Online Event Planning
Holding a holiday concert? Planning a New Year's bash? Squeezing in a last-minute, year-end house party as a fundraiser for your favorite cause? Online event planning might save you some of the hassle that normally comes with putting together an event for your organization or cause. Whether you're in the planning, preparation, implementation or post-event stage of the game, there is no getting away from the necessity of using eTools for your event.
You can't do it all ... at least not alone. Use email and online meeting spaces to put the plans for your event together. Sites like www.topica.com, www.egroups.com and www.yahoo.com all allow you to set up a mailing list for FREE. It takes only a few minutes... all the members of your event committee can register to receive and send emails via one central address. Members also have the choice of receiving emails as one-by-one, online or as a "digest" at the end of the day. This can allow busy committee members to help out with planning from wherever they choose.
Online meeting spaces like www.webex.com and www.ccimeet.com allow users to pay for a "conference" space online. These can be regular subscriptions that offer unlimited services, or can be on a pay-per-use basis. Of course, if you don't mind the possibility of other observers, you can start an interest group with one of the free services like www.msn.com or www.yahoo.com. Make sure your meeting has a schedule, agenda and moderator to keep people on track. Instructions should be sent out a day in advance, regarding how to access the meeting and the agenda. Notes from the meeting can be posted online after the fact, so that people can follow up with action items. It may take a few tries to get online meetings going smoothly, so I would suggest this only for people who have a geographically diverse committee or a lot of preparation time.
This step is probably where you'll save the most time and energy working online. Start out by putting your invitation on a website that people can access freely. Using graphics and color is easy with sites like evite.com and invitedepot.com that help you design eInvitations. These services are also particularly helpful because they'll track who has received and responded to an invite. You can even send a reminder email to your list at the click of a mouse. Another useful service, albeit not free, is the Topica Publisher service (www.topica.com -- access the Publisher section)... accessing and organizing email lists was never easier; though integrating this info into your database might take some effort.
A few tips about eInvites...
- Send out a couple of rounds of emails -- one as a save-the-date notice, and one as a reminder just before the event. Evite and other services offer this "reminder" function. There are always internet glitches, or people who don't understand how to access their eInvites, so a follow-up can help.
- Make sure every invite has all the details in it (who, what, when, where, why, RSVP information).
- If you're inviting a large group of people who aren't necessarily close to your organization, make sure you offer a way for people to unsubscribe from your list.
Another useful aspect of online event planning is online payment options. Depending upon the capability of your website, the deductibility of a ticket to your event, and your budget, your organization can easily secure online ticketing services or offer them on your own website. Take a look at the sites of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (www.afpnet.org) and the World Affairs Council of Northern California (www.itsyourworld.org) for some good examples of organizations that use on-going, online event ticketing. Keep in mind that you may need to acquire merchant vender certification to run credit card processing from your website. It is much easier to ask another company to do this for you. There are many options, in this regard. For example, my organization recently used a Southeast Asian-focused site, www.sulekha.com, to process our tickets for a fundraiser to benefit a rural Indian population. You should make sure that you have the up-front money to cover the costs of the event, since the income from such a vendor might not be available before the event happens, especially on occasions when most people pay on the day of the event.
As you can imagine, most events do not occur online. Planning ahead to extract all the data you need from your online vendors and sites will save you from scrambling to do so at the last minute. Closing online registration or payment a day or so before your event will allow you to have time to download and format lists, payment schedules and details that guests have entered online.
Following this line of reasoning, you'll need to devise methods for last-minute registration and to make an accurate guess as to your attendance level. The latter of the two will always be difficult, if you allow guests to purchase tickets at the door. In addition, not all correspondence need be done via email/online. Consider processing final registration via the phone, if you are concerned about a last-minute rush to RSVP.
So, your event has gone smoothly, and the size of the crowd indicates that you have successfully navigated online event planning. Be sure to follow-up by contacting online vendors about any missing or inaccurate ticket sales information, extracting your data from any online locations, and posting event highlights/thank-you's online. The email addresses of those who attended can be valuable for future online solicitations or event announcements. A follow-up email could include a link to your online event highlights, and advertise for any upcoming or repeat events. Remember to include people who may have inquired about the event, but didn't actually get to attend... they may be even more likely to take a look at what they missed! Photo galleries, video and audio feed can add a nice touch to your highlights, and are usually easy to load, if you've taken digital photos or video. Lots of eCard vendors (www.bluemountain.com or www.vietnameses.com/ecard.htm) will allow you to send cards for free or cheap, and often offer you the chance to upload your own graphic or photo.
Although the first time using online tools for event planning might add extra work to the process, there is no doubt that the time saved in the long-run will pay off. The ease of sharing information and bringing new people into your organization will make the initial time and financial investment invaluable as you plan future events.