In business, the repeat or returning customer is crucial to the overall health and growth of the business. Annual alumni events are an element of your “business”; your alumni chapter leaders should approach them with the same focus. There are a vast number of event-related factors that determine the success of your annual event. Not all factors are out of your control. This means that those details that are within your power to control – absolutely should be included in your event planning. The following key factors are essential to a successful event that contributes to the growth of your alumni chapter, year after year.
Select a suitable venue
Location, location, location. It’s everything. Not because it literally frames your event, but because without a locked-in venue, very little else can be done in terms of preparation and promotion. Try to select and book your location as early as you can, sometimes even six months or more out, if that’s what it takes to ensure you get just the right space. Try to find something with a memorable feature such as a city view or a ballroom with ambiance, anything that helps create unique memories for your guests.
Set up an actionable timeline
Six months in advance is an ideal timeframe to begin planning everything you’ll need to do prior to the big day. Develop your promotion plan: Initial invites, follow-ups, and RSVP checks should all have set dates on your timeline to maximize your guest attendance. Including planned publicity and promotion, like social media blasts and flyer handout sessions, are great ways to ensure that your event promotion stays on track.
Identify and utilize volunteers
Take time to find volunteers within your alumni chapter, and not just those who check a box, but also those who are committed to the chapter and will help do more as a willing advocate. These are the people who will actively look to notify people from their era or age range and help them attend the event. They will enthusiastically share your message without being tasked to. For example, if your event is focused on the ’80s find someone within your target audience who will help champion your event effectively. Since people almost always bring a plus-one to events, it helps if your volunteers are well known and have clout within their social circles.
Build a rock-solid communication strategy
There may be more to event promotion than flyers and word of mouth nowadays, but don’t let the classics fall to the wayside when defining your communication strategy. Take advantage of a multi-channel approach. This includes using social media, both your alumni chapter’s and your members’ social media. Text messages are great for reminders and event updates because of their fast delivery and high open rates. Flyers and mailers may be considered traditional promotion materials, but they remain effective among older demographics. They can broaden your reach with some members who rarely check their email or may have moved off of social media. Be sure your alumni chapter leaders are engaging in a multi-channel communication plan because there is no such thing as too much awareness for your event.
Use online event registration
Allow attendees to register online for the event; in addition to offering offline registration, this will help ensure everyone who wants to attend can conveniently register on any mobile device. Whenever a potential attendee hears or reads about the event (through your website, social media post, email, etc.), they can immediately access the online registration link and complete the form. Limiting the chances for people to forget to register, or forget about the event overall, is much simpler now that the registration process is a few clicks away. Online registration also helps alumni chapter leaders and event organizers because it gives them a clearer picture of actual attendance. Having a number of expected attendees can help save money on food, beverages, and other related controllable costs; alumni chapter leaders can also monitor member attendance and nudge those who haven’t yet registered.
Keep attendees engaged with other day-of activities
Encourage event guests to arrive early and keep them engaged during other lulls in the event by planning smaller activities around the main event. You can create social media challenges, happy hour specials, raffles, or party-type games like a golf putting contest. This helps build a well-rounded event that keeps guests constantly entertained. Fun equals repeat attendance, and it helps create more pertinent memories for the event, leading attendees to create buzz that increases turnout for the following year. (Need event ideas? Check out 10 Customizable Event Ideas for Alumni Chapters.)
Take advantage of the fundraising opportunity
Your event is the time to take advantage of face-to-face interactions you’ll have with attendees. This is a wonderful opportunity to promote a worthy cause and strengthen relationships while encouraging members and guests to donate. Make sure to identify a strong purpose to donate and communicate that to attendees. There are big financial benefits if alumni leaders have the capability to collect funds on location. Collecting funds right away whether via cash or credit card payments, allows alumni leaders to not only send customized, automated thank-you emails, but also acknowledge donors for their contribution during the event.
Consistency is a foundational element to a successful annual event. Set a consistent bar of professionalism, preparedness, and focus in the months leading up to the event and you’ll see results year after year. Trust in the rewards of the work you put in.
Implementing a chapter management solution for your organization can cut down on time spent on manual tasks, especially for event planning. The memberplanet platform helps alumni officers grow event success year over year with multi-channel communication tools, online event registration, and reporting to track event and transaction data. Set up a chat with the memberplanet team to learn more.
About Matt Arnold
As our Vice President of Business Development, Matt is dedicated to serving member-based organizations and small to mid-sized associations. With over 10 years of experience wearing various leadership hats as an Alpha Tau Omega alumnus, Matt specializes in all fraternal organization matters. Whether a group is challenged with growing membership or struggling to engage members, he's got a solution.