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August 4, 2014

Telling the Non-Profit Story at an Event

In my last post I shared some photos of an event in Sun Valley, ID that I thought was a great example of how to incorporate message and brand into an event. I want to elaborate on that today by sharing my approach to incorporating the story behind the mission of a non-profit and how I translate that into each event.

As an example, I'll use an event client from a couple of years ago. We had a great design team for the event. We'd come up with an overall look. We had a handful of images. We had some great tag lines for the message. And we had our venue secured and rental orders in place. In addition to projection screens in the ballroom and free standing flat screens in the reception area, some of our rental furniture also had embedded flat screens. Plus we needed to provide content to go behind the DJ station and at registration.

The goal was to create a single narrative arc, that started with the invitation, and carried each attendee through the event from registration, to reception, to dinner, to the fundraising ask, reinforcing the message each step of the way, so that by the time we got to the point where we were asking for money, everyone in the room knew why they were there and why their funds mattered. But we wanted to do it in a way that wasn't heavy handed.

To make sense of it all, we turned to our trusty whiteboard and started listing out all of the physical places where we could put a piece of messaging and where it fit in the overall flow of the evening. We then grouped it all together by placement in what we perceived as the chronological order that a guest would experience as he or she traveled through the event. Next to that, we listed all of our options, specific images, taglines, multi media presentations, etc.

And then we started putting together the puzzle.

For this event, we decided to have all of the flat screens in the reception area repeat the same slide show that incorporated sponsor thank yous, previews of live auction items, institutional messaging, and the event logo.

We decided that the first thing guests should see as they entered the event space was a giant reproduction of the invitation cover image. As guests made their way to registration, the front of the stations displayed the event logo. Name tags were retrieved from a white board with scribed with scientific formulas (the non-profit was a medical research facility). Once in the reception area, the formula motif was repeated on the front of the DF stand. Behind the DJ was a projection that alternated between the event logo, some of the messaging pulled from the main slide show, and an additional slide with one of the tag lines asking "What Part Will You Play?". One of the event specific logos emblazoned the front of each bar.

Once in the ballroom, there was a lot of room to play. We had large box sculptures created for each side of the stage and had custom image mapping created so that we could project directly onto the sculptures. When the doors opened for dinner, as guests were finding their seats, the projections were rotating through sponsor logos. There was a center screen used during remarks so that every speaker had a title slide introducing him or her as well as supporting the remarks being given. This was also used for a video presentation prior to the fundraising ask. When no speeches were occuring, we displayed the main slide show presentation as background while guests dined.

Each image and slide were very carefully mapped so that as the evening progressed we shifted from telling guests about the various roles that are played within the non-profit (board member, program participant, educator, scientist) and asked guests, what part will you play? Immediately prior to the live auction, this was the messaage that filled every screen in the ballroom.

This gala included an after party with interactive dessert stations befitting a group of scientists, but we didn't want to stop talking to our guests, just because the event was over. We continued the white board theme by creating a wall with a prompt question based on one of the event tag lines so that guests could share what inspired them about the organization. The slide shows on the flat screens were adjusted to include thank you messages. And the white board that had originally been a place for nametags, was flipped to show a thank you message surrounded by scientific formulas so that it still kept the theme and was the last thing guests saw as they left.

Yes, it's true that for this event I had a large budget that could accomodate lots of projection. But that's not the important part. What's important is that we created a suite of images and tag lines that really captured the story we wanted to tell. We mapped the event and used every single image and tag line to weave a narrative arc throughout the event. This can be done at literally every budget level. You don't need to have fancy projections and a large production budget. You just have to put yourself in your guest's shoes and think about your event from start to finish. What will they see? What do you want them to know about your organization and your impact? And what do you want them to do about it? From there, all you need is a little creativity.

Categories: Gala Fundraising Logistics | Tags: | Posted by: admin

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