Events are a Waste of Money (unless you’ve planned what happens next)

We’ve learned from the best. Having been in the trenches with institutions such as Lehigh, Northeastern, VCU Massey Cancer Center, Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University as they’ve planned their event strategies, we’ve pulled together a short list of Dos and Don’ts associated with getting the highest ROI from gatherings large and small. So, read ‘em and reap…the benefits, that is.

Focus on your “A” game

Segmentation is key when planning which types of post-event follow-up are the best fit for your target audiences. It also helps to determine what’s realistic from a gift officer bandwidth perspective. The most successful efforts we’ve seen involve matching internal efforts in a tiered approach. Just as U segment guests into invitation lists of As, Bs and Cs, plan your post-gathering strategy accordingly, e.g., focusing first on the As with personal outreach, while the Bs and Cs receive a more collective touch until there is time for individualized attention.

Follow up quickly

It’s difficult to over-estimate the good impression that speedy follow-up makes. Those who were able to attend appreciate the acknowledgment and those who weren’t know they were missed. We like to see it happen within the first few days after the gathering and definitely within the first week. Any later and it may begin to feel like an afterthought – or even worse, that U couldn’t get your act together quickly enough.

Plan the end at the beginning

One way to ensure speedy follow-up is to have your communications ready to launch days before the first guests arrive. And the most successful way to do this is to plan the follow-up at the same time U are planning the event. In fact, our savvier clients actually plan how they will reach out post-event while they are developing the invitation production schedule. Very smart, with an added bonus that once back in the office (and just a little bit exhausted) their plan is ready to roll.

Use all of the tools available

These days we are so fortunate to have myriad ways of connecting with our audiences. As you contemplate when you’ll follow-up, give serious consideration to how. Will a hand-written note garner the most attention and deliver exactly the right sentiments? Or is a personal email with links to exciting aspects of the gathering the best next step? Is it an immediate Twitter or Instagram moment for a broader audience? How about a hang-tag on rearview mirrors of the cars that have been valet parked? Or a framed candid shot of the guest taken during a pivotal moment at the event? If you know how you’ll want to follow-up, you can plan accordingly, e.g., adding certain guests to the photographer’s shot list and having the frames waiting in your office on Monday morning.

Choose the appropriate messenger

Think carefully about who guests will hear from immediately following the event. Is it appropriate for the president to send a note – or maybe the provost or dean if there is mutual interest in a particular academic initiative? Perhaps a key volunteer or rock star alum is the person most likely to engender the lasting impression you’re looking for. How about the gift officer who has been shepherding the relationship so carefully? Or maybe a student who was a part of the gathering can say it best. Think through the “who” at every level and let that voice be heard.

Know what comes next

Finally, have an understanding of the next touch point planned AFTER the event follow-up. Do whatever U can early in the planning process to develop an integrated communications approach for every guest on the list. If your guests cared enough to attend then U should care even more that they came.

Best Practices
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