Set Your Event Up for Success: Part 1

So your organization has decided to host an event. Hooray! Events are exciting, fun ways to bring people together, engage new and continued partners, get people on board with your mission and sometimes even raise money for your cause.

They also require lots of work, advance planning and time. It can be tempting to charge ahead and start coordinating, but before you do, save yourself future scrambling by front-loading your planning.

When I work with a new event, here are 3 things I do to set it up for success.

#1: Get consensus on your event goals.

There are so many pieces required to plan an event that they can get lost in the weeds.

Creating clear event goals helps your team make decisions throughout the planning process that will craft an event to advance those goals. For example, if your key event goal is raising funds, you may spend extra time building partnerships that help you save on expenses by securing in-kind donations and sponsorships. If your main event goal is bringing in new membership, you’ll focus heavily on outreach and on crafting an amazing program that excites attendees to join as members at your event. And if your goal is providing mental health resources for community, you may consider hosting a resource fair.

Keep in mind that events can have several goals, and can include process goals. Aligning your event planning process with its goals really shows your donors, Board and constituents that you live by your values. For example, if your event topic is sustainable enterprise, you may choose to host it in a LEED certified building and work with only local, certified sustainable food vendors. If your event is a youth leadership photography showcase, you may have the youth drive the planning process so they can gain leadership skills and set up a showcase that they would love to be a part of.

A HELPFUL TIP: A great way to craft event goals is to answer the question “A successful event results in….” with your planning team.

Bring your key event stakeholders to the same table to brainstorm a list and then use a technique like dot voting to choose the top 3 goals. If you can’t bring everyone to the same table, take the extra time to check in with folks individually to make sure they are on board with these event goals. Believe me, it is worth it. If your stakeholders are not on the same page, it can sabotage your event! You will struggle through the planning process, have difficulty making decisions about the program and vendors, give mixed messages to your attendees. Perhaps worst of all, you won’t be able to tell if your event was successful.

Goals are the benchmarks against which you measure your event success.

I once worked with an organization that could not decide whether their event was a fundraiser or not. Historically, they had always raised money to cover the event expenses, but never really made money from the event. But this year, the Executive Director wanted to raise more funds from the event, but the other staff members were not on board. They continued planning as they had every year, keeping ticket costs low, offering loads of complimentary tickets, and not focusing on the fundraising aspects of the event. The event had a huge attendance, an amazing program, extremely smooth logistics and covered all event costs. But the team was in disagreement as to whether or not it was a success. How could they agree? They had different goals from the beginning.

My advice? Keep these goals as goalposts, write them on your meeting agendas and event program, and refer to them frequently. Your many event decisions will be much easier with this North Star, and when the group loses focus, you can always go back to them as reference.

Read Part 2 of setting up your event for success - Building a Rockin’ Events Team.

Jenna Carlsson helps non-profits and foundations create powerful events to advance their missions without all the staff stress. Find out more at or book a free consult here.

Picture credit of Bryan Patrick. Latino Community Foundation's Non-Profit Accelerator Retreat, 2017.