This is the second part of my blog based on a presentation I gave last month at an event organised by Eventbrite. Part one explored how to identify the competition, find the right income model, be as visual as possible and build momentum – click here to read it.
Part two now explores how corporate support can make your event more successful, why organisation is everything and how to prepare your event for the most unlikely of circumstances - including a terrorist attack.
Lesson 5 - the value of corporate support
Many people underestimate the range of ways in which a company can help to raise the profile of your event and make it more profitable. In my experience, companies can:
Hitch-hiking is sometimes perceived as a risky activity and some students felt unsure about the event when they first heard about it. So having support from a well-known travel company like Rough Guides, who were so enthusiastic about Hitch, added a lot of credibility. It was a great relationship for Rough Guides too – many students became loyal users of their guidebooks after first reading the Rough Guide to Morocco.
It’s always difficult to secure high-level sponsorship for a new and unproven event, so for Moon Rise Run I took a different approach. We secured free products for participant goodie bags from five companies that were perfect for the health-conscious, young, mostly female audience. We also gave away several free Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitors generously provided by OutdoorGB as competition prizes.
While these relationships weren't worth thousands of pounds in sponsorship, it gave participants something extra to take away afterwards and gave the event extra credibility too. Who knows – maybe in future one of these companies will increase their support and become the major sponsor?
Lesson 6 - Organisation is everything
Let’s face it – events are hard work. They’re stressful and unpredictable. You can rarely control everything, especially when you’re dependent on third parties to deliver a successful event.
For instance, Moon Rise Run used Eventbrite for ticketing and several companies for sound and lighting. There were four bands, four food vendors and a bar. Add in volunteer race stewards, charity partners and the corporate supporters and you’ve got an impressive array of partners! This inevitably causes hiccups, and you will almost always have to deal with unexpected circumstances beyond your control.
Moon Rise Run was a new event and the team didn’t always get things right first time around, making changes to the promotion strategy, ticket options and the festival line-up along the way. None of this surprised me.
When working with charities and event organisers, I often use the swan analogy. The swan is a picture of elegance and serenity on the surface as it smoothly glides around the water. Under the surface, its little legs are paddling frantically, putting in a lot of effort to get it to its destination – but you’d never know!
I think this is the perfect analogy for fundraising events, where so much ‘paddling’ goes on behind the scenes. There are always tricky decisions to debate, make and occasionally go back on. Even the best events are powered by blood, sweat and tears!
The vital thing is to keep all that behind the scenes. To your participants and prospective customers, you need to be calm, consistent and confident at all times.
Accept that mistakes will happen, but be willing to release key information early. Don’t hold back from announcing your festival line-up, your free goodie bags or your event schedule, even if details may be changed or added later – it’s what gets your participants excited about the event and willing to talk about it to others.
Lesson 7: Equip yourself with the right tools
Being calm and composed enough to glide like a good swan is only possible if you are supremely organised, and there are many tools to help you.
I highly recommend a project management tool called Basecamp, which allows you to list action points, calendar items, work on shared files and start discussions. You can choose who gets email notifications about different topics and even give restricted access to certain third parties.
I’ve used Basecamp when counting down to major events or website launches and my clients always love it. Every individual staff member can create a unique profile with a photo – on a recent project, everybody used their favourite cartoon character or super hero. This makes organisation fun and tactile, rather than overbearing.
For simpler projects, I use Evernote which is really great for creating clean and simple to do lists.
One big problem which organisers experience is the sheer rush of demand right before a major event. Just when you’re busy with final preparations, you start getting a high volume of emails and social media interaction from participants. It will inevitably happen when you’re least available to respond well – but your participants still expect ‘normal service’.
Make your life easier by having a really structured inbox with items clearly assigned or colour-coded to people – both Gmail and Outlook allow for this. Share the responsibility among your team and don’t let your hectic preparations impact on the quality and speed of your replies, because it will really affect people's experience.
Lesson 8 - Never underestimate contingency plans
There’s one very difficult experience that has helped shape the way I prepare for fundraising events. It happened a few years ago when I was Fundraising Manager at Link, responsible for overseeing Hitch.
Hitch had a comprehensive range of safety measures and contingency plans designed to safeguard participants and ensure that the event ran smoothly. Despite the effort that went into preparing these, many contingency measures seemed only to exist on paper and we hoped that most would never be needed.
Then one day they were tested and it had nothing to do with hitch-hiking. In April 2011, a bomb exploded in central Marrakech in what turned out to be a terrorist attack. The explosion happened in a cafe used as a meeting point for students enjoying a holiday after their journey, five minutes before the daily meeting time.
I wasn’t in the office at the time, but took a call on the dedicated emergency mobile from a student participant who had witnessed the explosion. I immediately rushed into the office, fearing the worst.
Link operated an excellent daily tracking system which meant that we knew the location of all our student groups within the last 12-24 hours. However, we had over 600 students whom we couldn’t completely rule out as having been in Marrakech when the incident happened.
Despite our concern, we knew we had robust safety measures in place. We immediately sent emergency text messages to participants to check they were safe and had a great process for logging incoming information quickly. We were trained to respond to worried parents and even had a dedicated contact person at the FCO.
Within two hours, we had spoken to most of our students. Later that night, the final person got back to us – he’d been out of contact after taking an early flight home to Heathrow. All 600 students were confirmed as safe, although some had been in the cafe at the time of the explosion and were understandably distressed.
I couldn’t be more proud of the way my team reacted in very challenging circumstances. Everybody kept calm and relied on the processes we had in place. However, the message was clear – very unlikely scenarios can happen and you must always plan accordingly. As an event organiser, it’s your responsibility to be prepared for anything.
I hope that hearing about my eight biggest lessons will help you to improve the way that you create, promote and organise your own fundraising events. If you have any questions, please comment below or get in touch.
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