Set Your Event Up for Success, Part 3

Spring events season is starting up again and your organization is planning an event. Here are 3 key things to do to set up your event for success before you do anything else. (If you haven’t seen my posts on agreeing on event goals and building a rockin’ events team, check them out first.) Once you’ve got your goals clarified and your team together, take some time to do some front-end planning.

Part 3: Make a Plan

There are a few steps I take to make an event plan.

1. Onboard the Event - First I follow a event onboard checklist to get my administrative and business systems in order. These include:

  • Create a Work Process: 

    • I set a work process which includes how we will communicate event progress to key stakeholders, and when/how often our event team will meet.

  • Decide Where to Save Information:

    • Set up your hard copy and electronic systems and folders for saving information and storing documents. - I use Google Drive to save my event information, with different folders for venue, vendors, communications, program content, etc. I also make my hard copy folders. That way when the work begins, I am ready!

  • Use a Project Management Tool:

    • It doesn’t have to be fancy, but somehow you will need to set up up a tracking system for the many projects, tasks and deadlines involved in planning the event - I love Asana, but you can use Excel, a big calendar on a whiteboard - whatever works for your team.

set up for success 3 - checklist.jpg

2. Assess Your Needs - Then, I take time to assess my event needs, make an event timeline and plan.

Will you need to find an event location? What vendors will you need? (Catering, photography, videographer, etc.) Will you want printed or electronic invitations? Are there certain speakers or entertainers you want to book? What SWAG will participants walk away with?

By assessing your event vendors and needs, it will determine the “buckets” of work you need to timeline.

The key work areas I always use are:

  • Set-Up

  • Venue

  • Vendors

  • Communications

  • Content

  • Day-Of Preparation

  • Wrap-Up

Each of these event areas has sub-categories of work. My communication event timeline, for example, includes outreach, social media and printed materials.

If your event is a fundraiser, you will have additional buckets of work, such as creating a fundraising strategy, securing and fulfilling on sponsorships, putting together an irresistible “ask,” and even creating an auction.

3. Create the Event Calendar - Now, once you have determined your key event elements, each of these event areas needs to be calendared out with deadlines set. Start at your target event date and work your way backwards. If you have a past event timeline or sample timeline, use it as a baseline to modify and add to.

For example, what might seem like a small act of sending invitations is actually a series of small steps, including:

  • Deciding the event title, date, time and location

  • Creating the copy for the invitation

  • Working with a graphic designer on its design

  • Editing and finalizing it

And to significantly flesh out your timeline, you’ll need to make some decisions that help inform your timeline. For example, will you want print or electronic invitations? Sending print invitations entails creating an invitation list and mailing list; and having the invitations printed, addressed, stamped and mailed. Posting or sending invitations online will generate an additional set of steps, such as collecting email addresses, setting up an email invitation, an Eventbrite page, and social media posts. Each of these steps can take a while, especially if you don’t have everything you need to proceed.

HELPFUL HINT + STRESS REDUCER: Taking the time to think through the various steps of each task and allowing the space in your timeline to complete each of them will help you avoid so much event stress later on.

Happy planning!

Do you have tricks that have worked well for you when planning for your events? What event tasks do you wish you had spent the time to calendar out better before planning?

Jenna Carlsson helps non-profits and foundations create powerful events to advance their missions without all the staff stress. For help planning your next event, visit or book a free consult.

Banner image: Power of Progress Conference 2017, photo credit Bryan Patrick.