Nonprofit Events, Part 2

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 2 included Lyndsay Wilkinson from Youth Villages and Audra Almond Harvey from abrasiveMedia

Please note: I highly encourage you to listen to Episode 3 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 Lyndsay, and she and I discussed all kinds of ways to get corporate sponsors involved in supporting your organization's events and programs. Youth Villages has dozens (possibly hundreds) of corporate sponsors, but some of the sponsors Lyndsay works with include:

  • Dell
  • HCA
  • Bridgestone
  • Nashville Predators
  • Coca-Cola Bottling
  • Piedmont Natural Gas
  • Jim 'n' Nick's BBQ

I asked Lyndsay how these sponsors get involved with her nonprofit, and she listed some fabulous examples. (This blog post is just about event sponsorships, but listen to the episode to hear some more examples of involvement!) In return, Youth Villages does its best to support these sponsoring businesses. For example, all of their offices and youth homes use Dell computers, and they use Jim 'n' Nick's to cater their board meetings. The corporate sponsors also benefit from gaining new customers among the nonprofit's staff members and their friends. Most importantly, Youth Villages recognizes their corporate sponsors with more than just on-site visibility at the events--they are thanked through e-newsletters, social media posts, the website, and one-on-one recap meetings after the event.

Lyndsay has been working in development for Youth Villages for years, so I asked her for her advice to other nonprofit professionals and volunteers who are responsible for soliciting sponsorships. Here was some of her advice:

  • Don't be afraid to make the ask! The answer is always 'no' if you don't even ask the question.
  • Even if the answer is no, most corporations do want to contribute to your cause in some other way. For example, they may want to purchase some tickets to the event, make an in-kind donation, or send volunteers to help with the event.
  • Find out what your targeted companies value. Do they mainly care about activation opportunities, signage with their logos displayed, receiving tickets to the events, or something else? Then find the opportunity that fits those values.
  • Be sure your sponsorship package explains, in detail, all of the benefits they will receive.
  • Work the connections you and your board already have. Personal connections will pay off more than cold calling.
  • If possible, make the first ask in person or through a phone call.
  • Take photos of all the places each sponsor's logo appears at the event so you can include these in your future solicitation materials, and as a recap for all the sponsors at this year's event. In the recap, also include info about the attendance at the event, number of volunteers who were also there, and any other major milestones.

After my conversation with Lyndsay about sponsorships, I wanted to dig deeper into the actual planning process of an event. I decided to talk to one of the most knowledgeable people I know in the arts space, because arts organizations host some of the biggest, most creative events in the nonprofit world. I spoke with Audra, who recently co-created an experiential performance event called 'Haunted,' based on a train crash that occurred in 1918. The performance was unique because guests didn't simply sit and watch a show--they actually walked through a decorated building full of actors, where they had to decide who to interact with and how to explore the full space.

The Haunted performance was the result of a collaboration between several arts organizations and professionals who had to consider not only the path which guests were most likely to walk through, but how to make the performance make sense for guests who took more unique routes through the space. Some of the steps Audra and her team had to consider included:

  • Making a plan for parking, restrooms, trash, and other practical aspects
  • Developing a budget based on ticket costs, rentals, marketing, hiring actors, and other expenses
  • Planning the design of the space, which included borrowing props and costumes from many companies and other organizations
  • Delegating tasks among all of the co-collaborators

There were so many moving parts to consider, I asked Audra how she avoids becoming bogged down with details while still presenting a well-planned performance. She told me one of the biggest strategies she uses is thinking through other events she has attended. How much was the ticket price, and what did she receive in exchange for that cost? What were the most memorable pieces of other events she has attended? What were some details she didn't remember or care about? And what does she want audience members to take away from this upcoming event?

One of the biggest questions I asked Audra was about her budget. Events can sometimes be very expensive to pull off, and it can be difficult for newer nonprofits to know how to create a budget when they don't have previous experiences to compare with. Some of her advice included:

  • Pre-selling tickets to help you get some seed money
  • Do not rent a venue which you can't pay for in full
  • Add 10% to your budget for wiggle room when things go wrong
  • Start with as practical a plan as possible, and then add your passion and vision afterward
  • Do not change your theme or concept after you've committed to it

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