FAQ: Holding Events as a Nonprofit

As a nonprofit, Stimpunks has some operating constraints. Here are questions we posed to our consultants and the answers.

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How do you operationalize an event?

  1. Determine the purpose of the event and its target audience(s)
  2. Create a plan that reflects the event’s purpose, including (but not limited to)
    1. Event theme/title (communicates the event’s purpose to its attendees)
    2. Invite list 
    3. Venue 
    4. Date and start/end time
    5. Catering and drinks (if offered)
    6. Entertainment
    7. Informational Programming
      1. Info table w/ physical promotional materials
    8. Silent Auction
    9. Personnel needed
    10. Items needed (tables, chairs, sound system, etc.)
  3. Set a budget for the event
  4. Schedule catering, entertainment, etc.
  5. Invite attendees TWICE
    1. Save the Date
    2. Invite
  6. Walk-through event venue
    1. Connect with venue personnel 
    2. Learn benefits/limitations of the venue
    3. Plan how you want the event to be laid out in physical space
      1. Where do tables go? Where does the DJ go?
  7. Set up event 24 hours ahead of time (if possible)
    1. If 24 hours is not possible, set up asap before the event start time
    2. Set up often takes longer than we think, the earlier you can do this the better
  8. Arrive at least 30 minutes before the start time – preferably an hour before

What do we do on the backend? Do we need invoices?

  1. Folks who you hire to provide entertainment, food, etc. should invoice you for their services. Have checks or digital payments for the time of the event. Be able to pay people directly after the event. 
  2. Make sure you get W9s from all folks that you intend to hire for the event, including the venue space.
  3. Make sure you get a receipt for the payments made. You will have to report all this on your tax docs. 

How do we promote the event?

Promotion can be done through…

  • The venue – ask them to advertise the event
  • Social media – post on your social media about the event
  • Social media invite – folks are more likely to come if they RSVP
  • E-blast to your invite list
  • Follow up with your invite list via personal email or phone call/text to each person invited
  • Run social media ads
  • Post about it on your website
  • Secure newspaper or television coverage (for larger events)

Prep and day of event?

  1. Create a “run of show” that spells out at what time certain events will take place and who is responsible for them. Do your best to stick to the run of show on the day of the event.

7:00 pm – Doors open – Venue staff

7:00 – 7:45  pm – DJ set –  Stimpunks staff + DJ

7:00 – 7:45 pm – Welcome folks, mingle, and food/drink service – Stimpunks staff/board + catering staff

7:45 pm – Informational programming, silent auction announcement, ask for donations – Chelsea

7:45 – 9:0 pm Silent auction – Stimpunks or auction service staff

8:00 – 9:30 pm – Entertainment – Chelsea + entertainers

9:30 pm – Express thanks for folks coming – Chelsea

10:00 pm – event end – Stimpunks and venue staff

  1. Make sure you have all the necessary vendor contracts in place (catering, entertainment, etc.)
  2. Make sure your insurance is up to date and paid
  3. Print out and bring physical copies of information about your organization with you
  4. Make sure you have the ability to accept donations at the event (cash box, laptop with link to website donation)
  5. Make sure you have the ability to pay folks directly after the event
  6. Work with venue to see when you can set up physical items (tables, chairs, etc.)
  7. Break down all physical items when you’re done and clean up after your event 

Getting donations at the event, are there any restrictions here?

Not really. You can accept cash, checks, or credit cards (if you have the tech capacity to accept credit cards). If someone wants to give you stock or something crazy, get their card and follow up with them. Avoid taking in-kind donations at events. It’s a logistical annoyance not a legal problem. Get their info and follow up with them. 

Goals, targets, metrics?

Goals are usually specific to each event. Common event goals include:

  1. Number of people in attendance
  2. Number of donations
  3. Number of new donors
  4. Number of new potential partners (folks who do similar work and can partner with you in the future)
  5. Number of items auctioned
  6. Cost/benefit – how much was raised vs how much was spent

Goals can also include number of board members in attendance, increased awareness about your organization or programming. They are yours to make!

Can donated funds be used for marketing?

Unless you have specifically stated in your event that the money is going to a designated thing (a scholarship, new computers for kids, etc.) then, from the donor’s perspective, the money goes to your general fund. Money in your general fund can be used to pay for marketing, payroll, etc. the regular costs of running your foundation. 

Liability and safety?

A lot of the liability falls on the venue. If someone is injured, it’s on their insurance. You can go the extra mile and get a venue listed on your insurance as a “named insured” but that’s usually reserved for permanent partnerships. You should make sure that your organization’s insurance is up to date and paid before an event just in case something goes crazy, but for the most part liability and safety are the venue’s legal obligations.

However, if you throw an event and someone gets injured, you have more of a PR problem on your hands than a legal one. It’s the venue’s responsibility to provide an accessible and safe environment for you and your guests. However, the public eye won’t see and won’t care about that. Someone gets injured at your event, it’s on you in the public eye. So, be very careful at the venue walk-through to make sure it’s as safe as possible. 

What are guidelines for holding events vs. fundraisers (if any)?

There aren’t really any guidelines for how many events vs how many fundraisers you hold. That’s more an internal calculation of what you can afford and what makes the most sense to accomplish your goals and mission. 

What are the documentation and metrics we are required to keep track of? 

  1. Keep all contracts with vendors – required
  2. Keep all invoices and payment receipts – required
  3. Number of attendees
  4. Number of donations
  5. Number of new donors
  6. Number and cost of items auctioned
  7. Cost of event v funding raised

What is the industry standard for metrics around costs vs. percentage raised for events?

There really isn’t one because it depends on what kind of event and the scale of event it is. A lot of NPOs accept that they will lose money on an event if it means they accomplish other goals with that event (marketing/public relations goals, increased programming goals, etc.) 

For donations, what are the industry standards for using them on operational costs vs. to help with clients (ex is mutual aid). Are there any guidelines, industry metrics etc that we should be aware of?

Unless you promise a donor that their money is set aside for a specific thing, then their money goes into your general operating budget. You get to assign money in your general operating budget to pay for whatever you need. There are no industry standards for family foundations because family foundations vary widely in scope and financial capacity. If you have limited financial capacity, it might make sense to spend more on operations than mutual aid or grants so that you are taking care of the personnel and base operating costs of a foundation. If you have fewer restrictions on your financial capacity, it might make sense to put more money into your grantmaking and mutual aid. It’s more about figuring out what your foundation’s tolerance is for return on investment.