AND WE'RE LIVE! THE RETURN OF IN-PERSON NONPROFIT EVENTS
By Great Performances
40% of nonprofit organizations reported losses in total revenue for 2020. Partly attributed to a dramatic decline in program-related revenue, it can also be attributed to a decline in donations. Overall, 37% of nonprofit organizations reported a decline in donations in 2020 compared to 10% of nonprofit organizations in the preceding 5-year period and more than 70% of organizations reported that individual donations are essential or very important to their business. (Source)
As Covid restrictions lift and people reunite at events, restaurants, theaters, and in the office, there’s opportunity for nonprofits to recover and rebuild their donation bases. Prior to the pandemic, many nonprofit organizations held galas and events for awareness, education, community, networking, and fundraising. With our return to events, nonprofit organizations can extend their current outreach programs with live events to re-engage and grow their donor base. We spoke with some leading nonprofit event planners and partners to get a better idea of what’s happening with nonprofit organizations and how they’re coming back to live events.
Across the board, we’re seeing an increase of in-person nonprofit events, which is exciting for everyone from the nonprofit host who’s able to reconnect with their donor base to the gala attendee who is delighted to get all dressed up with somewhere to go! Rob Arango, Director of Client Development at CPS Events at The Plaza, notes that there’s been more attention to the step-and-repeat as guests are dressing up, eager to meet, greet, and have their photos taken. Even those first moments arriving at an event are celebratory! For anyone who’s watched the awards shows these past months, we’ve seen more glitz, glamor, and excitement on the red carpet.
Aside from being standard operating procedure for nonprofits to host events, galas, and live fundraisers to raise money and engage donors, there’s been increasing pushback on virtual only events (we specify virtual-only for reasons we’ll elaborate on later). The cost and effort of hosting virtual events didn’t deliver the returns in engagement and donation dollars that organizations realized from live events. As Shaun Roberts, Vice President at Great Performances notes, everyone from corporations building teams to religious organizations leading their congregations is seeing the importance of community. Specifically, education institutions are hosting alumni functions, hospitals are rebuilding fundraising efforts, artistic and performance-based groups are inviting guests back into their spaces, and socially aware organizations are rebuilding their education and outreach programs. “No matter how great the technology, it’s impossible to replicate the networking that takes place at live events,” observes James Munz, Vice President of Sales at Ziegfeld Ballroom, home to many nonprofit events including fundraisers, galas, and celebrations.
“Live events not only raise money; more importantly they are used to cultivate new donors,” reports Mike Warren, Director of Catering at CPS Events at The Plaza. Often, gala attendees will sponsor a table and invite guests who might make a connection with the cause and become a supporter. But there’s been another shift in how galas are held, notes Roberts. Instead of being tied to a table and chairs, more events are starting to have more mobile events (and not the digital kind) where guests are encouraged to walk around the space and network. “It’s been a heated debate within many organizations,” he says, “and a decision that’s very personal to each nonprofit.” Speaking with caterers, planners, and venues can help determine which event style makes the most sense for each nonprofit’s goals and constituency.
Health and safety are still top of mind for many nonprofit organizations planning events but staying on top of the latest requirements and protocols can be stressful and confusing. Munz stresses that it’s important to talk to the experts: the caterers and venues who are best able to advise on best practices that support the health, safety, and comfort of event guests. This can be anything from accessibility to ventilation. “We believe in full transparency and providing as much information as necessary to put our clients and their guests at ease. We can also share what some other nonprofits are doing to help provide some context.”
For most organizations, events look like they did pre-pandemic. Groups who are already going out are going out with a relaxed (or exhausted) attitude towards Covid stipulations: tables are not entirely distanced, and check-in is swift. At GP, we are asking our staff to be vaccinated and to remain masked, but many clients are asking that masks be removed, a sign of their desire to make everything appear as it once was. There are some planners and nonprofit organizations who are still staying on the side of caution, but Warren observes that these are few and far between and it may be as simple as setting a table for ten guests for eight.
Some nonprofit organizations aren’t quite willing to let go of the virtual component and are looking for hybrid events. Munz acknowledges that hybrid events can be a great opportunity to capture a wider audience; however, they require an extra level of planning and expertise. Roberts cautions that planning two events in one may result in increased costs and effort and that nonprofit organizations considering hybrid events need to be clear about their goals and expectations for each group of attendees. Selecting the right partner is critical to help create a program that flows smoothly. Munz notes that he’s seen the virtual portion of the hybrid event pause while the in-person attendees were being served their meals. With their deep expertise in hosting events, planners can help create a run of show and make program suggestions to make the event run seamlessly from both perspectives.
Being mindful of guest behavior advises event timelines and runs of show. Munz advises that nonprofits organizations consider adjusting their events to a shorter programmed event followed by a post-dessert reception. This allows those guests who feel uncomfortable to leave and those who feel comfortable to stay longer and socialize – a hybrid of the seated events and the networking sessions.
Event planning is also happening at a shorter timeframe. Although many nonprofits are booking venues, caterers, and other vendors months in advance, guests are waiting until closer to the event date to RSVP, making it difficult to confirm guest counts. And then there are the nonprofits that are booking events on shorter notice. Although it is possible, the current employment landscape can present a challenge. “We always recommend that our clients book the date as soon as they can so we can confirm a venue and ensure proper staffing at their event,” Roberts advises.
At the end of the day, all of the event experts and their nonprofit clients agreed on one thing: nonprofits absolutely should be hosting live events. “There used to be gala fatigue, then we had Zoom fatigue and Covid fatigue. People are eager to get back out in person,” Arango shares. People are yearning for a face-to-face connection, and it’s obvious in the excitement demonstrated when guests are together for the first time.
Encouraging those who are reluctant to venture out to an event can be as simple as providing them with more information, Roberts notes. “Be clear with what the evening holds so people can make their own choices. If you have an amazing key speaker, people will turn out for that; and keep the event to the point—no fluff.” Once you’ve identified your event goals, create a program that will engage your guests. Gone are the days when people stay at a gala until 10:00 pm because they have to; they will stay because they want to be there.
TOP TIPS FOR PLANNING A HOLIDAY PARTY
By Shaun Roberts
For many people, it’s been a long time since they’ve attended an event. Shaun Roberts, CRO (Chief Revelry Officer) and master party planner shares some of his top tips to help you plan the perfect holiday party. Whether you’re planning a company party or a social gathering for the holiday season, the same tips will apply. And don’t forget, you don’t need to plan a holiday party in November or December! January is also a great month to throw a holiday party, and our team at Great Performances can create some incredible moments to help keep your holiday party fresh and exciting.
- Get ahead of the game. It is never too early to start planning your holiday party! At the very least, get a date on the calendar so that you can secure a venue, even if it is your own space. It’ll also give you and your team a bit more time to enjoy the planning process (yes, it is possible!)
- Location, location, location. Whether you’re hosting it in-house or are looking for an event space, we can help you find a location that works for your party vibe and number of guests. From historic mansions and ultramodern urban spaces to lofty libraries and intimate museums, we’ve got a venue to suit every style. We can even find event venues for intrepid explorers, adventurous athletes
- Plan something fun. We’re not suggesting charades, but planning a special theme, activity, food, or moment to engage your guests and add an extra spark to your event can help make your holiday party even more memorable. Our planners have dozens of ideas up their sleeves from fun food stations to creative cocktails to entertainers and performers.
- Make it delicious. Now that you’ve given yourself plenty of time to plan the party, you can really put together a delicious and thoughtful menu with your Great Performances Event Director. Specialty items like sushi stations, beignet carts, and vegan ice cream trucks can be sourced. Interactive and globally inspired stations like our Pan-African, NY Street Food, and Cannoli stations are sure to be a hit. And we can help ensure that a wide variety of dietary preferences are accommodated.
- Keep the party flowing. We love welcoming guests with a drink and a nibble to help everyone feel at ease as soon as they arrive. Stations and passed hors d’oeuvres help keep people mingling and moving around the space. If you prefer a seated dinner, we recommend mixing things up with a dessert and coffee bar to encourage more post-dinner merriment.
Check out some of our resources for planning a holiday party:
RE-IMAGINING HOSPITALITY DURING COVID
by Shaun Roberts
I have been told on many occasions how amazing the Great Performances sales team is. Being the director of this team has been one of the proudest achievements of my life. With rich layers of experience, the admirable qualities of the group are innumerable; among them, we are a nimble bunch, we are assertive, and we are creative. And it was these three qualities of the team that I knew, last March, I was going to depend on more than ever before to see us through the upcoming (and undetermined) period of time.
Being that this was my first leadership experience through a pandemic, I allowed myself the freedom to explore new ways of doing old things. And with every question that presented itself, I was required to approach it with a fresh perspective.
What do we sell? In a pandemic, our company which has flourished as an in-person business, this was going to be the biggest hurdle. Before the pandemic, the GP salesperson has an established, fantastic core product to sell: our menus, our personal service, our industry-leading planning services. But, when parties of all sizes were stalled due to the pandemic, the collective of talent on our team needed to be utilized in new ways. At the same time, there was a driving need to supply food for those who needed it most, and thankfully this team could be instrumental in this process. We quickly partnered with the Sylvia Center, as they were raising funds to supply meals to hospital workers, by reaching out to our clients with something new to talk about. Our wonderful clients dug into their resources, and we raised funds for more than 10,000 meals.
In late Spring, as that medical meal relief urgency waned, the next question was, what do we talk about now? By June, discussions starting with couples regarding their 10-person outdoor weddings, (what was allowed at that time), and that was a great relief. It was this that made us realize that despite a pandemic, the need to gather around a meal and celebrate a cause was not gone. What made these micro weddings so much of a pleasure was not only the chronological placement they were positioned, but also that we were given the space to really talk about the small touches, the little moments that would make the evening all their own; from the pressed flower name cards directly from the garden venue to a wine-pairing tasting menu with sommelier (one of the silver linings from 2020’s no dancing mandate was more time spent around the dinner table!).
But for those planners who were not talking about weddings, they needed something else to talk about. It was at this time that we started to develop our packaged goods. Initially, there wasn’t terminology for it, but it quickly became called our Curated Kits, and then, by the end of year, it became our Gifting by Mail, as featured in our Hospitality Guide. Finally, after three long months of not being sure what we could sell, we were dipping our toes back into the familiar (micro weddings) and stretching our creativity with the new (how to create a facsimile event experience in a box). By adhering to client data, the current sales landscape, listening to clients’ pain points or goals, and looking at our available resources, we developed some highly curated experiences for our clients.
How do we improve the sales team experience? At the onset of the pandemic, we adapted our internal interactions to video conferencing, and our once bi-weekly sales meeting became a daily one. The discovery from this period of time (though looking back to that, I can’t imagine how we could ever fit that into our schedule again), was how vital it was to have this daily discussion surrounding the challenges that we were facing, and in this new isolation. We are not a group of people that like to tucked away on our own! What was learnt from this time, and that we continue to learn, is that though it is easy to forget that your colleague, vendor or client are not there in front of you, reaching out is always the best medicine.
One of the hardships of the pandemic could be that with empty offices, how do you connect with your clients? We found that, If anything, our clients became more accessible. The pandemic has allowed a whole new customer experience, an opportunity to create a more intimate bond with our clients. By spending time that wasn’t previously afforded us, we are learning so much more about the people on the other end of the phone, finding even more commonality between us, and learning how to cherish this time that we have, as we all hope to return to something more familiar to pre-pandemic.
And while we were not able to meet up with clients in person, we still found ways to recreate some of the physical environment you’re missing out on. From what our own clients were requesting from us, we would share new ways for them to stay in touch with their clients, and we’d apply it ourselves. We’d send a bag of coffee and a French press to a client and schedule a conversation over a cup of coffee. Or have one of our bento boxes delivered for a Zoom to enjoy lunch together.
There have been many silver linings to this dark cloud of a pandemic, and many of those moments we will take with us beyond this. The best lesson though, and the one that is worth the wait, is nothing is ever as good as when you can gather in person with friends, clients, and officemates, nor is it replicable remotely. We cannot wait to return!