Charity events need to be successful. So to help make your charity event the success it deserves to be, browse the wide range of articles on organising events by clicking on the headlines below.
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FROM THE EDITOR: This Special Feature is aimed at helping charities organise their fundraising events better. Of course, many charities are highly professional about the way they go about organising events and these can be very successful. Nevertheless the articles in the Special Feature are designed to help them take their events to the next level of success. For those charities where there is much to be improved upon there is crucial advice in the articles.
Richard Bartfield of Holiday Inn London explains how you can work smarter generally; John Baker of Aintree Racecourse wants you to think of using sporting venues; Sam Booth of Keele University focuses on conferences and training; Fay Sharpe of Zibrant advises on how to find the right venue for your gala dinner; Gary Peters of Evolve Events takes us to the gala fundraising night itself.
All our five experts stress the importance of planning and, as Gary Peters says: "The earlier you start to prepare, the better..." This Special Feature will help you with the content of your planning.
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Fundraising dinners can be the bread and butter of a big campaign or fundraising effort. They are a perfect launch pad, a way to give the campaign a big opening donation and make a real impact on donors. They are also excellent campaign closers – perhaps you are frustratingly close to the target and one final push is all that’s needed. In fact, fundraising dinners work rather excellently at every stage of a campaign.
To ensure success, however, careful planning and a tight control of costs are absolutely essential – or too much of that money will vanish in an ever increasing pile of bills. Catering is always a big part of these costs. Presumably your guests will have forked out in the hope of dining well, so securing a top notch menu at a knockdown price will really pay dividends (not to mention that the more "refreshed" guests are, the quicker those hands will fly up during the auction).
With this in mind below are some tips for charity event catering . . .
Ask, ask, ask
Not that you’ll need me to tell you this, but the key to any charitable event is, to put it bluntly, to be fairly shameless. Ask away, be cheeky and see what you can get away with. CSR (corporate social responsibility) makes for excellent PR and many businesses will be willing to help you out in return for a sponsor credit.
SUPPLIERS. Make a big deal of the fact the event is for charity, and make sure everyone knows. Ask for a cheaper venue rate, offer to compromise and see what they come back with. Bear in mind the simple facts such as Mondays and Tuesdays are much less popular than a Friday or Saturday and could be cheaper for you. (Your audience is likely to be committed and keen to turn out anyway!)
Very often venues have last minute cancellations and these can be worth snapping up as well. Don’t be afraid to lean on your caterer as well – perhaps they have some stock inching ever closer to its expiry date and will be willing to negotiate (also see below for more tips on menu planning).
VOLUNTEERS.When you are paying for cloakroom attendants, set-up and get-out teams, decorators, florists…etc… the list goes on and the wages bill mounts up. If you can rope in loyal supporters of the charity (free food and a glass of wine often does the trick!) you can cover some/all of these positions at no cost. Best of all, if they care about the charity they are likely to be highly motivated and make an excellent team.
SPONSORS. It goes without saying that the more you can cover your event costs the more money from ticket sales can go directly to the charity. Consider approaching corporate or local partners looking to win some CSR brownie points, or simply because they believe in what you’re doing. Ask your caterers if they have relationships with wine suppliers WHICH might be interested in helping you. (To be fair, nobody in hospitality can afford to support every charity event, so you will need to make a really strong case to get significant help.)
If you raise enough to cover all the costs then all the money from ticket sales can go to charity – a great sales pitch to donors, and a way to make them feel more generous at the table too.
Plan, plan, plan
Start early enough and you’ll be able to work with your suppliers to get the best deals; not to mention make sure your showpiece idea comes together seamlessly.
THE AIM. Who are you targeting, what is your target amount and how are you going to do it. Obvious and essential, though easily forgotten. Work this out, then make choices accordingly. If this is a local event with neighbours and friends in mind, the biggest ballroom in town with a five course tasting menu and matching fine wines, are probably not ideal.
Set the ticket price accordingly too – are you making most of your money on this, or is it the auction/raffle etc that is the real money spinner? The best bet is to make it relevant – do something quirky and relevant and you’ll catch people’s eye.
COMMUNICATE THE AIM. Tell your suppliers what you’re trying to do, then use their experience to your advantage. People in events like to be creative, draw them in and set the parameters (best to stress the budget) and see what they can come up with. Don’t surrender control, but make people feel actively involved and they’re likely to help you out more…shaving a few pounds here and there, and giving you more bang for your buck.
THE MENU. It’s essential your potential donors feel well treated. Keep them happy and they’ll keep the donations coming in. Sit down early in the process and talk to the chef. He or she is your best ally in your quest to maximise your profits at an event. They know what’s in season, what’s well priced and what just happens to be on that ultra-special offer from the suppliers at the moment – helping you make the most of what’s being spent.
Don’t be afraid to be a bit cheeky – if you really want to save, suggest you have a similar menu to the event before yours and ask to benefit from the economies of scale savings they’ll make!
ENTERTAIN YOUR GUESTS. Get the balance right here, and everything comes together. Keep guests topped up and make sure they’re having fun. Remember that the longer people stay at the event the longer they have to decide to donate more, and keep that total rising ever higher.
On the other hand it doesn’t always have to involve vintage champagne – ask your caterer to recommend cheaper options such as a good Prosecco or fun cocktail for the reception.
"ADD-ONS". These are to be used sparingly, but when appropriate consider what could be sold as an upgrade to the dinner package. There are lots of options – from extra champagne, deals for people who take a whole table, and a big ticket – the exclusive "meet and greet" with any celebrities – people are often happy to pay more when they feel they are getting just a little extra in return.
The Americans definitely have it right here – don’t forget the purpose of the event and keep on asking. Remember you’ve motivated people enough to get them here, now make sure you use this golden opportunity. Give a great a presentation about the charity, what it does and why the money is needed.
Raffles and auctions are fantastic ways to raise money (make sure all your suppliers, including the caterer, donate a prize!) and consider having a donations table in a prominent location. Above all, strike a balance, and let guests enjoy themselves but don’t let them forget why they’ve come.
All-in-all there is no "secret" to successful fundraising dinners. It really comes down to good planning and communication. Remember to talk to people and to be a bit cheeky – don’t let them forget it’s all for charity, and act like big discounts are the norm. Expect the best, but look for innovative ways to cost it efficiently.
Treat the caterers as part of your team, helping to meet the goal, and motivate them by ensuring they get their fair share of the glory for their effort. As with most things in life, you won’t get everything you ask for, but you should certainly be able to cut down some key costs to help meet those fundraising targets.
When you bring charity volunteers, supporters and partners together for conferences or events it is vital to generate maximum impact. Every pound you spend on hospitality and relationship building is precious and there are few more inspiring or hard-working places to host your events than the world-class sporting venues we have in the UK.
From the minute the invites are received, events at iconic venues begin working for your charity.
It sparks the imagination as recipients consider their own memories of the venue, or of events they have witnessed there. The invite alone generates a sense of exclusivity. A location where historic moments of regional or national importance have been created is, for one night or a few days, your stage.
That emotive context is something not provided by hotels or conference suites. People invest their hearts in events like the Grand National, football’s FA Cup or cricket’s The Ashes. Using those venues to host your events adds to their weight, instantly creating a positive atmosphere through which you can engage with attendees on the issues central to your charity.
Sporting venues also have the infrastructure and flexibility to host a range of events from smaller gatherings to great gala dinners. Invited guests or delegates must feel looked after and well provided for and this can sometimes be a challenge for smaller locations.
But with typically fewer space restrictions than more traditional conference venues, plus established best practice for hosting and entertaining large groups, sporting venues are ideal for maximising your guest list.
Some sporting venues with a large geographical footprint can also be used to hold large events, fairs or experience days for charity supporters. These can be used to push fundraising, raise awareness or simply create a memorable dream come true for people involved in the charity or receiving assistance from it.
Also, sporting venues can be very versatile, e.g. being used for an outside activity which they aren't normally used for.
Psychologically, associating your brand with an unusual venue, one connected to quality and aspiration, helps to lift the perception of that brand.
With charities there is a balance to be struck, as events at decadent five-star hotels can perhaps give out the wrong message and create the perception that money needed for the cause has been spent on entertainment. That is where sporting venues come into their own. They can offer five-star service and catering for much larger groups of people for a much more manageable cost.
Mass catering facilities on site for example allow greater control of costs by eliminating the need for outside caterers while allowing you to offer a high quality hot meal or buffet for your guests. At the same time you have the knowledge that the catering team have experience of managing much larger gatherings during their sporting business and can cope with the event.
There is no compromise on the experience or the location - a sporting venue often carries much more resonance than a hotel – but there is a perception, correctly, that the charity has achieved good value in order to achieve the greatest fundraising benefit possible from the event.
Facilities and security
When you are looking at facilities, you are not just looking at the basic requirements for hosting an event. These are fundraising events so security is paramount.
Sporting venues are often more secure as when there is no sport taking place, there are not many people milling around or entering the buildings, making such movements stand out.
In addition, venues used to hosting thousands of spectators have ample secure storage for cash and cheque donations or high value auction lots or raffle prizes, providing extra piece of mind that your charity event will go off without incident.
Heart of the community
The ultimate aim of any event is to capture the attention, imagination and hearts of the community so that it appreciates the value of the work your charity is doing and wants to actively buy into it.
Sporting venues are ideal for this purpose as they are often a source of pride within their community. They are a place local and often national businesses wish to be connected with and where those resident in the surrounding area often take a great sense of pride.
By associating your brand with all this it is possible to secure a wider benefit for your charity by creating the sense that it is committed to the community, that you, just as the local sporting teams or event locations, are a part of the fabric of life in the area
This association can help build strong awareness reaching far beyond the end of your event.
"Sporting venues...have the infrastructure and flexibility to host a range of events from smaller gatherings to great gala dinners."
When it comes to organising an event, whether a conference or a training seminar for staff and volunteers, charities have more challenges to contend with than most private sector companies, as they are tasked with achieving the very best return on investment whilst working on a small budget.
Getting the balance between cost and quality is arguably even more important when organising events that sit outside the annual programme of fundraisers, but this doesn’t mean that charities should dismiss big venues or exciting new locations.
Getting the venue right
For charities which don’t have the budget for a dedicated events person, or even those which do, opting for venues with experienced events team can be an invaluable place to start your search. If you don’t have the time or resource to arrange things yourself, an events team can assist you every step of the way.
A lot of larger venues have their own dedicated team. However, if your venue doesn’t, it’s worth bearing in mind that some venues operate third party event management teams, so even if you don’t use their facilities, they can still provide you with support.
A full service events management team can work with you throughout the planning stage, months or even years in advance, getting to know your event inside and out. They can work behind the scenes to ensure everything runs seamlessly on the day, leaving you to spend quality time with your delegates.
Another important consideration for any event is location. Opting for a convenient location, or one with strong transport links, will increase your chances of a full turn out and help to start the event on a positive note. While city centre locations might seem like the obvious choice, they may not necessarily be the right choice for your event and choosing a location with scenic views or green surroundings is a great way to inspire delegates.
This is a chance for them to get out of the office and switch off from their day-to-day tasks so they can fully immerse themselves in your event.
You also need to consider factors such as onsite parking and overnight accommodation, particularly when you know delegates have a long distance to travel. Many venues offer discounted rates on accommodation, whether it's onsite or at a nearby hotel, so it’s important to explore your options.
Using the right facilities
When it comes to selecting a venue, charities need to think about the event early on – do you plan to hold your seminar in one room or do you need a number of smaller rooms for workshops? It’s important to be realistic about the space you need from the start. While a one room venue may seem big enough, not to mention being a more cost effective route, running your event across multiple rooms can be much more beneficial.
Access to outdoor space can also be highly beneficial for delegates, giving them the chance to get some fresh air in between sessions.
You should also try and use a venue where these spaces are within close proximity, as using rooms or areas at opposite ends of the venue can leave your event feeling disjointed or risk attendees getting lost. It’s important to explore all of your options by visiting the venue early on so you can see exactly what the areas look like, how easy they are to access and whether there are different ways to use the space available.
Equipment also plays a big role and if you’re relying on a venue to provide what you need, you should scope out exactly what’s available. While looking around a venue, you might assume that the AV technology or PA systems you can see are included, but that might not be the case. Have a walk around with a member of staff, pointing out what you need access to and confirming exactly what’s included in their offer.
You’ll also need to ensure you have access to an onsite technician to complete set-up and assist with any technical glitches on the day. And, if you need internet access during the event, again, find out exactly what’s available. While some venues offer these things as standard, others may not so it’s important to scope out any hidden costs.
Charities should opt for venues which offer flexibility – you don’t want to book a venue for its size or space, only to discover later down the line you’re limited on what areas you can use and when, or even find you have limited catering options. Finding out how flexible a venue is during your initial phone call or meeting can save a lot of hassle later.
Remember that the options set out in the brochure or online might not be the only ones available, and many venues will work with you to build a package to suit your needs and budget. Don’t be afraid to spell out exactly what it is you want, even if you don’t see it in their marketing material.
Speaking of which, most venues now offer charity packages, meaning finding a venue which offers quality, value and the facilities you need isn’t necessarily hard to achieve. And, in the competitive world of events, charities also need to remember that there’s always room for negotiation. Be clear about your budget and how much you need to get out of it. Venues have come to expect negotiation and most are willing to work with you to get costs down to meet your budget.
Catering for your event
Getting the catering right is vital and, while little things like tea and coffee might not seem too important, refreshment breaks offer delegates much needed respite, especially those attending intensive training. They also provide the perfect opportunity for delegates to socialise in between sessions and share their thoughts on the day with peers.
The addition of good food also contributes to an enjoyable environment for delegates as we know that often the way to the heart is through the stomach. For those who may be away from home, good hospitality can also make them feel welcome and appreciated. Because food is so high on the agenda for delegates, you might want to try something different to make it as enjoyable as possible for them.
If you’re arranging a summer event, why not look at holding a BBQ or even a picnic style lunch? Another option is to offer delegates food vouchers so they can go off and choose their own food - that way you suit everyone’s taste.
If you’re running a half day event or know that people are strapped for time, you might want to consider food on the go, providing snacks throughout your training seminar or even a prepared lunchbox for delegates.
On the day
One thing to explore with your events team from the start is how the event is going to run on the day. Will you be responsible for keeping the agenda on track or will your events team help? Who is in charge of the catering, are you relying on an external caterer or is it done in-house? The more your venue can offer the better and the best advice is not to assume anything.
It is also important to carefully consider content for your event, which is something your venue can advise on. For example, recent research has shown that the traditional method of conferencing – back-to-back powerpoint presentations – does not always help get the most from your delegates and that there are other approaches to explore to improve the productivity.
Quizzes and team building exercises may seem like frivolous activities, but they can actually help to engage quieter members of the team or break the ice amongst people who have just met. Meanwhile holding group discussions in an outdoor green space is proven to motivate attendees and leave them feeling more involved in the session.
Again, these are considerations that should also be fed into your venue selection - are there enough rooms for smaller teams to break out in, is there immediate access to outdoor space? By setting yourself clear objectives about what you want your delegates to take away from the day, you’re better equipped to make the right choice when it comes to your venue.
Getting sponsors on board
Charities are well versed in finding sponsors for events, but it is not just big fundraising banquets where sponsorship can prove valuable. In fact, training seminars or team building days can provide the ideal opportunity to engage with new or smaller sponsors and help fund your event.
Incorporating an exhibition space into your seminar and inviting sponsors to exhibit is an innovative way to secure extra income and involve key stakeholders. Asking them to sponsor your lunch or refreshment breaks might be another quick win option, or even inviting them to hold a talk for delegates.
A programme or brochure for your event also provides the perfect advertising platform, so why not open them up to companies, whether an existing or potential sponsor, for paid for space?
As well as the financial incentives, by involving sponsors you can also demonstrate that they are valued and help build on your relationship with them.
Wrapping up your event
Once an event is over, communication with delegates shouldn’t stop. Following up with attendees to get feedback is an effective way to measure success and helps you maintain relationships. If you have access to an events team, talk to them about feedback forms as often they’ll have their own which they can tailor to your event.
Event teams are always striving to do the very best for customers so don’t be afraid to explore all of your options with them. More than often, they’re only too happy to help.
"Opting for a convenient location, or one with strong transport links, will increase your chances of a full turn out and help to start the event on a positive note."
"Have a walk around with a member of staff, pointing out what you need access to and confirming exactly what's included in their offer."
There’s so much to consider when selecting a venue for a charity fundraising dinner. A “Night of Inspiration” fundraiser event requires careful planning which ties intrinsically with the venue selection. With charities reliant on their key fundraising events forming major contributions to their annual revenue, the setting for the event needs to be perfect. Space and layout are key factors in this, and the venue should accommodate your guests so as to feel full but glamorous enough to feel special and exclusive.
In essence, the venue is one element of a variety of things to consider at an event, but will define the “takeaway” opinion of your guests. The objective of the evening, the scale, agenda, entertainment, the audience and guests, sponsors, volunteers and beneficiaries all play a large part in the choice of venue you decide to select.
Factors such as entertainment, speeches and story-telling should be taken into consideration alongside technical production and creative elements to ensure the venue space is used appropriately and guests are entertained throughout the evening. Does your chosen venue have the technical capability you require, lighting, video, staging, sound projection? The list goes on.
Accessibility issues for disabled guests and straightforward emergency exit routes should also be a key consideration, and while the venue should be fit for purpose and suitably glam, it needs to be appropriate to your audience and fundraising expectations. You may not wish to appear too ostentatious!
Flexibility is one of the most important characteristics of a venue. With large scale events, numbers are likely to change again and again beforehand. Many venues will agree to provide some level of flexibility if the number of attendees dips below your initial figures, preventing issues over budget control.
Types of venue
Venues generally fall into three main categories to choose between. The most popular of these options is a hotel. Hotels nearly always offer in-house catering for events; meaning you may be able to secure a package deal where the venue and food are rolled into one price. This can often reduce costs and most hotels will also have an on-site events manager to support your event. The downside is that you may be limited in terms of the quality and choice of food, so this choice may not be appropriate if you’re aiming for 5-star cuisine in relatively modest surroundings.
Unusual venues, such as art galleries or museums can make great locations for events. Some will have their own preferred supplier list, but ultimately you can make the decision on which caterer to bring on board. This means you can choose from different catering types, ranging from silver service haute cuisine to relaxed comfort food. The drawback, however, is that outside caterers will have set-up costs and may need to bring in additional staff. They’re also less likely to be flexible on price compared with a hotel, so prices may rise.
Events management is often included in the cost of hiring an unusual venue (e.g. at the Science Museum in London) and an interesting setting provides a memorable location which could help to attract guests and sell tables.
Temporary venues such as marquees are another option. Marquees can hold very large numbers and can be bespoke as per your requirements. You may also have slightly more control over the event. For example, if your marquee is situated on private land in a rural location, you may well be able to continue the party into the night. Marquees shouldn’t be seen as a cheap option though and you may well have to dress the marquee for purpose.
Location location location
Location is paramount; however the optimum place for your event depends on its scale as well as the size and location of your charity. Think about the guests you’re hoping will attend. For an international charity based in London and hopes to entice numerous celebrity attendees, London is a great option.
A Manchester charity with sponsors, advocates and benefactors based locally may be better off holding its event at a great venue in the North West and avoid the higher expenses a London venue would incur. The key to success is to make sure your venue has good transport links. There’s nothing worse than calls from a guests who are unable to find the event when they should be sitting down to dinner.
When planning an event it is easy to become preoccupied with everything and forget about your budget. Keeping control of the budget is crucial – especially when the profits of the event will be going to a worthy cause. Account for the fact that you may need to build things such as AV into the budget. Some venues provide this, but it is sometimes quite basic and you may find that you need the additional support of an external supplier to provide the level of professionalism that’s appropriate for the event.
Most venues are really helpful and will have event managers to support you, however you may need to bring additional volunteers or staff to fulfil jobs such as the registration desk, cloakroom and toilet attendants. These are easy to forget about but really crucial in ensuring the event runs smoothly on the night so you can have a well deserved glass of champers.
Even if the venue does provide an events management service, it’s a good idea to appoint somebody from your team as their main point of contact. This representative can oversee everything from the charity’s point of view and keep on top of timings and running order. In venues without event teams (e.g. marquees) sometimes outside catering providers can assist with event management, but if you go down this route it’s even more crucial for someone on your team to be dedicated to running the event.
Another option is to hire a freelance events manager. This will add to the costs, but can be hugely worthwhile and it frees up your team to enjoy the event and entertain the guests. If you plan to host a very large event, you should hire an event company to support you. For large charities which might make £200,000-£300,000 on the night, event management will cost just a fraction of this. Make a decision on this depending on your budget and the projected amount of money to be raised.
The key to getting a good price is flexibility. Be flexible with spaces; consider going for a plainer room rather than a banquet hall to save money, although sprucing up a plain room may cost you a lot.
If you can be flexible on dates, this can also help to maximise your budget. Venues will all want to fill less popular dates and may be more accommodating in negotiations. For premium dates such as Thursdays or Fridays in December you’re unlikely to have much wiggle room on price because the venue will know that it is likely to fill the space with Christmas parties, so January could be a better bet.
As well as the month, the day of the week influences cost (e.g. a Monday vs. Friday). Remember, though, that it’s really important to strike a balance between a good price and attendance. If you go for a Monday in August you may get a brilliant price, but lose attendees, which will impact upon the success of your event. Also avoid public holidays such as New Year’s Eve and surrounding dates; apart from guests’ personal commitments, companies may need to pay staff double time and travel will be more expensive.
Finally, be aware of big industry events that might affect the attendance of key figures. Don’t select the date of a key industry event. Equally if you’re hoping to attract famous musicians, don’t host your event on the night of the BRIT awards!
Gala dinners are an important communication and engagement tool and there is often way more riding on them than first meets the eye. They allow your charity to get their message over to your audience in the most direct way, as because they are live events, people in the audience are more likely to engage on a personal and emotional level. Because this event type reaches into the audience’s emotions, it places additional pressure on the person charged with doing the organising.
Organising charity galas and fundraisers is no small task. It’s imperative that your message is conveyed, as it’s about helping your charity raise money for its cause, not just about styling the event. The evening needs to be uplifting and the content relevant to the charity’s cause, whilst the venue’s practicality needs to be considered, too. Finding a fun and bright venue is just as crucial as ensuring there is space for presentations, auctions and dining. A charity gala isn't only about auctions and speeches. It needs to be entertaining and meaningful; a chance for celebration and reflection. A successful fundraiser is a hard thing to create and there is a lot to think about, but it all starts with a good brief.
Where to start
Before any planning can commence, understanding your cause, the objectives and who the audience will be is the first thing the event organiser needs to address. Without doing this, it will be impossible to convey the right message. It’s essential that time is invested at the beginning of the process to think about what you want to achieve, so that the solution will fit the ethos of the charity. A written brief is always a good starting point, and a good document to be able to look back to during the process.
In the early planning stages having an idea of the budget will make the execution throughout much easier. Deciding and proportioning your budget will determine the caterer and menu, the number of guests, the venue for the event, and all the other details that involve spending money. Organising a charity gala requires creativity but you also need to remain on budget. This is always a challenge, and providing quality without cutting corners requires inventiveness and experience. When planning the event, a critical path document to work to will be of great help when managing budgets and timelines.
Planning for the big night
There’s nothing like the feeling of creating a successful charity gala; fundraising targets being met, great speakers who engage the audience, an upbeat dinner and the cause of the charity really being recognised. But for everything to run smoothly, you need to put effort into planning the gala. There are many details to consider, and they are all important.
Depending on the size and what kind of event you have in mind, you might want to delegate tasks to a committee. Taking on the responsibility all yourself can become overwhelming. Appoint a project manager to oversee the event and ensure that there are clear lines of responsibility and approvals.
Assign specific roles to everyone in your team and think about contingency plans. When it comes to forward planning and running order, stick to this as much as possible. When will you need to run table raffles, auctions and games? These often work better in between dessert and coffee – get the eating out of the way. Someone may also need to guide guests to different areas; will this person be on your team or the venue team?
Whilst focusing on the bigger picture, such as fundraising targets, budgets, number of guests etc., it’s important to think about the little things, too. Producing contingency plans help, but thinking through the small details upfront helps eliminate any nasty surprises and reduces the need to respond to last minute changes. However, a fundraiser is a live event and things can change! For example, it’s important to have a plan in place in case additional space is required.
Keeping sponsors happy is vital, and checking logos are correct is a job that shouldn’t be left to the last minute. Clean, simple sponsorship packages with early-bird discounts on offer are always popular.
It’s never too early to start building some excitement about the event. Part of the excitement about a big event should be the anticipation. Think about tying in the invitations to the theme and sending a series of teasers. Social media has a key role to play here – set up your own hash-tag for the night.
We’ve all attended an event where the audience wasn’t engaged and the event seemed to drag on forever. At a charity gala the success of the event rests on the audience’s engagement and it’s crucial that the charity’s cause is always front of mind with guests and VIPs. In order to achieve this, the fundraiser needs to be exciting, relevant and memorable. Styling and entertainment need to be linked to key messages to be meaningful.
Executing the event
You’ve got your planning committee, you have a clear budget and outline, and the venue has been sourced. It’s now time to consider all the practical requirements on delivering an impactful event; getting the right equipment and stage setting; appropriate entertainment and music; good speakers; presentation backdrops, video streaming, filming; raffle tickets; auctions; catering. Getting the balance right is key.
Because of the emotional environment in which people are interacting and the fact that tickets are very often paid for, the guests are likely to be much more critical of their surroundings. This means that apart from the logistics and managing stakeholders’ expectations, elements such as creative styling, catering and entertainment will be an important way of getting the message across. Make it fit for the audience and the amount of money you expect to raise.
When choosing a caterer, ensure you allow for a food tasting. Make sure the caterer provides a menu that suits all dietary requirements. Apart from vegetarian alternatives, other options such as gluten free ones should be available as well. Alternative dishes should fit within the overall theme of the food.
If you have children as guests, ensure that you offer child-friendly alternatives – nothing too unusual. It needs to be accessible. Don’t forget to look at how the food is presented and make sure that you’ve got the right cutlery, plate size, linen and glassware. Little details like the salt and pepper shakers can make a big impression.
Think about matching catering with styling and entertainment. Finishing touches, such as using the charity’s colours, when setting the lighting can make all the difference and ensure that the key messages are conveyed in a subtle way. Also ensure that theming and entertainment is matched to your audience. By employing professional performers, this will ensure that both the performance and the evening will run smoothly.
On the night of your charity gala, ensure that you have contingency plans in place in case something goes wrong. Make sure you know the venue, its terms, health and safety issues and fire exits. Timings are essential with parties, and making sure that food and drink are served promptly will keep the dinner from peaking too early.
Organising a fundraiser is a time consuming business. The earlier you start to prepare, the better, as you will have more time for planning, research and reviews. At times it will feel like it’s taking over your life but a great night with lots of funds raised for the charity and positive feedback will make it all feel worth it.
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.