Nonprofit Events, Part 1

In this episode of the Nonprofit Jenni Show podcast, I talked about nonprofit events... ALL the nonprofit events! Whether they be client-serving, fundraising, awareness raising, or any other type of -ing, I can bet you we discussed it on this episode. My guests on Part 1 included Emily Layton from Waves and Kristen Korzenowski from the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. 

Please note: I highly encourage you to listen to Episode 2 of Season 2 before reading this blog post! My blog lists some great “action items” for you to take after you listen to the podcast, plus additional resources you can check out if you have further questions. However, my podcast guests give so much additional rich information which isn’t included in the article you’re about the read.

My first guest this episode was Emily Layton, and I was excited to talk to her because she is such a boss, and actually hosts four major events every year with Waves. Three of their events are fundraisers, and the fourth is a 'friendraiser,' where board members, volunteers, and other supporters can invite their friends to come learn about the organization without the pressure of a donation ask. In the friendraiser, individuals with disabilities submit their artwork for a silent auction and get to keep 100% of the proceeds--Waves does not take a cut. The goal is to increase awareness about everyone's different abilities, as well as Waves' role in the supporting disabled individuals.

Emily's advice to creating a successful event is to reevaluate each event every single year. Sometimes events are 'tried and true,' and not much has to change from year to year... But you shouldn't ever feel so comfortable with an event that you aren't always looking for new potential sponsors, new marketing options, and other ways to innovate. Emily suggested the following questions:

  • Is this event growing every year?
  • Does this event attract new people each year?
  • Is it accomplishing my goals? (And remember, you can't set all the goals for one event. You need to prioritize whether you want the goal to revolve around demographics of the attendees, donations, awareness and community engagement, volunteer count, or something else.)

Emily also emphasized that your goals should really lead your event. If your goal is to raise awareness about a problem in the community, you may want your event to be heavily mission-focused with lots of storytelling and very little activities on the part of the audience. On the other hand, if the event is a fun, upbeat fundraiser, you don't want to bring down the mood halfway through with a heart wrenching story.

One of Emily's new favorite trends in the nonprofit events world is the 'mini-event,' where individuals take it upon themselves to host a little cocktail party or even a birthday party with the goal of raising money for an organization they care about. Organizations can use different online platforms like Classy or Crowdrise to empower individuals to fundraise on the nonprofit's behalf, without having to worry about security issues and where the payments go.

I also had so much fun talking to Kristen Korzenowski from CFMT. Kristen's role is helping individuals in the community plan and support fundraising events, so she's basically seen it all! Here were some of the most creative events she told me about on the podcast:

  • Pig races
  • An auction, where high-profile community leaders baked pastries and cakes to auction off
  • Clay pigeon shooting
  • Red White and Brew for the 4th of July with all-you-want food and beer samples

Kristen and I talked a lot about event trends, because it's important to stay relevant and ahead of community trends so you can attract people who may be unaware of your cause and just want to come out for a fun event. She suggested that nonprofits let their target audience guide the event planning. For example, at one of her events, her target audience was Millennials. They started off with food truck events, but then realized food trucks were becoming increasingly more common and less trendy. To keep the event affordable for this generation, they switched to beer tastings, which are less expensive than wine tastings. They also moved the event indoors, because outdoor festivals were becoming too common.

Several times throughout our conversations, Kristen and Emily both mentioned it's best to start with connections you already have as you work on your event planning. Find out who on your board knows people who own or work for event venues, catering companies, and corporations who would be able to sponsor the event. Most importantly, Kristen recommended that you commit to a budget and stay within it, even if it means you have to start small. It's more important to have a small idea executed well than to feel like you're grasping at straws with something you can't pull off well.

Help me decide what to discuss next on the Nonprofit Jenni Show! Visit my Patreon page for information about how you can submit topic ideas, anonymous questions, and nominations for the Submit A Brag segment.