The Ultimate Non-Profit Event Planning Checklist
Events are a fantastic way of raising money for nonprofit organisations. They offer a lot of value to attendees and can be a fantastic way to encourage generous donations and support, particularly when you offer unique or exclusive experiences as part of your itinerary.
Organising a successful event does require a lot of planning and coordination however, which is why using a time-based checklist is a great option for ensuring that everything gets completed in time. If you’ve been looking for one of these for your next nonprofit event then look no further; here’s our ultimate non-profit event planning checklist.
Non-Profit Event Planning Checklist
If you’re planning a non-profit event then the best way to ensure that it goes without a hitch is to start with a concise checklist of everything that needs to be done. No matter the size, theme or function, here’s our ultimate checklist for nonprofit event planning.
1 Year Before
Set Event Goals
Before you begin with anything else, start by setting goals for your nonprofit event. Decide on the amount of money you want to raise or support you want to secure, any marketing goals, and how this feeds into any other, wider business goals.
You’ll also need to decide on the type of event you’re hosting, the size of this, what you want the experience to involve and consider what kinds of expectations your guests might have.
Set exact and achievable goals and establish how you’re going to measure your progress towards these and how successful you have been.
Select a Date
You should set the date of your event up to a year before it takes place, as this gives you ample time to find a suitable venue, find the right vendors and ensure that all your guests and attendees don’t double book themselves and miss it.
Book a Venue
This last step doesn’t need to be a whole year in advance, but the sooner you book your event venue the better, especially if you’re planning on inviting a lot of people. Popular event spaces can be booked up over a year in advance, so it’s a good idea to make this task a priority.
You should also consider things like access needs when it comes to booking a venue. This is a great way to make your event as inclusive as possible, whether that’s by ensuring disabled people will be able to enter and move around with an issue, considering having speeches captioned or signed, and including a space where anyone neurodivergent can use if they’re feeling overstimulated.
9 Months Before
Establish a Budget
When organising a non-profit event, you’ll want to be as cost-effective as possible when it comes to allocating and spending your budget. Once you’ve got the venue hire cost out of the way, you’ll need to know how much money you have left before you start making plans for food and entertainment, as your budget will heavily influence what you can choose.
Choose Your Team
It’s a good idea to start assembling an event planning team as soon as you can so that everyone involved understands the timeframe they’re working with and is given enough warning to get their responsibilities sorted. If you work as part of an event planning company then you’ll likely already have this group assembled, but otherwise you’ll need to source other people that have the right skills and experience to bring your non-profit event together.
Plan Marketing Approach
Once you’ve got the initial details of your event outlined, it’s time to start planning how you’re going to market it. At this stage, you won’t be creating or distributing any content, but you should choose which marketing formats you’ll use (email, social media etc), which platforms you’ll distribute your marketing material on and the goals you’d like to achieve with your content.
6 Months Before
Confirm the Venue
Whilst you’ll likely have booked your event venue a while ago, it’s a good idea to confirm this before you start booking other elements of the event. In most cases, this confirmation is just for peace of mind, but it can save you a lot of trouble if something has changed since your initial booking.
You’re also going to start advertising the event soon, and it’s good to have the venue confirmed to do this.
Now you’ve got your event planning team assembled, you’ll need to use this checklist and any other to-do lists to assign tasks. Make sure that everyone is clear on their responsibilities and deadlines for each of these and establish a method of tracking progress and confirming completion so everyone can see what’s been done and what still needs doing.
Gather Vendor Quotes
You might not be able to book certain vendors at this stage, but at the 6-month mark you should start collecting quotes from different suppliers to get an idea of what everything might cost. Shop around to see what’s available and what kind of deals you can get, and don’t forget to check whether you need to use approved vendors in your chosen venue.
Start Initial Advertising
Whilst you may not have the specifics of your event sorted at this stage, once you’re six months away from the date it’s a good idea to begin initially advertising the event. Share teasers of what’s to come, start promoting the goals or cause that the event is helping to support, and get in touch with people you know you’d like to invite.
If your event is going to involve speakers or entertainment, you should start booking these 4-5 months in advance. The scale of these will really depend on the kind of event you’re throwing, the space available in the venue and what kind of things you think your guests will enjoy.
Along with organising entertainment and talks, catering is a key item that you can’t forget from your big event planning checklist. You will hopefully already have been in contact with caterers to gather quotes, so at this stage you need to narrow down the selection and choose which option you’re going to go for.
Not all nonprofit events have sponsors, but it can be a great way to boost your budget, add to your event itinerary and spread the word further to grow your guest list. Once you’ve got the date, cause, theme and initial catering and entertainment ideas sorted, you can now approach potential sponsors and ask if they’d like to be involved with your event.
Once you’re three months away from the event, it’s time to put tickets on sale. Decide how you’re going to distribute these and what payment system you’re going to use, and set up a support system or FAQ page to help any attendee struggling to complete their booking.
As well as releasing tickets for attendees, you may also want to invite guests to the event that have a link to the theme or cause. You can offer certain guests a reduced ticket rate if your budget accounts for this and you really want to attend, but this task is more about outreaching people you think would be interested and persuading them to buy a ticket.
Now there are only three months to go, this is the point to increase your advertising efforts to ensure that your event is going to receive as much attention as possible. Consider targeting those who have already bought tickets as well as attendees to start building excitement about the event and encouraging them to get other people they know to buy a ticket as well.
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At two months away from the event, start planning how you’re going to decorate the venue. You might be delegating this task to a professional, in which case you’ll need a rough idea of how you’d like the space to look, or your team may be doing the decorating yourself, in which case you’ll need to order appropriate decorations and come up with a plan for installing them.
In order to get coverage of your event, bring more attention to the cause and increase the likelihood that more people will attend your next one, you’ll need the press to attend. The number of people you invite will really depend on the size and purpose of the event, but you should start outreaching two months in advance to ensure that you get the coverage you’re aiming for.
Confirm Catering Options
If you’re catering for your event with a buffet or finger food then this won’t be too big a task, but if you’re giving your guests a sit-down meal then you’ll need to start confirming the catering options around a month in advance to ensure that nothing goes wrong on the day. This is especially important for any guests that have allergies or intolerances, so be sure to account for this.
Create Seating Plan
A month prior to your event you should have a good idea of the number of guests that will be attending, so it’s time to start arranging a seating plan, if relevant. This will likely change before the event takes place, so use a system that can be flexible, but start grouping guests and organising the space.
Establish Event Schedule
At this stage you will ideally have your catering, guests and entertainment organised, so you can start putting together a rough schedule of how you’d like the event to run. Again, this will probably need to be tweaked a bit nearer to the time, but the sooner you have an initial plan the easier it will be to start bringing the different elements of the event together.
Send Event Reminders
When your event is two weeks away, send all of your guests reminders of the date and what time they should arrive, and share more information about what is going to happen and what they can look forward to. This is also a great time to give additional information about transport, parking, dress code and food options.
Confirm Guest Attendees
If you’ve invited specific guests or speakers to your event, this is also the time to confirm that they’re attending. This is particularly important with speakers, as you’ll need to update your schedule and manage expectations if their plans have changed.
Receive Decorations and Favours
If you’re handling any of the decorating yourself, it’s a good idea to get this delivered before the day of the event. This way, you can account for any delivery delays and also have time to come up with alternate options if anything you’ve ordered isn’t working as you hoped.
Certain events may also involve favours for guests or things like name badges, which are very useful to have delivered at least a week prior to the event.
With a week to go, get in touch with any vendors and brief them on exactly when they need to arrive and what you’re expecting from them at the event. Establish your expectations and give them a key contact to get in touch with if they have any issues or questions leading up to or during the event.
Distribute Press Packs
If you’re inviting any press to your event, you can send them information about what it’s supporting and what they can expect before the day. This can increase the likelihood of getting coverage, as they’ll be able to start thinking about angles and already have a lot of useful information on hand.
On the Day
Set up Signage
On the day of the event, make sure that you set up appropriate signage to and around the venue so that guests know where they need to go. If possible, you can arrange to have staff on hand to guide them to improve the experience and make sure that nobody gets lost.
Check in Guests
Finally, have an updated guest list ready and ensure that every attendee is accounted for when they arrive. This means you can make any last-minute changes to things like catering and seating plans, and make sure that you’re not waiting for anyone before getting into the swing of things.
Event planning is a logistical challenge, especially when the event is large and you’re working with a team that involves lots of different people. Using a checklist and keeping track of progress using a centralised system is the best way to make sure that you don’t miss anything important and seamlessly bring together all the elements needed to pull off a successful event, and we’ve covered all the essentials in the guide above.
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