Meet our Expert

Debbie_HockmanDebbie Hockman – Co-Founder and Director, The I Am Group

Debbie is the Co-Founder and Director of the The I Am Group, set up in 2012 to bring together those working in charities, social enterprises and not-for-profits to learn, share knowledge, make meaningful connections and find jobs! She has an extensive career in the events and marketing industry spanning over two decades, within the charity, private and agency sectors. 


“We’re thinking of holding our first charity event. What measures should we take to make sure it’s a success? What is the best way to market it?”

The answer

It is usually said that event managers are like swans – they glide around looking calm and collected whilst paddling away below the surface to ensure every aspect is as near perfect as can be!  Running a charity event, whether it is a fundraising gala dinner, large or small scale community event, conference or exhibition, requires high level idea generation, planning and detailed management of a diverse range of aspects, utilising skills from sales and marketing through to project and financial management and logistical delivery on the day.

Here are 10 top tips for delivering perfect events!

1. Set objectives – an obvious starting point perhaps, but as event managers, we have to ask ourselves why are we organising a particular event?  Valid reasons may include generating income or PR, launching a new campaign, product or service, to promote the brand, or to share learning.  A critical analysis should ask what is it that a live event is going to offer that other marketing and information channels do not? As with all objectives, make sure they are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-related.

2. Format and content design – What do you want the look and feel of your event to be?  Is there a theme?  If so, how are you going to ensure that the venue, speakers, entertainment and ideas reflect the theme.  Creating a diverse project team or event planning committee with the right skills mix will ensure elements from idea generation and creativity to practical logistical thinking, marketing and financial management are covered, whether you’re planning intimate, niche events or large scale mass participation events.

3. Event planning – broadly speaking the events process falls into three categories – content, marketing and logistics.  Every event will need a detailed project and financial plan, breaking down all these activities into timelines, resources and responsibilities, required to deliver the event.  Financial questions to consider may include, how many attendees are needed to breakeven and how this impacts on cashflow.  A contingency and risk management plan for allevents needs to be implemented, and the higher the profile and larger the scale, the greater the contingency planning.  Larger venues and local councils are usually able to provide some guidance, however, if your event attracts large numbers of participants a dedicated health and safety consultant may be money well spent.  Timing is the key here.  Never underestimate how long it takes to get certain elements of the project completed and allow for slippage in the plan!

4. People – it should go without saying that people are your most important asset in delivering a smooth event – your own team, volunteers, venue, caterers and all other suppliers. If you’re organising a fundraising event, get a committee of dedicated volunteers whose connections may be able to help you fundraise, sell tickets and connect with influential people as well as helping to organise the event itself. Treat the recruitment process of volunteers as you would a paid employee – design a brief job description, interview and hold a detailed briefing session.  Having a professional appearance, a ‘can do’ attitude and being able to think and take action quickly at your event are key, so the overall event team should be chosen to reflect these qualities. Every attendee who comes into contact with your team needs to see the dream team in action!

5. Marketing, PR and Communications – don’t underestimate the lead times required to successfully promote your event!  The type of event, target audience, internal resources and budget will dictate your marketing approach.  However, for large scale public events, finding media partners often prove fruitful – partners will view this on a commercial basis so think carefully about the opportunities you are able to offer and the audience reach, profile and monetary benefits for the partner.  Typical event promotional tactics include advertising, direct marketing, flyers, emails, social media, competitions, PR, early booking incentives and using case studies to demonstrate the impact of your work.  If you have access to any celebrities, think how you could use them to endorse and promote your event.  Finally, encourage your participants and supporters to promote the event via their own social media networks by creating content that can be easily shared.

6. Venue – this is probably going to be one of the largest costs of your overall budget and there are many issues to consider when selecting a venue.  Is a purpose built venue required or could consideration be given to a neutral space, such as a warehouse or outdoor marquee, which could be used as a blank canvass and dressed?  Or perhaps an unusual, outdoor venue would be appropriate?  Some of the key issues to think about include cost and service delivery; what are the hidden costs such as, stewarding, traffic marshals, first aid provision, furniture, electrical supply and catering?  There are numerous venue sourcing agencies that can help you find the perfect venue and negotiate the best rates or you may have access to a suitable venue space via your charity contacts.

7. Catering – along with the venue, catering may well be one of the most significant event costs and in my experience, the area likely to receive the most comments and feedback!  Are the caterers tied to the venue or can you bring in your own?  If you are using an established venue then the chances are you will be tied to their caterers.  If, however, you are using a space such as a community hall or marquee, you may well be able to bring in your own caterers, but remember to include all of the on-costs – it’s not just the food, but chefs, waiting staff and of course kitchen space and equipment hire! Don’t be fobbed off with a standard menu and price.  Advise the caterers of your budget and ask what menus their chefs are able to create for you.  Do you need an alcohol licence? Again an established function venue will most probably be licensed.  If you are selling alcohol via a cash bar and using a non-conventional venue, an alcohol licence will be required, so allow plenty of time to apply for one.

8. Logistics – other suppliers and contracts you may well need to negotiate and manage include signage, furniture, audio visual, flooring, crowd barriers, flowers, stewards, insurance, health and safety consultants, marketers, printers, designers, transport, insurance, portaloos, registration and box office and licences including alcohol and music.  As with any negotiation, it’s always worth asking for charity discounts or checking with supporters to see if they have any influential contacts who may be able to sponsor an event or provide items in kind or at cost. Relationships are key to good service delivery and it is often a good idea to ascertain exactly who will be responsible for the onsite delivery of the contract, each suppliers’ contingency plan and what time they will be arriving on site.

9. Delivering your event – so you’ve been planning meticulously and now the big day has arrived. Create a master event plan, running order and team briefing for everyone involved – your team, volunteers, all the suppliers, venue, caterers, security and any other relevant parties. Remember the complexity of many events mean that challenges may occur and this is when a strong, skilled and most importantly, well briefed team really comes into its own.  Ensure that all team members know the decision making structure and what to do in an emergency.

10. Follow Upand Evaluation – As an organiser you will be elated (hopefully) from the success of your event and most probably exhausted and running on adrenaline so build time into the project plan before the event takes place as to how you’ll measure success.  Decide what a successful event looks like for the charity – is it immediate financial success, creating more donors and supporters over time, building the profile of the charity, or raising awareness of a campaign – plan the follow up activities and after care of all your supporters carefully and you’ll potentially reap the benefits for years!

So, by really thinking about your objectives, meticulous planning, building a strong team of people and early follow up, should ensure a hugely successful event.

Debbie Hockham is Director and Co-Founder of The I Am Group, providing event management, networking and recruitment services to the charity sector