require a specialist caterer but there are likely to be high penalties to "buy out" the existing catering. If you do use the on-site caterer it is likely that they are also paying a percentage of the price you pay to them to the owner of the venue, therefore it is worth getting another quote from an outside caterer.
VENUES WITH A PREFERRED CATERING LIST. This normally means that this is a closed list of caterers which must be used at the venue and there is normally a range of price levels that these caterers will charge. However once again, they are all likely to be paying a percentage of the money you pay them, to the venue owners.
FREE TICKETS. If you are running a charity ball with lots of opportunities to get money from the individuals it is worth giving away free tickets for high net worth individuals as they will pay above the ticket price for auctions, raffles, charity casinos etc once at the event.
There are no set rules to getting the right venue at the right prices but this may help to explain the rationale behind some of the answers you may receive from venues.
In the charity world, the main challenge for fundraising events is often selecting a venue which provides a meaningful backdrop but also guarantees maximum return. Here are some top tips on selecting a venue and ensuring your fundraising activity is maximised.
With increased competition between charities, all vying for donations, support and awareness of any fundraising activity needs to centre on the chosen venue. In short, the venue should work as hard for you as you do for the charity.
As such, it is likely your event will centre on using a large venue, with the capacity to include as many people as possible. Attendance figures usually equate to higher revenue so as a first step it's worth shortlisting a few venues in your chosen location which can meet this criterion. A larger venue will also have its own brand awareness which in its own way can increase the exposure of the event and charity.
When thinking about venues it can really benefit the event organiser to think about the needs of the charity and the audience. You might want to choose a venue which would be particularly appropriate for your charity. Guests at an event for a children's charity might be drawn to a football stadium as it could incorporate a museum tour, a stadium experience like going pitch-side or even appearances by the club mascot.
Similarly, a medical charity might prefer a venue or destination with strong links to its particular field which, for example, could arrange a guest speaker who has contributed to medical research. In my experience, the best feedback from an event comes from organisers who have incorporated these kinds of activities.
In order to make your charity and its goals stand out, choosing a more unusual venue or one which offers exciting extras will also make your job of encouraging attendance much easier. It's an obvious sentiment, but the more people who attend your event, the more will engage with the charity not just during the one-off event, but on a long term basis.
Try to opt for venues which are set up for large scale events and have a strong track record in helping charities meet their goals. For example, an on-site kitchen negates the need for food to be prepared elsewhere and transported to the venue. Ensure you have allocated parking if the event demands and check accessibility and disabled access. Think about who is attending your event also – do you have celebrities who might need security, speakers who need separate dressing rooms or lots of backstage or storage facilities.
Range of facilities
A huge bonus of a Premier League football club should be the range of facilities. If it is really geared up for events it should be able to offer your event several meeting rooms which can be incorporated, as well as luxury suites or other quality facilities which can operate as luxury dressing rooms. There should be an organiser's office; secure places to store any raffle prizes, auction items and other valuables; or just a relaxation area for quiet contemplation. Considering all these elements can reduce the time and cost associated with your event.
It's also worth considering when you'd like your event to finish and if you'd like to host an after-party. Venues which offer lots of various facilities in one location are great event choices. Premier League football clubs may, for example, have one or more hotels on site, a spa, a music venue and one or two quality restaurants which can be incorporated into an event programme.
Finally, if you will include a charity auction or raffle into your event, the venue you have selected could also provide a great prize as part of your day with them. A prize could include merchandise, spa packages or hospitality tickets for a football match.
In a similar vein, a venue may have an association with a prominent industry expert or interesting character who might complement the theme and atmosphere of the event. If it could provide these extra elements, it would not only be a great choice of venue, but one that could help to leave a lasting memory of the event, the charity and its long term aspirations.
PR plays a crucial role in helping to differentiate one charitable cause from another in the minds of these companies and individuals, and helps to profile its work, focusing on its key "unique selling points" to communicate to donors their unique positioning. PR is also helpful in defining who the charity's target audience is and the media outlets that they read.
Journalists are overwhelmed with charities seeking editorial coverage on events but need interesting hooks to create a story. A key complaint from journalists when contacted by yet another charity is that there is nothing "new" or particularly "newsworthy" about what they are doing. For example, yet another children’s charity working in an impoverished country/region and holding its annual fundraiser, is not in itself newsworthy.
But add a prominent artist who has visited the charity’s project and produced some pieces in collaboration with the children, an auction at a prominent London Bond Street auctioneers, and a couple of celebrities and high net worth individuals and you have a more newsworthy event.
PR professionals help charities identify and create hooks to make their events more newsworthy which in turn increases the chances of press coverage. Such press coverage is useful both for bringing in donations, but also means that when charity executives go forward to companies for sponsorship, they should not be "going in cold" as it were. The executives they meet will be more receptive if the charity has a strong public profile, as of course that makes it all the more valuable to sponsor.
Having a PR company involved for charity events also increases the value as perceived by sponsors, as sponsor logos can be used on press releases and sponsors can meet VIP guests/press at the event. In addition, sponsors can give their key employees or clients privileged access to the event as well as to the VIP guests, and their sponsorship funds work harder, with their brand being mentioned in press coverage as well.
Bringing on board a celebrity patron for the charity, or a member of royalty, minor or otherwise, is also something PR companies can help with, both to identify the right person, and to assist with contacting them and liaising with their agents/offices to bring them in.
Also, for a particular event PRs can help to identify a list of VIP guests who would create press interest and a buzz around the event. So for something in the realm of public affairs, for example, being able to pull in a few MPs would be enormously helpful.
At the same time, if the guests are also high net worth individuals, this will assist with any fundraising to be done at the event such as raffles and auctions. A huge price achieved for a particular item can be a great hook on which to hang post-event PR. So a record price achieved for a bottle of wine, for example, can generate unexpected press interest.
If charities are faced with deciding about advertising versus PR for an event, a key consideration is the value, both financial and in terms public perception, of editorial press coverage versus straight forward advertising. Editorial coverage, both pre and post event is generally more cost-effective than advertising and more persuasive in terms of the organisation’s integrity/credibility.
Certain industries such as the medical industry, the arena of politics, and at times charities, look more credible and trustworthy if public awareness of them stems from editorial coverage in respected publications. So not only does the organisation get "more bang for its buck", but that ‘bang’ is more highly credible and imperative.
Great "goody-bags" have also become the norm at high profile charity events, and are another area where the help of a PR company makes a big difference. With the media request systems which PR companies can access, they can connect to other PR companies representing great products that desire placement at VIP or HNWI heavy events, and can build a really interesting and diverse goody-bag for the guests.
Leaving with a valuable reminder of a lovely evening out instils a "feel-good" factor for the organisation which is refreshed every time something out of the goody-bag is used or looked at. A great scented candle, chocolates, beauty products are just some of the popular items to be found in goody-bags these days.
Sponsors can also place products in the goody-bags to extend the life of their association with the charitable event, and give the event guests a sample of their product, if appropriate.
So on many fronts, having a public relations company involved with a charity event can bring great benefits and enhance the image of the charity and its attractiveness to both donors and sponsors. It also takes some of the burden off the events committee, who may be volunteering their time and may not be professionals in terms of event organisation in the first place.
A dedicated conference office will have local expertise and be in a good position to negotiate the best rates from the venues and suppliers which it works with. From finding the venue to suit your event to organising catering and offering an accommodation booking service for delegates, a dedicated conference office should provide a one stop shop, making it easy to access all services in one place.
A good conference office or bureau would be well prepared to deal with venue-finding enquiries from a wide range of organisations as well as individuals, as by being offered this free service organisers will often return to the destination time and time again.
Charities should also enquire whether venues offer a not-for-profit rate and the local conference office can advise on this. Event organisers should also check in advance whether there are any add-on costs to the venue hire. For example, some venues may insist on using an internal AV company whereas it may prove more cost effective to bring one in.
Catering is another cost that should be considered and good venues will be flexible to meet the needs of the charity and come up with a package to meet your budget. Before going ahead and booking any venue, I'd thoroughly recommend a site visit; first impressions really do count!
Not only does a site visit offer you an invaluable opportunity to get a feel for the venue and location but it also means you get a chance to meet the sales team, and it's equally as important that they make a good impression too! After all they will be the ones you trust to coordinate the minute by minute details of your event once it's booked in.
The one stop shop service is particularly important for the majority of bigger events, especially when they last two to three days. In these situations affordable accommodation and bedspaces are very important for the organisers. The cost of accommodation and its proximity to the chosen venue must be considered. If delegates have to pay out a large chunk of their budget for accommodation, this may discourage them from attending the event.
Many towns and cities will offer an accommodation booking service and this means that their conference centres will work closely with local hotels, guesthouses and self-catering properties to negotiate the best rates for delegates. In turn, they see the benefit in business tourism, particularly as it brings visitors during the out of season or less popular months. One should always be assured that delegates will receive a warm welcome from local businesses in the town or city where the event is being held.
To obtain this permission, it is likely either a Premises License or a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) will be required. A TEN gives approval for events with a limited amount of guests, over a set amount of time. Major changes introduced on 6 April mean a dramatic overhaul of how TENs operate.
Previously for instance, TENs could last up to 96 hours or four days, and a maximum of 15 days could be covered in one calendar year. Under the new rules, TENs will now be able to last up to 168 hours or seven days, and a maximum of 21 days can be covered in one calendar year. It will also be possible to submit an application for a TEN five working days before the event instead of the previous ten working days.
The second method – a Premises License – is a more permanent form of permission involving events with more guests, but more legal hoops to jump through. For instance, to obtain one it is necessary to apply to the local authority, and advertise the event both on the premises in question and in the local newspaper. Local residents and responsible authorities then have 28 days to respond to the application. If there are no objections the licence is granted; if there are objections then a hearing will be required before the council's licensing sub-committee.
This means it can take as much as two months to obtain a premises license. It will also be necessary to have a "designated premises supervisor" in place who will need a personal alcohol licence. Alcohol free events, or ones which give away alcohol, do not require the same licences. If you are the event organiser, you may be held liable for injury to people or damage to their property. As a result, I would seriously suggest considering taking advice in relation to public liability insurance.
Then there is the matter of gambling for charity. Many charities run casino nights, with participants staking money on games such as poker or roulette. The money raised from the events, or proceeds, must not be used for personal gain and must all be given to a good cause. This includes entrance fees, sponsorship and the difference between stakes placed and payouts made.
Reasonable costs are not included in the proceeds and this could include the prizes. If third parties are at the event, for example selling food, then this money does not count as proceeds and can be kept by that third party. A non commercial casino night may be run without a license or permission providing that it falls within strict categories:
It must be non commercial prize gaming with players told what good cause will benefit from the profits. The prizes do not depend on the amount of players. Or it could be non commercial equal chance gaming, for instance poker and bingo where the chances are equally favourable to all those taking part. The funds are usually raised by the entrance fee and the maximum fee players can pay is £8 which can include the entrance fee, stakes etc. Remember, the amount paid out in prizes has to be £600 or less. If it is in a series then during the last event the prizes can be up to £900.
Private gaming can take place where the public does not have access and there is no charge for participation. No profits can be made from private gaming even if intended for charitable use.