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Reflections & Resolutions for annual events

Welcome to 2019! I love Januarys. My normal tendency is to stay focused on the projects and details in front of me, and a fresh year is such a great reminder to step back and look at the big picture. What are my goals? In what ways am I moving in that direction? In what ways can I do better? I also love going through this process for annual events. A true event evaluation goes much further than simply asking what went well and what can be improved.

Annual evaluation

Here are some great questions to begin your evaluation each year. This should happen within a couple of weeks after the event, and involve key team members for both this year’s event and next.

  • What is the single primary goal of this event? Did we meet that goal? (You can look back on my goal-setting tips here)

  • What are the secondary goals, in order of priority? Did we meet those goals? Did we keep our priorities in mind while planning? (Remember that good fundraising events don’t just raise money that day/evening, but open doors for ongoing donor development.)

  • What are the biggest challenges we face in meeting our goals? (Drill down here. Ask ‘Why?’ after each answer you come to. If attendance is an issue, why?)

  • What resources go into this event? (Really spend some time assessing how much volunteer & staff time is needed.)

  • What are our guests saying? (I recommend either a formal survey or selecting attendees with diverse perspectives to call after the event with a brief informal survey. Also poll those who didn’t come, to find out why.)

  • Are there any opportunities or threats on the horizon for this event? (How will you be impacted by staffing changes, economic shifts, capital campaigns, venue changes, etc. in the next year?)

  • What should we really focus on next year to be successful? (Maybe you need to spend more time developing corporate sponsors, or improving the guest experience. Be clear about your goals for the next year so your team knows where time and resources will be spent, and where you have space for creativity and brainstorming.)

Is this the right event?

Sometimes an annual event isn’t working for your organization any more and you need to be responsive to know that it’s time to change the core concept or sunset the event altogether. I recommend asking this big picture question every two years, or any year that the event fails to meet its primary goal. In addition to the annual evaluation questions, here are helpful questions to consider:

  • Do we lack buy-in from any important groups? Why?

  • Has our capacity changed since we started this event? Has our primary goal changed?

  • How has the event changed over time?

  • How does this fit into our organization’s big picture? (Percentage of income, community awareness, donor development, staffing, morale, comparison to other events.)

  • What would we do with our resources if we weren’t holding this event?

  • How would we meet our goals without this event?

If you do decide to sunset an event, have a clear plan in place when you announce the decision. What will happen next year? If you’re launching a new event in its place, who is leading the charge? Is there an opportunity to receive input?

A few things to keep in mind

  • The first year you do an event will be hard. From setting the budget to finding the right volunteers and vendors, everything takes more time and energy the first time around, and there’s a greater possibility that your estimates will be off. When evaluating a first-year event, keep in mind that typically the planning process is easier in subsequent years, especially if your team has done a good job of documenting information and processes.

  • The first year you do an event can be awesome. If you have a strong team and the idea is unique and well supported by your community, a first-time event can generate energy and buzz that is often hard to produce in subsequent years. If your first-year event knocked it out of the park, resist the urge to overinflate estimates for year two. You should certainly repeat a successful event if you have the resources to do so and an ongoing need, but don’t bank on having the same excitement.

  • An event that is successful for one organization may not be the right fit for another. It's tempting to see another nonprofit hosting a great event and say, "we should do a [gala/fun run/golf tournament], too!" But success isn't solely dependent on a great idea. Instead, consider the resources needed for a certain type of event and whether your organization can provide those. Do you have a capable event committee? Relationships within a particular industry? Funds to spend on an elaborate set-up? A strong volunteer or supporter base? Brand recognition? Available staff time? Tech-savvy supporters?

What else do you take into consideration in your event evaluations? Are there any roadblocks you hit when looking at data from your event? Do you have any special resolutions for your events this year?

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