Before beginning to organize any sort of event, it is vitally important to write a project plan. I know, that sounds redundant- the first step of planning is creating a plan? Trust me, it makes a difference.
Over the past several years, I have planned and executed many large-scale and small-scale events for With Purpose, a nonprofit that raises money and awareness for childhood cancer research. From 5Ks to Ultimate Frisbee Tournaments, each planning process begins with a unique project plan, or “map.” This determines the overarching goals of the event, how those goals line up with the mission of our organization, and how we should go about achieving the goals.
The final plan should follow a format similar to the one below:
- Executive Summary
- Situation Analysis
- Market Segmentation
- Marketing Strategy
- Short and Long-Term Projections
These categories can be adapted to fit the specific needs of your event, but for the purposes of this post, I’ll be using a winter festival (Chill Fest) as my example.
We begin, out of order, with the Goals section. It is essential to determine the overarching goals of the event and how they align with the mission of your organization. Without this step, the rest of the plan is futile and undirected. Feel free to make your goals as specific or vague as you see fit, but they should be realistic and easy to understand. For most other goals, I insist on using the S.M.A.R.T goals format (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound), but for the project plan, I like to stay a bit more broad. For example, my Goals section of the winter festival project plan looked something like:
The primary goal of WPCS in hosting this event is to enhance the organization’s reputation in Bryan/College Station as a credible advocate for people who have been affected by childhood cancer. An ideal outcome of Chill Fest would be to spread awareness throughout the community.
The secondary goal is to raise money for pediatric cancer research and lobbyist efforts to influence legislation regarding the issue. WPCS would like to raise more money from Chill Fest than from previous marquee events. Further financial analysis can be found below.
Once you’re satisfied with your goals, you can move onto the Situation Analysis section. This is important because it allows you to play to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses from the very beginning. While the goals give you focus, the situation analysis helps you approach the event realistically. I use the following segments for this section:
- Collaborators (Who’s involved in hosting the event?)
- Include your organization, sponsors, etc.
- SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
- You should include a contingency plan in case of unexpected challenges under the “Threats” segment.
Moving on to Market Segmentation, I will note that this section tends to vary quite a bit from event to event. For the winter festival in particular, I first included an Overview of Reachable Markets and then narrowed it down in a Target Market(s) segment. This allowed me to see that although we had the capability of reaching markets such as Texas A&M University faculty, we were better off focusing our efforts on actual students from both A&M and Blinn College who would be more inclined to attend our event. Your target market(s) are vital because they inform the next step, Marketing Strategy.
If you attended business school, chances are you know about the 4 P’s of marketing. If not, you’re about to learn! I use the 4 P’s method to segment my Marketing Strategy section in all project plans, because it works. Here is a short sample from my winter festival plan:
Chill Fest is a winter festival at Penberthy Intramural Complex. We will split our portion of Field #12 into at least 2 parts, creating space for a flag football tournament. Additionally, we will have food stations underneath the pavilion and a bounce house in the adjacent grassy area. A DIY photo booth will be located on Field #12 and an area to create holiday cards for children with cancer will be set up near the pavilion.
Flag Football team registration (6 players): $60
Adult entry: $5
Child entry: $3
Advertising will take place on-campus via the Campus Advertising team, in locations such as Rudder Plaza, the MSC, and other buildings. H-stake signs will be purchased from CC Creations and distributed in high traffic zones, such as the Rec Center. Additionally, pull-tab flyers will be placed in off campus areas with high visibility.
- Facebook advertising
- Instagram advertising
- Screen time in MSC and other on-campus buildings
- Flyer distribution
- Email lists
- In person communication
As you can see, you have the freedom to make your Marketing Strategy as detailed as you wish. In With Purpose, we have two advertising teams (Campus and Community) that create their own, more specific plans for their team members once they begin working. In that case, the project plan serves as an overall strategy and the team leaders are free to tweak it as they wish, within reason. You may choose to implement this section differently in your own organization.
I complete the other three sections of the project plan in the following order:
- Short and Long-Term Projections
- Executive Summary (keep in mind this is included first in the plan!)
Each of these sections is a summary of sorts. The Projections are there to encourage forward-thinking. After all, what good is an event if it doesn’t serve any purpose for the organization’s future? The Executive Summary is very much like the introduction of a paper. In it, you should include a brief description of the pertinent event details, so that if you were to stop reading after that, you will still understand the big picture. Lastly, the Conclusion is simply a wrap-up to the plan itself. It should consist of 3-5 sentences that tie the event back into the mission of your organization.
After completing your project plan, I hope you feel more organized and prepared to take on the challenge of hosting an event. Feel free to ask questions, and if you have any event planning experiences that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!