Guest post from Craig Janis.
Successfully running an organization often means getting people to attend your organization’s events. This is true for almost every type of organization, including law school clubs, professional groups, and community associations. While different kinds of organizations have different needs, there are a few basic principles of event planning that are universally helpful.
Keep it interesting and on-topic
First, make sure that the event you are planning will be interesting to your target audience. If your organization is founded to advance a specific cause, make sure that your events are centered around that cause. If you stray too far from your organization’s purpose, you run the risk of weakening your message or alienating your members. Furthermore, your members joined your organization because they are interested in your mission, and that means you do not have to guess what kind of event will appeal to them. Sometimes it’s alright to deviate from this rule, but do so with discretion.
Consider your audience’s schedule
Second, try to schedule the event at a time that will be convenient for your target audience. If you are a school club, the most convenient time is often the lunch hour when students don’t have class and are interested in taking some time off from their studies. Professional groups may also find that the lunch hour is a good time for some events, depending on the profession. Evenings work for most types of organizations, but weekends will not generally be popular times unless the event is social or recreational in nature. If it’s feasible to do so, you may even consider polling your membership to see what times are generally the most convenient.
Keep it local
Third, take advantage of any local interests that you can incorporate into your event. One easy way to do this is to address the local effects of national or global issues, or to have local experts give presentations and classes. Bringing in local experts has the additional benefit of providing your members with valuable networking opportunities and raising your organization’s profile in the community. Local experts are also much more likely to have a personal connection to your organization and its members, and in turn, your members are much more likely to care about the speaker. For a professional organization, it may be appropriate to use your own membership as a pool for finding speakers. Doing so has the dual benefit of building your members’ careers and developing camaraderie within your organization. It can be particularly useful for law school organizations to invite school alums or supporters since their connection to the school makes them more likely to care about the students.
Bring in a partner
Fourth, whenever feasible and appropriate, it can be helpful to cosponsor activities with other organizations that have overlapping missions. For example, community service organizations might find it helpful to cosponsor an activity with a minority community association when planning a service project in a neighborhood with a large minority population, and professional organizations for small business lawyers might find success cosponsoring activities with the local Chamber of Commerce. Cosponsoring has numerous benefits, including an expanded membership base to attend the event, additional planning and budget resources, and the potential to endear your organization to people who might not otherwise get involved in your work.
Get the word out
Fifth, advertise in as many ways as are appropriate and financially feasible. Use email, social media, paper invitations, and word of mouth to inform people about your events. If most of your membership is exposed to a certain source of information, seriously consider taking advantage of that exposure. For law school clubs, this may mean posting flyers and making in-class announcements. For professional organizations, this may mean advertising in trade magazines and contacting businesses. In any event, be as creative as possible within the parameters of what is appropriate for your organization. The more times someone is exposed to an ad for your event, the more likely they are to attend it.
Let them eat cake
Sixth, having food at the event is almost a guarantee of success. Even something as simple as cookies or inexpensive pizza will draw people out, but if your budget permits, do something nicer. This maxim will prove itself true time and time again: The better the food, the bigger the crowd! This rule is especially salient when you are having your event during the lunch hour. Be sure, however, that you have enough food for everyone, and if you do not, send someone out to buy extra. If your budget does not allow for this, try doing a potluck style meal or dessert table. This point cannot be overemphasized: Good food equals a good turnout.
Finally, remember to thank the people who helped with the event. Often, it’s enough to just send an email, but for speakers or other presenters, it may be more appropriate to give them a written thank you note, and possibly, a small gift of some kind. Expressing gratitude will create goodwill on behalf of your organization, and it will encourage people to support your organization again in the future.
(photo: D Sharon Pruitt)
Craig Janis is a law student at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah.