Hosting Experiences, Not Events

March 01, 2012

Posted in Fundraising and Marketing.

Every nonprofit ends up hosting events. Dinners, auctions, campaign launches, donor welcome events, reunions – and these are all fine. For some organizations, these are the primary way their fundraising takes place.

But too often, we’re working off a checklist of things that have to be done in order for the event to succeed. We plan the food, presenters, decor, music, and so on.

Here’s the problem: Events are things that happen; experiences are memories you take with you.

I spoke to a marketer at a university who changed the word event to “experience.” They consider themselves Experience Planners and they design experiences for their guests. They think about every facet of the program, from when the guests are invited to when they arrive to how they follow up. The guests leave with a mark upon them, some kind of memory they will not forget.

He told us of an event they held to thank their donors – not multi-millionaires, but donors of all levels. They laid out a red carpet leading into the banquet hall and hired a bunch of students to line the sides and take photos. It was a paparazzi experience. The donors felt famous, with all the attention on them. He said one lady even asked if she could go around and walk down the red carpet again!

Here are a few questions to consider in converting your next event into an experience:

  • What will guests see when they drive up?
  • What’s at the hotel (if they’re staying overnight) that connects them to your event?
  • What will guests see and hear when they enter the event?
  • What will it smell like? (smell is a very powerful sense!)
  • What will your volunteers/coordinators/staff be wearing?
  • How should people feel throughout different parts of the event?
  • What will the guest leave with in hand?
  • What does the guest receive after the event is over?
  • How can you touch their hearts in a way that they’ll remember it 10 years from now?

I’m planning an event for this summer, the fourth year in a row. It will be the first time I’ve really thought about how to make it an experience to remember and not just an event to attend. I’ll be sure to take pictures/video and report back.

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