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How to plan an event without losing your sanity

Event planning. Two words that strike terror into the hearts of many nonprofit professionals. All nonprofits have events that require hours of thorough planning and relentless attention to detail. And the pressure! One thing goes wrong and everyone starts talking. If you go to an event where everything looked easy… you know planning it wasn’t easy. 

Despite my aversion to event planning, I’ve done a lot of it through work and as a volunteer with YNPN’s Programming Committee. After lots of hyperventilating, I can share my tips to help minimize your event-planning pressure.

Plan early. 

This can’t be stressed enough. Start earlier than you think. As a general guideline: timelines depend on the size and complexity of event—extend or decrease my suggestions here as needed.

  • Planning team: Decide who will help or provide input on your event about four months in advance. Get your team together before you’re even planning so you can learn their ideas and expectations early.
  • Timeline and checklist: After you meet with your planning team, draft a timeline and make a checklist of event essentials. Your checklist may include items like table captains, door prizes, handouts, registration volunteers, etc. – all the minutiae you need to eventually address. 
  • Invitation list: Sometimes this is obvious, i.e. invite everyone on your email list. But if you’re targeting your event to a narrower audience, determine the invitation list with your planning team 3 months ahead of time. You may need several weeks to gather names and contact info and route the list for proofing.
  • Date and location: These need to be nailed down before moving forward with invitations or marketing. Set these first and fill in the details later. If you have a speaker, you’ll need to factor in their availability along with the venue’s. If you are sending invites 6-8 weeks out, you usually need the date and location 8-10 weeks out so invitations can be developed.
  • Marketing: It takes time to create invitations and approval from the right people. Follow that with more time for printing invitations or sending emails. If someone else is doing marketing, keep them happy by giving them enough lead time to be successful and providing them with resources they need. This may require two weeks or more if you are printing invites.

Delegate. 

You can't do this without your team. Even if you don't supervise anyone, you need colleagues who are willing to help. If you're running an event as a volunteer, you definitely need a committee. You probably need people to wear some (if not all) of these hats:

  • Registration
  • Greeters
  • Volunteer manager
  • A/V
  • Sponsor handler
  • Speaker handler
  • Set-up and clean-up helpers
  • Floaters
  • Photographer/videographer
  • Social media

This is just a sampling of roles you may need at your event. Sign people up as soon as the event is being promoted (if not sooner!) and provide any training they need.

Pack with purpose. 

Get as much as you can together at least a day before the event. This will save you tons of stress on the actual event day. Some tips:

  • Make a detailed packing list the week prior.
  • Always think about related objects – do you have the cable to connect the projector and the laptop? Do you have pens to go with those forms people need to fill out?
  • Print as much as you can the day before (at least). Nothing is worse than a printer meltdown the day of the event.
  • Pack random items (scissors, duct tape, safety pins) that will help you solve unexpected problems and look amazingly prepared to boot.

Follow up. 

The next day, cross the final things off your list:

  • Send thank you notes to everyone who made your event shine.
  • If you collected money or information (i.e. email addresses, evaluations), send them where they need to go.
  • Write a recap for yourself to document what you learned. If your organization  blogs about events, this could be incredibly useful.
  • Send a follow-up survey (if you have one).

I hope some of these tips help you manage your event-planning stress. Don’t forget to schedule some de-stress time for yourself afterwards, be it a massage, drink, or walk outside. Events are stressful, and taking care of yourself is essential to maintain your sanity so you don’t run away when it’s time to plan the the next one.

What are your event planning tips?


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