Building Event Attendance

Events October 27, 2011

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

According to our recent Small Membership Insight Survey findings, events are the second most important “critical source of income” for small non-profits and membership organizations. While there’s a lot riding on your events, planning and staging them can be a daunting task for small organizations with limited resources. In addition, they also face heavy competition for your participants’ attention.  So it’s not surprising that one of our survey participants asked:  How can we build attendance for events in a down-turned economy with Gen Y’ers who won’t attend anything they must pay for?

We thought we’d respond to this question with some general tips for how non-profits and membership organizations can refresh or revitalize their events to make them more appealing and “build attendance.”

Start with a fresh idea

If (like our survey participant who asked the question above) you’re looking for ways to build excitement with former registrants and also entice a broader audience, including Gen Y’ers or Millennials, it may be time to take your events beyond your usual status quo.  Sometimes maintaining tradition is a good thing. But experts, such as Jeff Hurt advise against replicating last year’s format – don’t be predictable. If you want to appeal to the younger generation, you might want to shake things up a bit this year and consider a little event refresh or redecoration.

Whether you are planning a conference, workshop or a fundraising event, start with an inspirational  format to engage your audience from the very first teaser or save-the-date message, and throughout the event. Hurt suggests that one of the trends for this year is moving from “passive information consumption to actively contributing, discussing, creating and participating.” Event participants “want to engage with others about the content that is being shared or about the needs they face.”

Another way to freshen up your event might be through a new event theme. As the folks at the Event360 Blog suggest, “event-goers crave an experience that takes them away from their day-to-day lives. Remember, too, that many philanthropists attend gala events to network, and the best way to network is to have fun participating in some kind of shared activity. …Spend your funds on creating atmosphere and magic. That will grow your constituent base and keep people coming back year after year.”

Work on getting Gen Y’s attention

If your organization is trying to promote your event to Generation Y or Millennials, you need to understand how this audience might differ from your traditional event participants. Millennials are “digital natives,” who have been raised online and whose communications and relationships are dependent on social media and technology, such as smartphones. This generation is also committed to living “lives of purpose” as well as corporate responsibility and sustainability.

So when considering the type of event that would attract Millennials, consider:

  • What are the networking opportunities to convince Millennials to attend a face-to-face event versus online community?
  • Can you use technology to enhance the experience?
  • Is the event fun and affordable?
  • Have you considered corporate responsibility and sustainability in your event planning?
  • Does your event format allow for visual learners – e.g., videos, infographics, images to tell stories?

In a recent blog post – What Makes Millennials Tick? – on the Meetings and Events Blog, Asheley Chalmers suggests the following tips to “attract and retain the newest generation of attendees”:

  1. Stage short, simple and structured meetings
  2. Help them connect via Wi-Fi at their meetings
  3. Make learning fun by employing gamification and visual learning
  4. Ensure individual impact by guaranteeing job opportunities and career coaching if they register
  5. Segment your audience as needs and expectations vary at opposite ends of the millennial age spectrum. Older members are less interested in social activities and more interested in being mentally challenged
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Look at how technology is changing events

Since Millennials are “digital natives, you should consider ways in which you can use new technology and social media to bring your event offerings up-to-date.  Here are some ideas for embracing technology:

Focus on your website:

Your website is the first place folks can and should go for details on your event. Participants should be able to find the information they need and also register online.

There are many opportunities for event publicity through your website – here are a few examples you can consider:

  • Include a message about the event on your homepage -- in the “news” or “upcoming events” sections;
  • Include an event listing in your online events calendar;
  • Create a dedicated web page for your event -- that can include photos, details, maps and a link to online registration;
  • Include information about the event in your Members-only Forum and create new discussion threads that your supporters or members can follow;
  • Promote the event through a series of posts on your blog

Use online tools to help you get your message out:

Moving things online can also help streamline your outbound communication.  If you are using association or membership management software with events capabilities, you can automate both your promotion and registration, making it easier on yourself and your registrants. For example, at a minimum you want to:

  • Create automatic email event notices to all or select groups of contacts in your database (e.g., members, supporters, past event guests, etc.)
  • Send automated email reminders few weeks or a few days in advance of the event
  • Enable online registration and auto confirmations

Get more social:

There’s no doubt that all of us, especially Millennials” are increasingly looking to our social networks for product, service and even event recommendations. We all want to see if an event has been “Liked” by our peers or recommended via LinkedIn. This means ramping up or getting started promoting your event via social networks. Here are some ideas for getting more social with your events:

  • Enable social sharing: Make it easy for folks to share! If you haven’t already, be sure you enable social media sharing on your website. The process of embedding sharing buttons or widgets (for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc.) will depend on your web platform. Most system providers offer simple instructions for embedding code for these widgets.
  • Twitter: Be sure to create a Twitter hashtag for the event and ask folks to use it when they tweet about key event information and updates. And be sure to include your hashtag on all event web pages, emails, blogs, etc. to build buzz.
  • Facebook: If you don’t already have one, consider creating a Facebook page – so you can post information regularly about your event (share photos, blog posts, etc.) and folks can “Like” and share this with their Facebook friends.  You can also “promote posts” on Facebook to get your message out to a broader audience. If you don’t have access to online events management software, you might consider creating a Facebook Event
  • YouTube: Create and/or edit an existing video promoting your event and/or your organization and upload this to YouTube or Flickr.
  • LinkedIn: You can promote your event to your own LinkedIn network by “sharing” an update with a link to your event page; Facebook event, etc. 

Employing technology at the event:

There are many exciting new tech tools that allow you to involve your audience remotely, such as livestreaming and video on demand. But while your organization may not be ready to livestream yet, you might want to check out technology that can enable those folks who can’t attend in person to at least access some or all of your event content virtually online.

  • Consider posting video of key speakers on YouTube or offering presentations via Slideshare.
  • If you usually hand out or mail out hard-copy feedback forms after your events, you can consider conducting a Facebook poll or asking participants to take an on online survey via a post-event email.  And if you’ve been active on and monitoring social media before, during and after the event, you can capture a lot of feedback as well.

The power of word-of-mouth to get the word out

As you apply fresh new ideas and technology to your events, don’t forget to continue to harness the power of word-of-mouth to get your message out.  If you want help getting the word out about your event, sometimes all you have to do is ask! It’s amazing how much sharing you can encourage just by asking all of your networks to “please RT”, please “Like” this post or simply, "kindly share" on social media — particularly if your event invitation is unique and shareable. After all, Millennials look to see if an event has been recommended by their peers on social media, so social sharing is even more important to entice that crowd.

Ask your board, your partners, your speakers and sponsors to help get the message out via their social networks. And as noted above, be sure to make it easy for folks to share by providing sharing tools and buttons in all of your event promotions.

Of course, having an innovative concept will help encourage viral sharing. If you start with a fresh and inventive event concept, it will make it easier to build excitement and motivate folks to help get your events message out and you should be able to “build your event attendance.”

This Software Makes Running (and Filling!) Events a Snap

If you're sick of processing event registrations and payments by hand, there's a software that can completely automate the process for you online. It's called Membership Management Software and here's what it can do:

  • Allow easy creation of online registration forms
  • Put a calendar of events on your website
  • Automatically update your website with upcoming events
  • Deposit event payments directly into your account
  • Send automatic invoices and event reminders
  • Dump event attendee data directly into your contact database
  • and more

Not only does Membership Management Software take care of all event logistics, it also makes running any sort of membership organization easier, because it automates a number of other administrative tasks around managing your contacts, website, finances, and email communication.

If you'd like to see if this kind of software is right for your organization, try WildApricot, which is the #1 Membership Management Software on the market.  The best part is that WildApricot is free to try for 30 days. Click here to start your free trial now.

Event Attendance Event Attendance

WildApricot ReviewAs a small non-profit, this software has made organizing and communicating with our membership SO much easier. Membership is now automatic and registering for our events is easy for our guests and much less work for us. 

-DeeDee LaBaron, Oregon Employment and Training Association


Additional Resources

Additional Membership Knowledge Hub resources:

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!

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