Great guest blog post by our friends at CharityBids! If you’re ready to make your next nonprofit event more engaging, you’ll need to think outside of the box. Here are 4 strategies for your organization to try!

The volunteers who helped you run the event, the new marketing strategy you tried, the great caterer you hired, or the nice venue you were able to book may come to mind. 

But chances are, if your event was successful, there was also something else at play: the event was engaging for your attendees. 

When a nonprofit event is engaging, it means that your attendees actively participate in the event, experience an emotional connection with your cause, and enjoy interacting with your nonprofit’s team and fellow attendees. They leave the event feeling great and wanting to continue supporting your cause. 

If you’ve hosted a truly engaging event in the past, you may be wondering how you’re going to do it again. Or, if you have yet to see the participation and enthusiasm you’re hoping for at one of your events, you may be wondering where to start. 

In this short guide, we’ll walk through four ways to make your next event more engaging so that you can make memories with your attendees and drive long-lasting support for your mission. Let’s begin!

1. Choose the right theme. 

As explained in CharityBids’ nonprofit event planning guide, there’s a lot that goes into getting ready for an event. One of the most important things you’ll need to do upfront is select the right theme. This is critical, as the theme you choose will set the tone for your event and have a great impact on how well you’re able to engage your attendees. 

Here are a few tips for choosing the right theme: 

  • Ensure the theme aligns with your mission. First and foremost, your theme should fit with your organization’s mission and guiding values. For instance, if your cause is related to taking care of the environment, an “Old Hollywood Glamour” theme might sound fun, but you (and your attendees!) may struggle to connect it to your mission. 
  • Consider your audience. Take into account what you know about your audience, including the types of events they’ve enjoyed in the past and the demographic information you have on them. For instance, if your cause is supported primarily by families, you may want to go with a more family-friendly theme over something like “Casino Night.” 
  • Practicality. Ensure you can do the theme justice given your budget and schedule. More complex themes will require your nonprofit to put forth more effort and resources.

Just because you want to ensure your theme fits your mission, takes into account who your attendees are, and is practical for your nonprofit to execute doesn’t mean that you can’t get creative! Here are some fun themes to consider: 

  • Masquerade
  • Summer Festival 
  • Back to School
  • Under the Stars 
  • A Journey Around the World
  • Garden Party 
  • Pet Friends
  • Earth Day
  • Winter Holidays
  • A-Thon 

After you’ve picked your theme, the fun can begin! Begin building out your event around your central theme, starting with the activities that will take place on the big day. 

2. Plan interactive activities. 

Remember that a big part of hosting an engaging event is ensuring that your attendees are active participants in the event. They should get a chance to mix and mingle with each other and your team. 

The activities you plan can greatly determine just how interactive your event will be. Here are some popular options to consider: 

  • Panel discussions or Q&A sessions. Panels and Q&A sessions are much more interactive than lectures or presentations because they empower attendees to join in on the conversation. Select panelists or speakers from your board and staff to talk about your cause, or, if appropriate, ask some of your beneficiaries to speak about your organization’s impact. Then, give plenty of time for attendees to ask questions or make comments.   
  • Games and contests. Try incorporating a trivia game, scavenger hunt, costume contest, or some other type of game into your event. To encourage participation and boost excitement around the game or contest, make sure to offer prizes to the winners!
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising. Peer-to-peer fundraising (P2P) is a fundraising strategy that turns your event attendees into volunteer fundraisers. Typically, participants will ask their family and friends to donate to your cause using their own donation form. P2P works especially well at a-thon-style events like walk-a-thons, where participants can gather donations based on achievement (like having donors pledge $5 for every mile walked). 
  • Volunteer opportunities. Give your attendees some on-the-ground experience moving your mission forward. Whether you’re putting together hygiene kits for refugees, tying blankets for small children in need, or weeding a city park, they’ll enjoy the chance to get involved. Better yet, some attendees may feel inspired to get involved with your volunteer program as a result! 
  • Auctions. Auctions allow attendees to give generously and potentially win high-value items! If you decide to have a live or silent auction as part of your event, make sure to give your team plenty of time to procure high-quality items and experiences that will make people want to bid. 

Remember to align the activities you choose with your mission and theme to maintain consistency throughout the entire event! 

3. Provide memorable live entertainment. 

Depending on the nature of your event, you may decide that live entertainment would be a great way to garner interest in the event and help your attendees make lasting memories connected to your cause. 

For instance, you may want to recruit local musicians and bands to play their music at stops along your bikeathon route or have a community theater troupe design a special performance related to your cause. The possibilities are endless! 

If you want to shoot for star quality at your event, consider working with nonprofit event planning experts who can assist you with talent acquisition. They have connections with A-list celebrities and entertainers and can coordinate all the details.  

Whatever route you choose to take with live entertainment, ensure that the technical aspects of the entertainment, like sound and lighting, are ready to go well ahead of the big day. It also won’t hurt to have a backup plan should you experience technical difficulties. 

4. Create excitement with impactful multimedia. 

You can use multimedia at your event to create an atmosphere that gets your audience excited to learn more about your cause, participate in your activities, and give generously to your organization

Here are some media elements to consider incorporating into your event: 

  • Video presentations. Create a video presentation that explains your cause and your organization’s recent accomplishments. Make sure to incorporate inspiring music and video footage of your team at work or your beneficiaries tapping into your services. You can show this to open your event and set the tone for the occasion. 
  • Digital signage. Use digital signs to display your agenda, direct attendees to different areas around the venue, or even display messages of thanks to donors and sponsors
  • Livestreaming. If some of your attendees are participating in your event virtually, you can get them involved in the fun by livestreaming the event to them and also projecting their faces onto the big screen at the live event (with their permission). 
  • Slideshows. Slideshows that share eye-catching statistics or photos related to your cause can play throughout the event, giving attendees something to engage with during any downtime there might be on the big day. 
  • Social media challenges. Stay active on your nonprofit’s social media channels throughout the event and encourage guests to post pictures, videos, and status updates related to the event. Curate these using an event-specific hashtag. You can even offer a prize for the person who shares the best photo or video!

Beyond these specific multimedia elements, remember that the lighting and sounds in your venue will greatly affect the atmosphere of your event. For example, at a charity 5K, you’ll want to pump up your attendees with upbeat music. At a high-end gala, however, low mood lighting and classical music in the background may be more appropriate. 

Engaging your attendees should be your goal at every event your nonprofit hosts. True engagement can lead to sustained interest in your cause and lifelong support for your work.

As you incorporate these five best practices into your event planning efforts, remember that you’ll also have an opportunity to keep your attendees engaged after the event with your follow-up work. The right follow-up moves will make a major difference in solidifying your event as a positive experience in your attendees’ minds!

Dominique Desmarais is the Marketing Manager at CharityBids. She earned her Bachelor of Commerce from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, specializing in Marketing and International Business. 

Over the years, Dominique has developed a strong passion for creative direction and strategy development. She brings a unique and artistic approach to marketing, rooted in her enthusiasm for the creative, entertainment and fashion industries, and their applications to establishing and growing digital presence. Having launched her own creative agency, Dominique was able to collaborate across cultures and bring creative visions to life through disruptive innovation. 

When she’s not working, you can find Dominique hunting down the best food in the city, taking in an art exhibit, or capturing the beauty of her surroundings through photographs. She has a fire to create change and a drive to fuel success, while continuously striving to learn, grow, and prosper.

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