A good new event can do wonders for a charity – raising awareness and cash in equal measure, while also giving you the chance to reward existing fundraisers and recruit new ones. But where do you start? Virgin Money Giving talks to two professional event planners to find out.
The numbers are mind-boggling. Sixteen thousand runners a year tackling 13.1 miles through four of London’s Royal Parks, to raise around £5 million for charities. But perhaps the most amazing number attached to the Royal Parks Half Marathon is that it is only nine years old, 10 this year. For an event to wedge itself so firmly in the public imagination so quickly is the dream for most event organisers and – according to Sally Barney at the Royal Parks – the key is balancing the familiar with the extraordinary. “I think for an event to gain traction there has to be something that’s different,” she says. “Especially if you’re starting from scratch.”
In the case of the Royal Parks Half, the organisers realised that there wasn’t a half marathon in central London and capitalised on their unique position of being able include the Royal Parks in the route to rectify that. “We were very lucky that our vision was so strong,” recalls Sally. “That meant we were able to attract runners, charities and some big sponsors in the first year. We had Brakes, Lucozade Sport and others behind us, because we could explain our vision in a single sentence and they got it.”
Location, Location, Location
While not every charity can call upon some 5,000 acres of pristine parkland, the importance of the simple sell applies to all. “The most important thing about selling an event is the title, the one line of description and the one great image,” says Alex Rochford, founder of The Producers UK, who promote, produce and manage live events across the country. “You have so little time to capture people’s imagination you need to make that first impression count. If it’s too complicated people won’t engage, if it’s too run-of-the-mill they’ll think it is boring.”Alex believes that location is the key to exciting crowds. “A film screening or silent disco might not be that innovative, but when you do them on the rooftop of a tall building, or in a beautiful old mansion then you have something.” Although it’s important to not let your charity’s message get lost in the innovation. “Charities shouldn’t do an event just because everyone else is doing it,” says Sally. “Whatever event charities organise it should be relevant to them, it should fit it with who they are as a charity. For us, as an example, we wanted the Half to be as sustainable as possible, as well as being a great run.”
Alex recommends considering what he calls the “build it once, use it twice” approach when planning unique events. “If you have an evening event in mind, which could start at 7pm on a Saturday, can you use the same setup for a family event on Sunday lunchtime?” he says. “The initial costs and effort of setting up a film screen or stage are considerable, so you may as well make them work for you as much as possible.”
TENs, tickets and telling the world
To keep small-to-medium-sized events on the right side of the law, you’ll more than likely need to secure a TENs, or Temporary Events Notice, from your local council. This licence, which will allow you to sell alcohol and accommodate up to 499 people, takes an average of 10 working days to be processed, and according to Alex, is worth reading carefully down to the small print. “The rules and regulations written on there are a great cheat sheet for the basics you need to have in place,” he says. “You can’t just pitch a tent in a car park, bring a band and start selling booze.”
Alex’s other tip is to pay attention to ticketing. “Ticketing sounds daunting, but there are really good ticketing services you can go for,” he says. “You could use websites such as We’ve Got Tickets, Brown Paper Tickets, Ticket Tailor or Eventbrite. You don’t want to be standing on the street with raffle tickets or printing your own tickets; instead let your supporters spread the link via Facebook posts or Twitter. Then on the day of the event you just print a list and tick your many, many patrons off at the door.”
Alex, who used to be the director of live events at Time Out, has another insider’s tip for publicising events. “A lot of newspapers and websites will buy in listings of upcoming events to publish,” he says. “The Press Association runs probably the biggest list. You can list your events on the Press Association website for free and they will send that information out to hundreds of magazines, websites and local papers.”
The piggy back approach
If all this sounds too daunting, maybe the best way of fundraising through events is not to throw your own event in the first place. “Sometimes it is just about being alert to the right opportunity,” says Sally. “Winter Wonderland is a huge public event held in one of our parks. They have to do a preview night, which is basically a dress rehearsal. We said, ‘if you can’t open it to the public, but you have to have people there to test, can we use the opportunity to fundraise?’ They said yes and it’s now a fabulous income generating event for us and there was no risk to us at all. We’re not putting on the event.”
Alex and Sally agree that the most important thing about organising an event is that you should try and enjoy it. “At a lot of events I attend, the organisers are the people who appear to be having the worst time,” Alex says. “You’re the face of the whole thing. Sit back and enjoy your own event, and people will appreciate what you’re doing. Do your preparation. If you spend that little bit of time at the beginning thinking about how you’re going to bring people in and what the event’s going to look like and where the toilets are, then you don’t have to be chasing your tail on the night. It’s like having a house party. If you’re constantly checking that no one’s wrecking your stuff, your guests aren’t going to be able to relax. Make sure you have hidden your good crockery, so you can relax and enjoy your event.”
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