Set Your Event Up for Success: Part 2

So, you’re planning an event. Where to start? Well, I always start with 3 key things. The first is getting clear, agreed upon event goals.

Read more about those here:
#1: Get Consensus on Your Event Goals

#2: Build a Rockin’ Events Team

Once you’ve got your goals in place, you need to build your team. Event planning is always a collaborative endeavor, and really takes a village. Building a great team with clearly defined roles will save you SO MUCH time down the road. This team will need to work closely together and each person on it will have a distinct job.

Here’s some of the key team member roles you’ll want to identify when planning your event:

1. Project Manager - This is the person who is going to be tracking the timeline, the many sub-projects and tasks that are needed to put together your fabulous fundraiser, reception or conference. They:

  1. Create an event timeline

  2. Run planning meetings

  3. Set up sub-committees to work on all the pieces

  4. Stay in constant communication with each team member about their progress.

Micromanagers, this is your spot to shine!

Each team is different, but it is amazing how much people often love the clear direction and reminders that the project manager can and should give. We all have so many things going on these days that it’s nice when someone makes it simple for us. A great project manager will do just that.

2. Venue and Vendor Procurer and Liaison - Then there’s the person who is going to tromp around visiting potential event sites and making connections with possible vendors. When I am looking for a venue, I always do some initial research then visit the site with my venue checklist. I take lots of pictures and share these with the team.

The vendor liaison will also reach out to that awesome caterer, or that amazing graphic designer, artist, florist, or performance group to share event needs and get proposals.

Beware, these processes take longer than expected! There will be a lot of back and forth with any vendor to get on the same page about expectations and make sure your event needs are met. This is the purpose of contracts or agreements. And if you have an attorney on staff, it’s great to have these contracts reviewed by them.

Latino Community Foundation Non-Profit Accelerator. Photo Credit: Bryan Patrick.

Latino Community Foundation Non-Profit Accelerator. Photo Credit: Bryan Patrick.

3. Creative Content Team or Manager - So you have a project manager, a hotel conference room, food and AV. But what will happen at the event? What will attendees get out of it? Depending on the type of event, you may need a whole team for creating the event content.

HELPFUL TIP: Many non-profits I work with create a volunteer planning committee of leaders from the field to make sure that their diverse perspectives and expertise are all incorporated into the event content. This committee or team sets the vision for the day, goes deeper into subtopics that should be explored, and can suggest great speakers and facilitators to achieve their goals. If you are working with a volunteer committee, be mindful of their time. People may be available for a few meetings but the creative content manager will need to do a lot of the back-end work to bring that vision to life.

4. Communications - Now you’ve got your program, your venue, your timeline and your team. Now how are you going to invite attendees? Who is going to make that beautiful flyer that has everyone excited to come? And how will you track them? What is your social media plan leading up to and at your event? How will you communicate with attendees after your event and further engage them in your mission? These are all jobs of the communications manager, and require intentional planning, creativity and design skills.

5. Accountant - This person is very important! They are how all your vendors get paid. Note that this is usually different from the person who is keeping track of the event budget (the project manager). Non-profit organizations often have several step processes for issuing checks, and getting clarity on these up front will help your planning. Does the organization prefer to pay with check, or can credit cards be used for smaller fees? If paid with a check, who issues it and what paperwork (often invoice and W9) do they need? Who needs to sign off on it? How long does this process take?

HELPFUL TIP: Taking the time to have a conversation with your accountant before launching into event planning helps you create a reasonable timeline and communicate clear expectations with vendors from the get-go.

6. Final Sign-Off - Who is the final person responsible for this event? Who will sign off on contracts and be accountable for its success? This person will sign off on all final contracts, flyers and documents.. They may be intimately involved with the event planning, or they may stay at a very high level, but regardless, they need to be kept in the loop for all important matters and need to be happy with the end outcome.

7. Fund Development Team - If your event is a fundraiser which raises money through sponsorships, ticket sales, auctions and donations, your development staff needs to be very involved. They have relationships with donors and sponsors and care very much about these relationships. They are the folks who can help you create a fundraising goal and strategy and they are the ones who will reach out personally to potential donors and sponsors to cultivate and keep those relationships - before, during and after events.  

And finally…

8. Day of Event Staff -  You may have a small planning committee, but when it comes to the day of the event, your whole staff and a team of volunteers may be “all hands on deck!” Try to anticipate your day-of event staffing needs: Will you need greeters at the front of the doors? A registration team? Time-keeper? A set-up and break-down team? Volunteers to help with your auction bidding? People to post on social media?

HELPFUL TIP: Walking through your event from start to finish will help you to identify volunteer needs, and then recruit the right people for each of those roles.

How do these roles fit your organization’s event planning?  What has worked well and not so well for you in building event teams?

Now you know how to get consensus on your event goals and what it takes to build a rockin’ team for your event. Stay tuned for Part 3 of Setting Up Your Event for Success - Make A Plan.  
Happy planning!

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

Banner image: The San Francisco Foundation Koshland Program Team at the Mission Fellows Award Ceremony. Photo credit: Saul Bromberger