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If you’ve ever hosted a nonprofit event, you know that the process is complicated, requiring you to start planning well in advance of the actual event day. And even after your event has ended, you still have work to do, such as sending out thank you notes to attendees. It can be difficult to keep track of all the tasks you need to complete, especially when those tasks should be finished.

That’s where this guide comes in—here, we’ll cover the timeline to successful nonprofit event planning, so you know what to do and exactly when to do it. With this timeline, you won’t have to worry about missing deadlines, empowering you to event plan with confidence. Let’s begin!

A Year Before Event Day

Give yourself plenty of time to plan your event by starting the process a year or more before the event date. At this point, you’ll lay the groundwork for your event by completing big-picture tasks, including:

  • Forming an event planning team. Decide which individuals should be a part of your team and their unique responsibilities. For instance, you may designate one individual to serve as your event’s marketing director and assemble a marketing committee. Then, you can ask this sub-team to create and execute a strategic plan to promote your event to your target audience.
  • Establishing event purpose and goals. At this point, you’ll decide on your event’s purpose, which may be fundraising, advocacy, showing appreciation, or community engagement, and set relevant goals. For example, if you’re hosting a fundraising event, your goal might be to raise $100,000 in donations.
  • Researching event dates and venues. Determine the best possible dates for your event and which venue would be well-suited for it. To maximize attendance, your event should fall on a day with no special significance and no other events scheduled. You’ll also decide if your event is in-person, hybrid, or virtual, and outline a few appropriate venues if it is in-person or hybrid.

Additionally, you should have a general idea of the budget for this event. If you’d like additional funding, contact sponsors and major donors and ask if they’d be willing to contribute financially to your nonprofit event.

To ensure that your big-picture planning efforts are the best they can be, don’t hesitate to study additional resources, such as Elevate’s recommended fundraising books, which will help you discover new insights and strategies for any fundraising event.

Six Months Before Event Day

At this point, important details need to be finalized, such as your event date, venue, theme, and branding, allowing your team to move on to the finer points of event planning. This includes:

  • Obtaining necessary permits, licenses, and insurance
  • Securing sponsorship agreements and major gifts
  • Creating your event marketing strategy
  • Booking vendors and suppliers

This is also a great time to look into the tech tools you need to make your event a success. Pick tools that integrate with your existing solutions and one another for a smooth experience. For instance, if you’re using Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT (RE NXT) as your nonprofit’s CRM and need a fully integrated fundraising solution, you can implement Trellis’s fundraising platform. Read more about it here!

Three Months Before Event Day

This is where you get into the nitty-gritty, locking down all the smaller details in time for your event. These include:

  • Event program and agenda
  • Speakers, presenters, and entertainment
  • Event materials and collateral, including signage
  • Event registration and ticketing

At this point, you should begin promoting your event to your target audience. This means creating an event webpage on your nonprofit’s website, making social media posts about the event, and spotlighting it in email newsletters. Include the link to register for your event so supporters can easily purchase their tickets.

A Week Before Event Day

The days just before event day should be dedicated to ensuring that everything runs smoothly on event day. To do that, you should:

  • Confirm all event logistics and arrangements
  • Finalize your attendee list and seating arrangements
  • Review staff and volunteer event schedules
  • Review emergency and contingency plans

You can also take this time to make one last marketing push to capture as many attendees as possible. For instance, if you wish to target existing supporters who haven’t registered for your event, you may use SMS or text message marketing to reach them. Mogli recommends sending texts to remind supporters about your event and encourage them to register, such as by messaging, “You’re invited to our Valentine’s-themed gala to end child hunger! Accept your invite by clicking the following link. We’re excited to see you there!”

Event Day

Start your big event day by setting up your event venue and signage. Then, double-check all equipment and technology to ensure they’re functioning properly. For instance, if you’re hosting an auction, ensure your bidding software works as intended.

After setting up, you can begin checking in and welcoming your guests. When the event gets underway, you’ll oversee activities and keep your event on schedule. You’ll also address any issues as they arise—and it’s perfectly normal for your event to hit a few snags!

For instance, if a volunteer fails to show up, you can resolve the issue by asking your other volunteers if they’d be willing to take the shift. You may also create an on-call volunteer list as a contingency plan ahead of time—that way, if there are any no-shows, you know that volunteers are available to take their spots.

Post-Event Day

Your work isn’t over after your event is done. Aside from taking down your setup, you should also take the time to evaluate the performance of your event by:

  • Collecting feedback from attendees, sponsors, and partners. It’s customary to send a thank you message to these groups at the end of an event. Use this opportunity to also send a feedback survey asking what they enjoyed about your event and what could be improved. Note down any popular feedback and assess how you should address them.
  • Measuring event success against objectives and goals. Using reporting and analytics tools, determine whether you met your objectives for your event. If you did, note down any particularly useful strategies that helped you do so. If not, consider what you could have improved to meet your goals.
  • Document important insights or best practices for future events. Take the insights gleaned from the feedback and event metrics and document them for reference when planning future events.

The end of a successful event also presents an opportunity to strengthen relationships with your supporters and convert them into long-term donors who are committed to your cause. If you’d like to build connections beyond sending thank-you notes and requesting feedback, check out our guide to building donor relationships after events.

Planning a nonprofit event is energy and resource-intensive, so give yourself enough time to host a memorable and impactful event that helps power your nonprofit’s mission. With this timeline, you can confidently stay on top of all your event planning tasks, ensuring you’re on track to host a successful event.