By Peter Straube
What’s in your toolbox when you’re planning or executing an event? It doesn’t matter what kind of event—it could be a conference, music festival, product launch, sporting event, trade show, or celebration. As the builder of the event, you’ve got valuable resources at your disposal that can be used as effective tools for enhancing the overall impact of your event. I call these Power Tools because, well, they give you the power to make a far bigger difference than what you could ever hope to accomplish on your own. Here is a set of six power tools you have available for your use in the process of planning and executing any event:
PLACE – the site you select can have a significant effect on the surrounding area. After Katrina, many planners considered holding events in New Orleans as a way to bring more economic activity back to the city. Far-away destinations have become less attractive because of the significant carbon footprint from participants traveling to get there. And wherever an event is held, there are people or organizations nearby that could be offered assistance or support.
PEOPLE – events bring together LOTS of people: participants, volunteer or paid staff, vendors and service providers, exhibitors, sponsors, performers…and each one of them has the potential to contribute. Within each of these groups, you will find people with specific experience and expertise that can be shared: helping to build something, teach or advise, or solve problems. Your board of directors, hotel or food & beverage staff, contractors—they can all be invited to channel their talents and ideas to assist a disadvantaged population or provide a benefit to the community in some way. You’re bringing them together; now make the most of it!
PROGRAM – as you design the entire experience for participants, weave in opportunities to educate, inspire to action, or create a physical change that leaves a site or organization in a better place. Connect a cause with an audience by giving them the stage for at least a few minutes or, better yet, involving them in an interactive activity. And while you’re at it, offer all participants the opportunity to contribute time, money or ideas to a cause during the course of the event.
PRACTICES – certainly group events are excellent opportunities to model and employ sustainable business practices. Mandate recycling, composting, bulk water stations, printing stations…all measures that will reduce your lasting footprint. Buy local. Offer healthy menu selections. Wherever it makes sense, convert printed materials to electronic. Specify your expectations in your RFPs to influence venues, vendors and service providers to meet your standards. If they want your business, they will deliver. Want some great practical examples? Check out this MPI Sustainability Report.
POSSESSIONS – this one is about “stuff”, and events have lots of it! It’s just a matter of getting things organized. The traditional fundraising approach would be to simply make a direct contribution of a portion of revenues from the event. If you’re a vendor or exhibitor, you might consider donating a percentage of your sales: that benefits the company by promoting sales and also the consumers, who get to contribute to a cause “for free”. Venues and service providers can donate space or services at no or discounted charge. Targeted populations can be granted free or reduced-price admission. Participants can be encouraged to donate money or unused possessions (discarded cell phones, used clothing) to the cause.
PROMOTION – most events employ a number of promotional messages during the process of building attendance and communicating information people will need in order to participate. In your messages, provide causes or non-profit organizations with the same kind of exposure that you would for any paid sponsor. Whether it’s media ads, printed programs, social media campaigns, radio interviews, whatever…each message offers you the opportunity to work towards positive change by increasing awareness and concern for social causes, supporting behavior change campaigns, or inspiring others to action. And while you’re doing this, you’ll be making people feel even better about your event and the people behind it.
Of course, you always need to keep your focus on accomplishing the original objectives for each of the stakeholders, or the event won’t be a success. But skillfully used, these power tools can get big jobs done. How have you seen these tools used to build positive change through events? And do you have any others in your own toolbox?