Category Archives: Running an Event

Is your Special Event Boom or Bust?



First and foremost a special event needs to be enjoyable. To that end it needs the right venue, the right food, the right environment, the right audience and the right price.  Consider your goals when approaching each of these and a good rule of thumb is based on whether you would enjoy what is being offered and better yet, if you would go back to experience it again!

  What is the objective?
It’s important to understand what the event wants to achieve. There are many activities competing for attendees and dollars these days. Consider carefully how to ensure that event guests understand the charity’s needs and enable them to contribute financially.

I recently attended two similar fundraising events with slightly different outcomes. Let’s take a closer look at what made one of them far more successful than the other.

The first event was to fund activities in central Africa. I arrived to a room teaming with guests. The event featured silent auction tables and a bountiful buffet. The key to this event and its outcome was the auctioneer, a city media celebrity with a great knack for entertaining people who made sure the auction was a success.

Connect your guests to the mission
Rather than building complacence after a heavy meal, the auctioneer stepped up to the microphone and announced the live auction.  Attendees could “purchase” beds for a hospital, goats and chickens, there was a rather large donation needed for a health related area on the table.  The Beds were about $100.00 each so he started with a request for 40 beds … as one hand went up after another, he counted … 40 Beds done.  Next, came the request for a goat, kid and chicken, 50 sets for families. The price $65.00 … so let’s see those hands once more.  As the hands went up volunteers passed each contributor a form to complete which would be used to make a payment over the course of the evening.

This approach was very successful. Rather than wasting dollars on frippery at the silent auction table, people could see that what they were purchasing was directly assisting the charity’s goal to provide this community with what it needed.

The second event was for a charity working in North Africa.  This event was less successful but had just as much potential. The charity was looking for money to help support children to attend one full school year. Desks, books, a uniform and medical help were required. At no time, were these items offered through a live auction. The event, although nice to attend, forgot the time old truth – you need to ask!

Investing in a personality who will make ‘the ask’, works. Depending on the age of the audience you may find people who no longer want to collect unessential things through auction purchases but rather have discretionary income to purchase an item of value to the charity in question. Forty dollars for a desk is an easy ask, or a full package for one child for a mere $275.00.

When hosting your next event be sure to consider your goals. Look at what you hope to achieve and how you can frame your ‘ask’ to encourage guests can give. Purchasing something of value gives donors the feeling they have made a difference.

In Conclusion
Be sure you record what guests have spent and follow up with them. It’s always nice to be informed about those who have been generous by recording the amounts gifted in your donor management software. Having the full giving history is definitely an advantage when engaging with your charity’s supporters.

Side Note: When you go to a restaurant your server will often ask how you liked your meal. We would like to suggest a better question being ‘Would you come back?’. I think this is equally relevant for a special event hosted by a charity.



Hosting a Successful Conference: an Exhibitor’s Point of View

NagaWe have been an exhibitor or sponsor/exhibitor at several conferences.  It takes thoughtful planning to hosting a conference successful for everyone involved.  We would like to comment on the role of exhibitors and how you can ensure your conference will be well attended by exhibitors and sponsors alike.

Exhibitors view a conference as a business opportunity.  They balance the cost of attending the conference with the benefit of meeting new clients.   The cost of travel, shipping, time away from the office, staffing, materials and the exhibitor registration needs to be offset by the benefits and opportunities the conference provides. To meet with new or existing clients away from the hectic pace of an office is a benefit to exhibitors.  Delegates on the other hand, also benefit from this time to acquaint themselves with what’s new in the marketplace.

Exhibitors give added value to a conference.  They are a rich source of information and ideas.  They can update delegates on new services and products in an exclusive environment.  Exhibitors bring an important influx of cash to pay conference costs and reduce delegate fees.  They are an integral part of conference activity.

The role of the conference committee is to ensure that everyone benefits.  We begin our comments with location.

Location Location Location! Where a conference is held is an important consideration.  Issues like accessibility, services, space and cost are important factors. From an exhibitor’s perspective, access to the target audience is key. When the location is too far afield, the cost of travel, transporting exhibitor booths and materials, and additional transportation requirements all become a factor in deciding to attend.  The conference committee needs to assess who they want attending; only local exhibitors, only deep pocket exhibitors, or a wider array of potential exhibitors that will be of greater benefit to their delegates.

The position of the exhibitor hall, and the routing of delegates as they move throughout the day to encourage traffic is important to exhibitors. Time for delegates to attend the exhibit hall is often relegated to coffee breaks and lunch.  However, when coffee breaks include a trip to the bathroom and chatting with a new colleague or listening to the lunch speaker before rushing off to the first afternoon session, exhibitors will begin to wonder if their presence is valued or whether they were invited as the proverbial cash cow?

Some conferences offer a social evening in the exhibitor hall.  No one is rushed, everyone has a bit more time and is encouraged to meet and greet.  A social event the day before the conference goes into full swing, usually means that local participants will not attend and those coming from afar will just be checking in.  This is not viewed as a generous offering that benefits exhibitors but rather short shrift to attempt to be doing the right thing.

As an exhibitor, we have a few suggestions.  First, you want your conference to provide such value that exhibitors and sponsors are signing up a year in advance. You can do this very easily if you follow a few steps:

  1. Provide time in the schedule for delegates to visit with exhibitors during the day.  Coffee breaks and lunch hours are of limited value.  Bathroom breaks, chatting with other delegates, listening to a speaker, catching phone messages, grabbing a coffee or eating lunch.  There is no time for exhibitors and to offer this time is chintzy.
  2. Don’t fill the delegate schedule so full that they are ready to drop.  Again, everyone needs a bit of their own time and  many exhibitors are a wealth of knowledge and ideas.
  3. Host a special event with the exhibitors in the exhibitor hall.  The more the merrier is very true.
  4. Add the visit to the exhibitor hall on the conference evaluation form.  It provides delegates with a different perspective and helps them understand that exhibitors are important too. After all, exhibitors want time to introduce their products and services in a professional manner.  Keep in mind, your delegates most likely are selling something to their potential client base as well!
  5. Ensure that there is proximity to where delegates spend their day and where exhibits are housed.
  6. If you have promised a delegate list, make it a full list and make sure it is correct. A pleasant invitation can go out to delegates prior to the event from those exhibitors wishing to send one.  Responses like “Take me off your list.” or “How did you get my email address?” show that delegates were not made aware of the importance of exhibitors.
  7. Most exhibitors will stay with their booth over the lunch hour.  Put out some buns and cold cuts.  You would never sit down to eat in your home or office and leave others to stand and watch …would you?  Hospitality to all concerned is beneficial particularly considering the cost and time some exhibitors have contributed.
  8. Take time to thank each exhibitor / sponsor for attending.  A face to face thank you from the committee is a demonstration of professionalism and good manners.

Where did we get all these outrageous ideas?  Well, we have chaired conferences and tradeshow events and we have been exhibitors and sponsors. Our comments are a result of our experiences as a conference participant.

The key to running any event is simple.  If I was in the shoes of the delegate, exhibitor, or sponsor would I feel this was a successful use of my time, my resources and my money?

It’s not just what you get that makes a great event, it’s what you give that makes it exceptional!