Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Finding the Right Venue for Your Event is Critical

You’ve been to one of those events, right? The one where the layout and the venue just don’t work. Sight lines are impaired. Registration lines fold back in on themselves. There’s no room to move in the silent auction. It can make for a frustrating guest experience.

Getting a venue booked for your fundraising event can be a challenge. They are a limited resource both in terms of space and availability. But there’s a huge difference between any venue and the right venue. The wrong venue for the format and size of your event can actually impact the effectiveness of your fundraising. Your venue is critical.

This year at Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives’ Dancing with the Stars Portland Gala, they found the right venue for their unique program. In addition to traditional fundraising elements like a dinner, auction and special appeal, this event has a full Dancing with the Stars style dance competition. This element demands real estate for a large featured dance floor and additional AV components.

Previously PCRI had been a small ballroom that really limited their ability to have a stage for their program, a dance floor for the competition, a place for dance judges, dinner tables and clear sightlines for everyone in the audience. It was a long skinny ballroom and the dance competition split the room in half, isolating the crowd on one side or the other. Outside of the ballroom, they didn't have enough registration or cocktail space so the audience was jammed from a hallway into the ballroom.  
 This year, PCRI moved to a much larger venue that allowed their guests to flow easily from registration to cocktails to their dinner seat where they were able to enjoy the program and dance competition without having to move awkwardly around a space not suited for the specificity of the event. There was a big foyer that allowed photography, raffle sales, mixing and mingling. They had an octagon shaped ballroom that gave them room to accomplish everything have the audience in the round surrounding the dance floor instead of split in half on each side. They had a great green room area for their dancers with backstage access and a flow that allowed for easy check in, check out and good guest experience.
Every event and its needs are unique. Venues aren’t a one-size-fits-all commodity. Being clear about the shape of your event and the real estate it will need to feel like the venue is working with your audience instead of against it is imperative to maximize your success.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Connecting Volunteers and Success at Your Event

In the long list of “to do” items for your fundraising event, it can get overlooked that volunteers are an integral part of your success. Rarely are there enough staff members to do every job associated with your event and it becomes necessary to activate volunteers to fill some of those roles. Volunteers act as ambassadors for your organization onsite and, depending on their task, often have a chance to interact with more of your guests than you.

With that in mind, be strategic in their recruitment. Do you have a volunteer job that requires them to talk directly to guests? Make sure they are comfortable with that in advance. If they aren’t, consider them for more behind-the-scenes work like set up/clean up or auction running. If they are interested in a more public role but don’t know a lot about the organization, give them some information ahead of time so they can help spread the word about your great work. 

At this year’s Going Places Gala for Ride Connection, their Heads & Tails volunteers knocked it out of the park. Their task was to sell as many strands of beads as possible during the silent auction for a game that would kick off the live auction. They were raising money and bringing guests into the energy of the event all at the same time.

Ride Connection couldn’t have done a better job suiting volunteers to a task. They recruited key people to these positions that were not only personable and engaging, but knew the crowd well and were incredibly familiar with the organization. Guests knew them and wanted to talk to them already. As added incentive, the volunteers actually made a friendly wager among themselves ahead of time to see who could sell the most, and checked in with each other the whole time as incentive to keep at it. It created a fun atmosphere of competition that guests wanted to be a part of all in the name of fundraising for an organization they were passionate about.

And they sold a lot of beads! Not only were they effective, but they activated the crowd to become engaged in the activity of fundraising and anticipate the fun they were going to have later in the evening.

Strategic volunteer recruitment can add a lot to your nonprofit fundraising event. Having the correct people in specific volunteer positions can take your event to the next level. As you think about recruiting volunteers, be strategic about who you place where.  Know your crowd and place people in volunteer positions that best fit their personalities and strengths.