Gala Chairs take heed. Throwing a Party is Hard Enough without the pressures of a CAUSE attached! That is why we called on our planner extraordinaire, Nicole Matthews of The Henley Company, to give a few pointers about WHAT to think about when choosing a venue for your FABULOUS charity event.
Before we can start planning, we always take our clients to the end of the event and ask them what they would hope to hear from their clients on the way home. It’s human nature for people to talk about the experience they just had. By projecting what you would want this conversation to involve, it helps us to distribute the resources we have to produce the event. If you want your guests to talk about the quality of the meal, then we put more resources into the menu. If it’s the amazing band you want them talking about, then we serve a “very good” meal but put resources into “great” entertainment. If you are hoping for them to talk about the unique venue, then we direct the resources into finding a venue that reflects the theme of the event. Too many times, Gala committees will select a venue because it’s the hot new hotel in town or it’s a 5-star experience, but if this isn’t in line with the goals and objectives of your event, it’s a waste of money.
2) HOW MUCH IS REALLY AVAILABLE IN THE BUDGET?
Although many hotels / venues will extend a discount to a non-profit or charitable cause, to expect them to “donate” the space out of the goodness of their heart is unrealistic. Gala Committees need to be prepared to pay for a venue so it’s important that they know exactly how much is available for the facility fee. Offering to list the hotel/venue as a sponsor in the program or including their logo in the presentation does not really give them the exposure that equates to the sponsorship should you approach them for a donation of the space. Instead, be prepared to talk to a venue about a “partnership,” which requires you to really understand the demographics of your attendees. Are your guests really the target market of the venue? If so, you could discuss a partnership package that might allow them access to your guests (perhaps you giving up the names / emails of your attendees) in exchange for a discount or donation of the space. Partnership is really the new sponsorship.
3) DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!
Remember that your guests only have to look at the outside of a venue from the walk to / from their car or while they are at the valet stand. They will however spend 98% of their time inside the ballroom or event space, so remember that decor and lighting can be an event planners greatest friend. When in doubt, always save money for lighting in your budget. Lighting is like wearing a great pair of Spanx! It can hide all of the things in an event space that you do or don’t want to highlight. There is more you can do with decor and lighting to support the theme and objectives of the event than the actual venue itself. Instead of wowing them from the car, why not blow your guests away when they walk into the actual event space or ballroom? Choosing a venue sometimes requires you to look at the space like a fixer-upper in real estate. If the space has good bones and structure, you can do wonders to bring it back to life with decor and lighting. Think about warehouse spaces, office buildings, private homes, property management inventory, outdoor spaces and community buildings instead of always running to the 5-star venue in town. Another helpful hint: Caterers work all over the city so they are often a great resource for knowing about undiscovered event venues.
4) NEGOTIATE THE SET-UP AND STRIKE!
Venues obviously want to book as much business as possible but a short turn around between events can be a nightmare for a gala that has an extensive set-up requirement. Event Committees should talk to all of their vendors to get a very clear sense of how much set-up time is required for their elements. Remember, a band always wants to do a sound check before the event. This needs to be factored into a very detailed production schedule. There is far more to setting up an event than laying out the napkins and setting up the silent auction. I once produced an event that required a 3-day set-up but the venue only allowed us 6-hours to break-down. Anything is possible provided you have the budget! Be very clear when negotiating with a venue about your set-up and break-down requirements. If the ballroom is not available with enough time to set-up your event successfully, you need to look at a different date. A stressful set-up because of time constraints can set the overall feel of an event; therefore, work with your vendors so you are setting them up for success and allowing them enough time to really deliver a quality product / service during your event.
5) WHAT ‘DA FLOW?
I’ve had non-profit clients that have tried to force a silent auction, registration, VIP reception and media check-in into the space of a closet. The flow of your event sets the first impression. Don’t try to cram too much into a small space. The proverbial silent auction (the element every non-profit is afraid to part with) needs to have enough room so guests can walk around the space and easily see the items. It does the non-profit no good if the items are hidden or behind a traffic jam with guests trying to get to the bar. Walk the space with a realistic eye and anticipate if there is really enough room for all of the event elements. Can any of the spaces serve double duty? For instance, can you do the cocktail reception in the same space as the dessert buffet? The venue can make the change while your guests are having dinner. Putting the bar at the far end of the room always helps to spread the crowd out. Perhaps you offer a complimentary beverage from a silver tray as guests arrive but encourage them to visit the bar across the room. Choosing a space with poor flow or that is too small or too big for the event is like walking into a room with bad Feng Shui. Something just seems off, and when your goal is to raise money, the last thing you want to do is disrupt the giving Chi of your donors.
Nicole Matthews, Experience Recess by The Henley Company
Nicole R. Matthews, CSEP, is Chief Experience Officer of Experience Recess The Henley Company, LLC. a concierge firm specializing in event, travel and lifestyle experiences. With the belief that life should be experienced in a big way, Nicole set out to create a company focused on helping clients to live the life they want and to produce the experiences they want to remember and Tweet about! Nicole is recognized as a thought leader in the special events and personal concierge industries where she encourages planners to create their own opportunities in life and business. By creating her own opportunity, Nicole recently lived her way into her dream of working the London 2012 Olympics. Like a fabulous necklace, creating her own opportunities has become the ideal accessory to compliment the growth of her business and to document her journey through life, all while wearing the perfect shoes, of course!