Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Event's a Success - Or Is It?

So you've raised some good money and your attendees had a good time. Your nonprofit event is a success, right? Maybe. I know I definitely used to think that way - that success within the community was the whole definition of success for a nonprofit. But I learned better, and recently an article by CEO Nancy Lublin of Do Something reminded me. 

Even if everyone attending the event was happy and sufficient money was raised to cover costs and benefit the mission, if it didn't get good buzz outside the community, it didn't do as well as it could have. 

Ms. Lublin is a little more cynical than I - as when she talks about using celebrities to get "exclusive" coverage from the media because it helps their "bleeding heart brands" - but she's a thorough professional in event production and her tips on getting your event good press can be used by any small nonprofit with a little tweaking. 

Plan For Photo Ops 
Before the event, frequently review your RSVP list to see who’s coming. What you’re looking for is someone whose interests tie in somehow. Ms. Lublin’s example was that a celebrity attendee had a pet named after a TV character played by an actress who would also be at the event – getting a picture of them together would have been newsworthy. Maybe you’ve got a donor who recently gave a large gift to a specific project and one of the beneficiaries of that project is also coming. That’s a good opportunity to communicate your mission via a photograph. 

Feed/Make Your Own Papparazzi 
One of the event staff fed cupcakes to the paparazzi at Ms. Lublin’s event, but your small nonprofit is more likely to have a volunteer or paid photographer. To me it’s a no-brainer to make sure they are looked after, but I’ve been told that some photographers and musicians are told that the food and beverages are strictly off limits to anyone but the paying guests or guests of honor. Ignoring courtesy for the moment, a volunteer is more likely to re-volunteer if he feels his efforts are appreciated. 

When I was working as director of an in-house design/print shop, I was often able to get special consideration from corporate shipping because I’d taken the time to get to know the mail room and shipping people and appreciate the work they did. Paid professionals will be touched by your consideration, even if they don’t take advantage of it. 

Encourage your attendees to take pictures and video with their cell phones. 

Use Your Social Media Network 
You have a Facebook fan page, right? You have a Twitter account, right? Make sure someone or more than one person is posting updates during the evening, including pictures. If you see an attendee taking pics, ask them to email a copy of their pics to your nonprofit or if they’re going to post them to Facebook, ask them to post to your fan page. Make sure staff knows what to say if someone asks what the Twitter hashtag for the event is. 

Take Advantage of Opportunity While You Have It 
A friend of mine once made the decision to wait to see a movie until after the crowds had thinned. He was puzzled about why he didn’t enjoy it as much as everyone had told him he would, but half of the fun of seeing a blockbuster is seeing it with everyone else – feeling the anticipatory excitement, the shared discovery. 

Make a point to get event staff in a room as soon as possible after the event to share any interesting information they might have picked up that could be used to generate more publicity. If there’s lots of opportunity happening, I’d say gather info at least once during the evening; social media moves fast and many times an opportunity is lost if it isn’t seized immediately. Traditional media and blogs can wait a little longer than Twitter, which waits for nobody, and even a Facebook update can be a little stale if it happens after the event. You want people not attending to feel the excitement and shared discovery of those at the event. 

As Ms. Lublin points out toward the end of her article, follow-up should not just be about what, in project management, we used to describe as the project post mortem. It’s not just about what went right and what went wrong. It’s also still about opportunity. Look for those mentions of your soiree in online and traditional media, then re-tweet, re-post, Digg, Stumble Upon, forward and everything else you can think of. Share the photos with the people in them by sending out a post-event email to the attendees to thank them for being there. Make sure your post-event good news includes links to posts, Flickr albums, fan pages, Twitter hashtags, etc. If you’ve made new connections, welcome them. Invite them into your social media community. Their participation will enrich your community as well as increasing it.

Inclusion of new energy and new ideas to further your nonprofit mission is a success in itself. 

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