How to Host a Large Event: Primer and Tools
Planning a Big Event
Hosting a large event takes a lot of time, effort, and money. It is a daunting task and one that can fill a person with dread and anxiety.
Still, if done right and with the proper planning, large events can turn in to huge fundraisers and create a lot of excitement and fun for everyone.
While not fully comprehensive, this beginners guide should provide the basics of how to successfully plan and run any event.
Why Host a Big Event?
Before the process of planning an event can begin, a simple question must be asked: "What goals do we have with this event?"
Hosting events as fundraisers is a worthy goal but it doesn't define the event. Begin by digging deeper. Who are you raising money for? What is the purpose of the organization? Is it a for-profit event or a nonprofit event?
Once you know the "who", then look at the "why". Think of the community that will be attending the event. They may believe deeply in your organization's goals, but that's typically only a handful of people. Those people will come no matter what the event is. The goal is to attract as many people as possible, especially if you are relying on ticket sales for income.
With this, it is important to see the event from an outsiders perspective. Typically, people go to events because they want to be entertained, to be seen, or to experience something new and unique. A good majority of the patrons probably don't know anything about your organization, and therefore, won't come solely to support your goals.
Before starting the planning process, determine if the event is viable. What major attractions will you have that will draw people in? What makes your event unique enough that it becomes the "must-do" event of the year?
Once you have answered these basic questions, then you can begin the planning process.
The Planning Process
After determining the purpose, the first step with hosting any successful event is to put together an Event Workbook. Throughout the event, this workbook will be your "Bible", so to speak. You and your team will reference it constantly. It will be updated with each new action. Essentially, it is the backbone of your event.
The workbook can be created through a variety of software programs, however, for simplicity, we have elected to use Microsoft Excel. The positive of using Microsoft Excel is that it can also be edited in real time online through OneDrive.
The workbook should contain several different sheets (or tabs). Each of these sheets represents different key areas in the planning and implementation process.
An estimated budget sheet is critical for any event. As shown in the graphic above, this should include both estimated totals as well as actual totals.
Begin by brainstorming various ways to bring in money. This could be anything from high-dollar sponsorships to general sales. Simply create the list in Excel, but do not include any amounts.
Next, put together a list of expenses. Walk through your event mentally and try to anticipate any expenses you may have. How much will entertainment cost? Will you need to rent tables and chairs? Is there a facility cost? Will you need outdoor restrooms? How many extension cords will you need? What are the permit fees? All of these factor into the cost of hosting the event.
Once you have a list of expenses, put in your cost estimates. Always over-estimate; it is better to have a nice surprise with profits at the end than to under-estimate and find you can't cover expenses. Where possible, call ahead to get real estimates.
After totaling up your expenses, return to the income side and enter in your anticipated income. You may find that the income amount doesn't cover the expenses. In that case, you can adjust your anticipated income accordingly. For example, if the event is short by $1,000, set the requirement to meet or exceed that amount by the number of sponsors you bring in. Generally, it is a good idea to underbudget income if possible.
Although this is a basic budget sheet, it should provide you with a good overview of the viability of your event. Expect this budget sheet to change as the event progresses. Always keep an eye on the difference between income and expenses. If expenses outweigh income, you will have to find ways of increasing income or find things you can cut from the expense list.
Remember: Overbudget expenses, underbudget income.
Map Out The Event
The next step after determining if the event is viable from the budget sheet is to map out the event in detail. Not only will this provide a base map for use during the day of the event, but it will also help your team brainstorm additional sources of income or expenses.
Begin by securing a location for the event. If it is an indoor venue, request a scaled floor plan. If it is outdoors, the easiest way to create a map is by using Google Earth.
In creating the map pictured above, Google Earth and SmartDraw were used.
When mapping out your event, begin by locating sources of water and electric. These will both be required if you have vendors. Because vendor fees play such an important role in generating income, special attention should be given to this. When mapping out electric sources, be sure to include if they are regular 110-volt outlets or 220-volt outlets. Larger vendors and food trucks require 220v hookups.
Once you have determined the sources of electric and water, begin mapping our your vendor locations. A typical vendor booth runs either 10 foot by 10 foot or 12 foot by 12 foot. To map out the vendors, create blank squares where you want to place vendors. Remember to add an additional foot to each space to allow breathing room.
Additionally, put some thought into how the vendors will arrive and unload. Space will need to be allocated to allow vendors to park while unloading.
After the vendor section has been mapped out, this will give you an idea of where to place the remaining elements of the event. The next element that should be mapped out is your sources for entertainment.
Generally, enough entertainment should be placed near the vendors to ensure that the vendors also see a profit. This can also be done by having patrons enter through the vendor space to get to the entertainment. Many times, entertainers need access to electric and water, so be sure to check with the entertainers beforehand to see what their requirements are.
Once the main areas are mapped out, then look at traffic flow. Include areas for parking and where you anticipate most people will walk through the event. Higher traffic areas and areas near vendors will require restroom facilities.
With the map complete, physically walk the venue to ensure that nothing is left out. Pretend that you are a visitor to the event. Do you like what you see? Can everything be found easily? Will signage be required? Are there any areas that could pose a safety hazard? Be sure to include all of that on your map.
Other Sections on the Event Planning Worksheet
By now, you should have a fairly detailed budget and map. These are the two most vital elements to begin planning your next big event.
Returning to the event planning workbook, you can begin drilling down into the details of your event. You will want to create the following tabs:
- Call List: If you are soliciting sponsors, this is a master list of the sponsors you intend to call and who you have called. Include the date of the call, the response, amount pledged (if any), and any notes you may need. On this sheet, you may also want to include sponsor benefits and classes. For example, your lowest class may include a mention of the business on the event program and in advertising. Your next level may include a name on the event banner. The largest level may include all of that as well as a stand-alone banner. To help, it may also be beneficial to create a "sponsors only" flyer or packet to take to potential sponsors. Remember to include your sponsor levels on your budget.
- Donations List: This is a list of donations made to the event, either physical or monetary. You will need this list during the event to thank the donors, and following the event to send a follow-up thank you card.
- Volunteer List: Similar to the Donations List, include a list of all of your volunteers, including phone numbers and physical addresses. This will come in handy during the event in case if you need to get in touch with one of the volunteers quickly. As above, don't forget to send out thank you cards.
- Task List and Timeline: As you plan out your event, include everything that needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and who the task is assigned to. When each task is completed, mark it off in the workbook. Typically, planning for large events begins no later than six months prior to the event. This is where the timeline should begin. After the initial planning phase, tasks will include everything from securing permits to physical tasks the day of.
Getting it Done
You now have all of the basic tools to host your large event.
The events planning workbook should provide all of the critical information that you need. Each page should be printed out and kept in an event binder to be used by the event coordinator.
During the day of the event, the most important sheet is the timeline and tasks sheet. This helps everyone to stay on the same page and get set up done in an orderly fashion.
The event map provides an overview of how to set up the event. Copies should be printed and given to each volunteer to refer to while assisting with the event. Copies should also be emailed to each vendor and entertainer at least three days prior to the event, along with directions on how to get to the event. This will significantly help reduce the chaos that typically surrounds any large event.
Running a large event isn't easy, but when successful, it is very exciting. With proper planning and forethought, any event can easily become a major success.