Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 9 seconds

Heather Carpenter , a veteran nonprofit manager and consultant who’s now a Ph.D. student in Nonprofit Leadership, recalls an event she planned for Aspiration , an organization that advises other nonprofits on technology.  “For one meal we were having hamburgers. We had everything we needed -- except condiments."

No big deal, right?  Wrong, says Carpenter. "People noticed that. People notice everything."

Which is why, when asked about the most essential elements of event planning, she emphasizes that an event planner should have both a timeline and detailed checklists that she reviews with the entire team. “Teammates will often remind you about things you, as main event coordinator, will have overlooked,” she says.

Like condiments.

A few years later, Carpenter created a set of event planning templates for Aspiration, but made them freely available through the company’s blog. Within days, the templates were being downloaded by organizers hungry for guidance, and, Carpenter says, the templates remain a popular resource.

It’s not surprising, because planning events of just abouto any size can be complex, says Beth Kanter, who consults with and trains nonprofits on the effective use of new Web tools. She says that inherent complexity makes it crucial that planners and event attendees are comfortable with the technologies – because most of these new tools both provide content and facilitate communication.

Holly Ross, the executive director of NTEN, agrees. "It's crucial to follow your users and attendees," she says.

Ross should know, having overseen the 2008 Nonprofit Technology Conference , which was highly praised for enabling the effective use of new Web tools. The conference was heavily documented with blog posts, wikis, and plenty of real-time chat.

Lots of advance planning made the difference. "Our attendees were starting to use Twitter in 2007," says Ross. "We had created some pages on our Web site for back-channel chatter during the conference, but people didn't want to go to a place on our Web site.”

So NTEN followed its users, and Twitter turned out to be a crucial, heavily used channel.

Ross knows this because, she says, "We track everything. We can see how many people are subscribed to and using our listserv. We tracked blog posts and Twitter tweets and photos uploaded to Flickr by asking users to tag them "08NTC." Tracking the tags, Ross adds, “really gives a sense of where people are at, what they're using, and what they're excited about,”

Other tips from the tech pros:

1. Plan for emergencies. This means having an easily accessible contact list of key event people who are in charge of venues, food, lodging, etc., and having backup plans for what to do when the unexpected happens.

2. Automate what you can, and make sure your budget (and system) can support the automation. Registration, says Kanter, is a key element of an event that's easily automated. But if you're planning a small event on a tight budget, it may not be necessary or desirable.

3. Don't forget to use the phone. Email, Carpenter cautions, can be disruptive, especially when mailboxes are overflowing. And email messages can be much more easily misconstrued than a phone discussion.

4. Monitor -- and moderate -- online communications. The 2008 NTEN conference used many different platforms to produce lots of documentation before, during, and after the event. Things went very well even during the planning stages, and it was no accident. "Each of the resources that we're using is monitored by someone," says Ross. "And not just to watch for bad content but to help spur conversation -- to ask questions, post ideas that will get people talking to each other ahead of time."

5. Provide training for relatively new tools. After NTEN decided to go with Twitter as a backchannel tool for its 2008 conference, it held a webinar called "Twitter Me This !" to show attendees how to use it. The webinar was live and was also kept accessible for those who weren't able to attend.

6. Remember that the tools are a means to an end. "Don't try something new just to try something new," warns Kanter. "Try something new for a particular reason."

And ones already covered in the main article:

7. Have a shared event planning timeline.

8. Plan the event as a team. Even the most experienced event planners will overlook some crucial details, and team members can help to keep this from happening.

9. Being on the cutting edge isn’t necessary. Use tools that your organization is already comfortable with. Some organizations find that shared calendars, like those available free through Google, Yahoo, and other providers, are very useful. NTEN uses listservs, a technology that predates the Web browser.

10. Follow your users. "Don't just put the tool out there and say, "Oh, I hope someone uses it!" warns Ross. Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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