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Special events done right

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Heather Denkmire

Heather Denkmire

Heather Denkmire

For long-term organizational health, nonprofits should strive to increase their overall visibility. Special events can play an effective role in this goal.

Accurately referred to as “cultivation events,” most special events should focus on awareness, visibility and sharing information.

With proper planning and a clear understanding of the event goals (cultivation through visibility), special events can help an organization connect with a wide audience in personally relevant and memorable ways.

Here are the top five tips to remember when planning an organization’s special event:

  • Match the event to the mission. Use events to help the organization realize its larger vision. For example, an environmental organization might organize a riverbank clean-up, or a food pantry might have a baking contest with all baked goods donated to the food pantry’s clients.
  • Make it unique. Bake sales and car washes are so common they tend to blend in to the background rather than standing out effectively. Brainstorm creative events not seen in your community. With unique events, media easily see the hook and give better coverage. Some unique ideas include “stay-at-home” events, clean-a-thons or community yard sales.
  • Market your message. The organization’s name and mission statement should appear prominently throughout the event. Identify key times to clearly communicate the organization’s message. Be sure to connect with local media and have volunteers available for photos and interviews.
  • Keep it fun. Events have a tendency to take on a life of their own. To-do lists grow, volunteers tire or get busy, and every task can seem burdensome. Always have someone in your planning group ready to keep everything in perspective. Events should be fun, not frightening.
  • Plan for follow-up. Good ways to follow up include adding prospect names to your mailing list and sending thank-you letters. Follow-up can be an email or personal phone call from a board member or event committee member to patrons of the event.

Special events can build relationships, helping the public feel connected to an organization’s cause. An event provides solid “face time” with the community, sometimes laying the groundwork for financial support. Events build loyalty, create buzz, and generate goodwill.

Best of all, since special events are not traditional marketing, they can be designed to work with your budget.


Heather Denkmire runs grantwinners.net. She can be reached atinfo@grantwinners.net or through the website

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