2015 was an absolutely insane year. Not only did we get Drink for Pink up and off the ground, but we hit the ground running with eight total events over the course of a month. It was exhilarating, exciting, and, yes, exhausting.
As we gear up and start planning events for 2016, we’re reflecting back on everything we learned throughout the busy month of October in 2015. Some pieces (planning farther in advance) seem rather common sense. Others (personalized “Thank you” emails) aren’t so obvious.
Since we’re learning on the go, we thought we would share some of the bigger takeaways about nonprofit event planning specifically.
Lesson 1: Nail your message beforehand
Drink for Pink was setup to raise money for breast cancer. Seems simple enough right? Why breast cancer? How is the money being used? Why are you partnering with breweries? Isn’t that counterproductive?
Event attendees were asking the right questions. 99% of the time, we had answers. After all, these are issues near and dear to everyone at Drink for Pink. While breast cancer is a popular cause receiving millions of dollars in donations, there’s still a long way to go. We’re giving the money directly to promising research (that will spill over into other cancers as well). We believe that breweries hold a special place in the heart of Colorado and present an amazing avenue to spread our message.
Even though everyone was generally on the same page, each time we would get up on a table to speak to the crowd, the words sounded just a bit different. One night, the presentation might go flawlessly while the next had some minor hitches. Since this was our first time speaking to large crowds about Drink for Pink, we wanted to nail it, but with everything else going on, we didn’t have a chance to practice.
In most cases, you only get one chance to nail the initial presentation. We didn’t do terribly by any means, but we should’ve spent more time preparing beforehand making sure everyone on the team had the pitch down to a T.
Lesson 2: Create a consistent reporting structure
In any business but especially in a non-profit centered around transparency, accurate number reporting for any event is huge. We largely created our 2015 reporting structure up on the fly. I got the reports from Square (our current payment processor) after each event and manually typed them into a text file. Needless to say, it wasn’t efficient or helpful for calculating totals at the end of the month or year.
Starting 2016, we have the technology in place to take the load off of our shoulders in the reporting department. Here are some pieces we setup (mostly through Google Sheets):
- Budget that tracks expenses vs. income in various categories and per event
- Report card template for each event that tracks attendance, donations, etc
- A reimbursement submission form (through Typeform) that collects submissions, categorizes them appropriately, and automatically uploads receipts to our Dropbox
The technology behind the pieces isn’t super important (although if you’re interested, let us know; we’ll do a post). The important piece is the consistent structure from event to event. That way, you can separate out and evaluate each event based on the same metrics. It also makes end-of-year summaries a dream.
Lesson 3: Saying “Thank You”
Our donors are everything. After all, we wouldn’t exist without their support. We thank them in person when they give a donation of course, but we also want to stay in touch with them after the fact.
Similar to the reporting above, our initial tracking approach was very much “shoot from the hip.” We had a sheet of paper that we used to track first and last names for donors along with their email. This worked great initially. When multiple people are handling the list though and three donors are coming in at the same time, it becomes a bit of a mess.
Two pieces are important to us moving forward:
- Saying “Thank you” for a donation through email the day after an event
- Adding donors to our email if they’re okay with it so we can stay in touch
Similar to the reporting structure above, we now have a pretty simple Typeform that donors can fill out after they donate. It records all of the necessary pieces of information and drops them in a Google sheet.
Then, we use the automation tool Zapier to do some heavy lifting (automatically create newsletter subscribers). When the Typeform is successfully filled out, it grabs the new entry, drops it in a Google Sheet, and notifies Mailchimp that we have a new subscriber.
After the event, we have a nice list of donors that we can easily go through and thank individually.
Lesson 4: Debrief after the fact
With so many events back to back, it’s hard to learn from one to the next. In our case, we had a fairly large debrief when October was over, but from event to event, we didn’t pass along simple learning lessons. It’s little things like the fact that zip ties are your best friend when hanging banners or how exactly we should record donor information.
Now that we have more time leading up to our main events this year, we can make sure we communicate before, during, and after each event. Everyone can be on the same page. We’ll have a huge box of zip ties ready to go. We’ll have multiple Square payment adapters at each event. All of the little things that make a huge difference.
2015 was certainly a learning year for Drink for Pink as we ironed out the kinks. We haven’t learned everything, but we’re committed to sharing what we have learned so far. If you have any suggestions on how we could make our events better (or event planning tips in general), share them with us on Facebook!