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Event Planning Up Front

Event planningEvents remain a top source of fundraising for nonprofits but advertising and promotion dollars are steadily dwindling making it harder to pump up participation and donations. “I believe it’s an art to work with a small budget, especially when the economy takes a nose dive,” says Mandy J. Kimmer, APR, CPRC, Marketing/Public Relations Coordinator, The OC Club, Orange County Parks & Recreation.

The advent of social media and online marketing tools has proven a lifesaver for beleaguered nonprofits trying to weather an economic storm. “As Director of NYWSE, I have tweeted, myspaced, facebooked, linkedin-ed, blogged, and eventbrite-d my way into holding successful and highly-attended events,” says Natalia Oberti Noguera, director of New York Women Social Entrepreneurs (NYWSE).

Although networking and event planning tools vary in use and appeal, they all share a common goal: engagement.

“Social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook are making it easier and more efficient for non-profits like ours to communicate to a broader group of supporters in real time and to activate people on various levels,” says Aviva Gibbs, executive director of the Illinois Technology Partnership. “Many of these tools are very low-cost if not free, and it’s important that all non-profits, regardless of budget or location, have access to technologies that will help them target their audience and accomplish their mission.”

As much a boon as social media and online communication efforts have been, they are still relatively new and little is available to help guide nonprofit efforts. To that end, here is an inside look at the leading tools.

The Freebies:

  • Facebook: a free, social networking website. “Creating a Facebook event increases the visibility of an event, but event planners should make sure to include, for example, the Eventbrite announcement, especially if a small fee is requested,” advises Noguera. “It can be challenging to convert Facebook RSVPs into actual attendees, and people's response of ‘Maybe’ can make it even more difficult to gauge real attendance numbers. “
  • LinkedIn: a business-oriented social networking site “Advertising through LinkedIn groups can leverage group membership into a useful marketing opportunity,” says Noguera.
  • Twitter: a free social messaging utility for staying connected in real-time “I would recommend tweeting events as followers can and will retweet, expanding the potential outreach to other networks and communities,” says Noguera.
  • Event Wax: a standalone micro-site for event organization. “EventWax is a surprisingly powerful and versatile (free, even!) event planning tool,” says Adria Richards, an Organic Technology Consultant and self-proclaimed frustrated volunteer who champions technology use in charities.
  • Websites/Blogs: Most Non-Profits already have a web site in place; adding a fundraising and event planning aspect should be a given. “For example, if your website is already running a Content Management System (CMS) like Joomla or Drupal, you can install a module to create events and polls,” says Richards.
  • Ebay/Craigslist: “One other technology tool I use for keeping costs down with my events is Ebay,” says Bethany Papenbrock, a Seattle-based freelance event producer. “If I have to buy something new for an event, I try to then resale it on Ebay to absorb some of the purchase price.” Incidentally, she also buys event support items online. “I look to purchase online either locally through Craigslist or on Ebay,” she says. “Old cheap projectors, as long as they work, can be great ways to fill a blank event space while serving as a promotional tool for the Non-Profit.”
The Pay for Service Tools:

  • SMS/ Texting/Mobile: It’s important not to overlook the mobile aspect of communications, especially given the proliferation of cell phones worldwide. “SMS is the newest fundraising tool to attract major attention in the non profit world,’ says Reed Baker, chief executive officer of Sophist Productions, a company that created a mobile fundraising program called Text-to-Pledge. The program targets major donors at large scale fundraisers and has raised nearly $2 Million to date. While Text-to-Pledge is primarily a fundraising tool, the program collects mobile information from participants spontaneously. As the Text-to-Pledge process is opt in, Non Profits can call and/or text donors in order to boost promotional efforts and collections, in addition to fundraising.
  • Targeted email: Emailing and texting are now the leading forms of communication. For email programs to be effective, and not barred as spam, it must be highly targeted and selectively used. “We use Exact Target, an e-mail marketing service to conduct outreach – this service allows us to track and monitor interest gained through our e-mail content,” says Gibbs.
  • Digital newsletters: “The most important tool that we use for the promotion of our programs is our newsletter,” says Jerri Barrett, director of marketing at Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. “We use Constant Contact to generate two newsletters per month. Over the last year we’ve grown our newsletter distribution from 5400 to 9500 readers. We generate all the material that’s included internally which keeps our costs down. We spend less than $200 per month to distribute our newsletter and it is an inexpensive way to reach our constituency.”
  • Complete Event Planning Tools: A quick sampling of tools available in this category:
  • Eventbrite is an online event registration service .
  • RegOnline, part of The Active Network, provides online event registration, planning and management software to over 1,700 non-profits and associations.
  • Acteva, an online event registration and payment solution
  • Convio’s Event 360 is a leading designer and director of events for nonprofits
  •, an online fundraising facilitator.
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