Events are among the most powerful ways to organize your community because they involve face-to-face interaction with your supporters. In-person engagement is where relationships are built and strengthened. But the success of an event is usually determined not at the venue - but in the planning, and in the follow-up. Avoid these common event pitfalls.
MISTAKE NO. 1: You’re hosting free, open-to-the-public events, but you don’t ask for RSVPs. Too many organizations that host free public events don’t ask people to RSVP.
They invest time and money (and more time) promoting these free events, then cross their fingers that people will show up. Events like these are golden opportunities to collect information on new supporters and to enrich the profiles of existing supporters. Every event you host is an opportunity to enrich your database with information about your community that you can use for future targeting (and you always want to be better targeting, because that’s how you get enormously better engagement on your emails).
Solution: For every event, create an event page that tags RSVPs based on the event name. Recently, a longtime NationBuilder customer who hosts lots of community events, for the first time asked people to RSVP to an event promoting a local community dog park. They created a goal to get 50 RSVPs, knowing that their real goal for attendees was around 25, and typically attendance is around 50% of RSVPs. As usual, the organization promoted the event on Facebook, to their existing email list and via partners. They got 83 RSVPs. But here’s the real magic: 81 of the RSVPs were brand new to the organization’s email list! In the future, there will be 83 people instead of 2 who can be targeted with dog-related content.
MISTAKE NO. 2: You don’t do any 1:1 outreach to RSVPs. The typical, rote pattern of event planning is:
Build a list of invites.
Promote event through social media and advertising.
Send generic followup (typically not segmented based on attendance).
Solution: There’s one key step that you need to add before you have the event. You don’t have time for 1:1 outreach with every RSVP - but you do have time for 1:1 outreach to some of your RSVPs. Think about which RSVPs can help the most with outreach, to get more people to the event. In NationBuilder, I’d look for any RSVPs with lots of social capital, or with a lot of Twitter followers. Here’s an example of a NationBuilder Path used for managing event outreach. I’m looking at all current RSVPs, sorting them by Twitter followers, and filtering for folks who have at least 1,000 Twitter followers.
Now, I’ll switch to single-person view, and one-by-one, I’ll call or email these selected targets and ask them to share about our event. I’d also provide them with their unique recruiter link, so I can track whether their outreach actually results in RSVPs (so I can thank them later).
MISTAKE No. 3: You have no engagement ladder for post-event follow-up. You invested all this time into putting on a well-attended, effective event, then you punctuate it with a generic email that goes to everyone who RSVPd. Then your post-event follow-up is over. How many times have you gotten the “Thanks for coming” email from an event that you didn’t actually end up attending? These emails are awkward to receive. Sending them is bad and lazy organizing. Resist the excuse that your small staff is just to strapped for time. If you’re going to put on an event, do it right, so you can actually achieve your goals.
Solution: In order to send targeted post-event communication that differentiates between attendees (thanks for coming! Now, here’s how you can get more involved) and non-attendees (we’re sorry we missed you, here’s what you missed, and how you can attend a future event), you need a simple way to mark attendees. I highly recommend Check, a new NationBuilder event check-in app by cStreet. It’s sleek, easy-to-use and affordable.
cStreet's mobile event check-in app, Check
In addition to sending separate emails to attendees vs. non-attendees, think through the purpose of the event. If it’s to find new supporters, your attendees should be placed on your new-supporter Path in NationBuilder. If it was to educate people on a core advocacy issue, follow-up with asks to get each attendee more deeply involved (i.e., ‘here’s how you can host your own event,’ or ‘after hearing that keynote speech about justice, now will you help us raise money for justice?’). The end of each event is also the beginning of follow-up to the event, and part of your long-term engagement ladder. If you're not spending careful time on follow-up, you're doing it wrong.