Monday to Thursday, 10am-4pm, EST
1.855.281.5499 (toll free)

Taking Events to the Next Level with Tech

Event PlanningFundraising

A lot of nonprofit event managers and coordinators have to wear multiple hats. On top of planning conferences, fundraising events, workshops and other program events, event specialists still have to handle 1,000 other things at their nonprofit. How can they manage events and stay on top of everything else? There is no simple solution, but there are some technologies that can help.

At November 12th’s Toronto Net Tuesday, Fanny Martin, a seasoned event professional at Art of Festivals, and Ben Raffi, CEO of Uniiverse, shared a few thoughts on using technology for events and compiled a list of tools for nonprofits to try.

This blog post summarizes the key discussion points from the workshop, such as the trends and challenges in the nonprofit sector and resources that can help event planning and management.

You can also watch the event recording on TechSoup Canada’s YouTube channel and view Fanny’s slides on SlideShare.

The Tech Shift

When it comes to using technology in the nonprofit sector, Fanny reminds us of how important it is to have the right context. Technology can vastly improve your efforts if you are well informed. For example, switching to a new CRM/database can improve your operations, but only if your nonprofit has done its due diligence to assess your current systems, map out the needs vs. the wants, and properly evaluate the different CRMs options on the market.

There are also instances where going low or no tech isn’t a bad option. Fanny mentions how paper evaluation forms are still one of the quickest and surest ways to get immediate feedback at an event. There are also things that are better no tech, such as personalized, hand-written thank-you notes.

Fanny points out how technology cannot replace your thinking. Technology is no doubt a great tool, but it’s still just a tool. Instead of focusing on the tools, nonprofits should look at what it is they’re trying to accomplish (& why), and what they need to do in order to accomplish it. Once they address those questions, nonprofits will be in a better position to evaluate what they can improve on with the use of technology.

Tech or No Tech?

So how do you decide to go high tech or no tech? Fanny suggests gaining a better understanding of the processes involved in managing an event in order to answer this question.

There are essentially six phases for planning/managing an event:

  1. Concept (brand)
  2. Content (planning the program)
  3. Finance (budgeting, fundraising)
  4. Sales & Marketing (communication & ticketing)
  5. Operations (scheduling, volunteers)
  6. Evaluation (lessons learned)

Now consider if you need technology for all or some of the event phases. Since there are literally hundreds of tech tools for each phase, ask yourself these important questions:

  • what are your internal resources? (ie. is it just you managing the event? Do you have a marketing/finance/operations team that work closely with you?)
  • how many events are you creating?
  • what type of event are you planning?
  • what is the audience size?
  • what functions do you need the technology to manage? (ie. sell tickets, manage RSVPs)
  • is the technology better than going no tech in the short and long term?
  • And lastly, does the tool have nonprofit pricing? Even if you have a generous event budget, spending your finances wisely is part and parcel of being in the nonprofit sector.

For example, going high tech may not be the best option if staff, volunteer and audience adoption rates are low (ie., won’t use the technology because the learning curve is too steep). On the other hand, going no tech may cause problems in the long-term (ie., no back-ups, information gets misplaced, etc.).

With those questions in mind, Ben, Fanny and session participants brainstormed a few tech options for you to consider:

Concept (brand/USP)
Brainstorming tools:

Content (planning the program)

Branding tools:

Finance (budgeting, fundraising)

Budgeting tools:

Fundraising tools:

Sales & Marketing (communication & ticketing)

Email Marketing tools:

Ticketing tools:

Marketing tools:

Operations (scheduling, volunteers)

Scheduling tools:

Evaluation (lessons learned)

Compiling feedback:

Selecting a Tech Tool: A Practical Example

To put this into practice, Ben and Fanny walked through a common scenario for small nonprofits: which ticketing tool should I use?

They chose to compare three well-rounded event ticketing tools: Eventbrite, Meetup and Uniiverse. All of these tools can create event webpages, free and paid ticketing events, coupons, manage RSVPs, and send reminders. People can also create user profiles on each platform so they can find or recommend your event to others.

Since Meetup, Eventbrite and Uniiverse can handle basic event functionality, Ben and Fanny looked at other criteria that nonprofits should consider before selecting a tool:

Platforms Eventbrite* Meetup
Unique features that may be useful for nonprofits

You can create tracking links to see which
marketing channels work or don’t work for event promotion. You can also
export attendee information and create event widgets that can be
embedded on your website.

Meetup already has a large and vibrant community. Since there are more
users on Meetup, your events can potentially attract more attendees.
Events can be embedded on your Facebook page, blog or website. You also can export attendee information and create tracking links.
Things to consider in the long-term Despite automating most features so it’s intuitive, there are still some manual processes that can be frustrating You cannot export contact information and can only communicate with your attendees through Meetup Uniiverse is currently English only
Does this platform have nonprofit pricing? Yes. Creating events on Eventbrite are free, but you are charged when you make a sale (2% +$0.99)
No. Meetup costs ~$50-70 every three months for organizer fees (up to three groups) Yes, but you need to contact them. Creating events are free and you are only charged when you make a sale.

*We reviewed Eventbrite and Guestlist for the second TechSoup Battles challenge, event registration

Since each platform has it’s strength and weaknesses, it’s important to outline what you need for your event before selecting a tool. Once you know what you need, Ben advises event managers to start on one platform first and manage it well.