This time of year, nonprofit organizations often celebrate their important work (and their coworkers) with parties or other special events. Yours might be a five-course fundraising dinner, or it might be a casual Christmas party at a colleague’s home.
Whether your event is conventional or inventive, public or private, it needs to be on-brand for your organization. Think of it as a way to underscore the reputation you want your organization to have. What are the best ways to reinforce your brand at an event? The answer depends on what your brand is meant to represent.
Below, we’ve outlined three important event-related guidelines. To bring them to life for you, we’ve included some event examples that smartly reflected their nonprofits’ brands—and one event gone awfully wrong.
1. Stay consistent with your brand personality. If you work for a social justice organization with a populist brand, it doesn’t make sense to invite your donors to a chichi cocktail bar. In the same vein, celebrating a grassroots, activist brand in a stuffy ballroom doesn’t send the right message. Get creative. Could you host a scavenger hunt? A concert? Just because you haven’t seen something done before doesn’t mean it won’t work. As a matter of fact, doing something original might be the smartest choice for your brand.
2. Reflect the spirit of the work itself. An animal rights organization shouldn’t host a pig roast, but a vegetarian chili cook-off might be appropriate. For organizations that provide housing or food to the underserved, lavish events can feel insensitive or even offensive. If you do opt for a luxurious celebration, make sure that the benefits to your constituents are easily visible. You might opt to collect canned food at the door of a fancy restaurant, or to give a portion of your catered food to vulnerable populations.
3. Reinforce your messaging at the event. You might kick-start the event by introducing your organization—or its challenges—with the Minute Message Model. Mission Minded client CCH literally served up its tagline on its desserts. Every aspect of your event will shape your audiences’ impressions of you, so choose all your words carefully.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Charity:water is an iconoclastic brand, so it makes sense that it would pioneer a new way to collect donations at one of its events. At his 31st birthday party (which was also the launch party for charity: water), founder Scott Harrison charged his friends $20 at the door and raised $15,000 for clean water projects. This innovative approach corresponds with the brand’s mantra: one person’s simple act of benevolence can change the lives of far-away villagers with something as simple as water. Today, the organization’s birthday project invites people to collect donations instead of gifts on their birthdays.
Mission Minded client the Children’s Museum of Denver celebrated its 40th birthday with a grown-up crowd. That didn’t mean they had to act grown up. Instead, they chose a Willy Wonka theme, complete with elaborate invitations and candy prizes.
Mike Yankovich, the Museum’s executive director, ordered an authentic Willy Wonka costume from London so he could set the right tone. Altogether, the event really embodied the playfulness and childlike spirit that characterize the museum’s personality.
Similarly, the Museum once planned a board retreat in a remote, agricultural setting. In addition to discussing business, board members had the opportunity to churn butter by hand. In this way, the Museum actively reminded its board of their core values: childlike learning, discovery, and joy.
Mission Minded client B612 Foundation recently participated in Nerd Nite at Sea, a collaboration between Nerd Nite SF and the Bay Area Science Festival. B612 Foundation consists of the nation’s sharpest scientific minds, who work together to prevent disastrous asteroid collisions. Nerd Nite, with its emphasis on learning, was the perfect setting for the Foundation’s expert brand. The event took place aboard the U.S.S. Hornet, which once carried astronauts from Apollo 11. Not only did the setting conjure B612 Foundation’s work, but Rusty Schweickart, a former NASA astronaut and co-founder of the Foundation, was also there to give a talk about his work.
A word of caution: nonprofits working in the social services sector need to be especially careful of the image their events project. If anything is inappropriate for an antigambling organization, it’s a trip to Las Vegas. See for yourself:
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