We’re thrilled to bring you a guest post from Community Brands, the leading provider of cloud-based software to associations. With 2,000 employees serving over 100,000 clients in 30 countries, they help organizations grow stronger and achieve their missions.
When you consider planning a budget for your association, your process essentially boils down to a budgeting technique similar to that used in the nonprofit world. While associations and nonprofits are different beasts (associations focus on their members while nonprofits focus on their mission), they do tend to have a similar approach to finances and budgeting.
Why is that, you may ask? Both associations and nonprofits must reinvest the revenue they receive back into their organizations for the good of their members or for the community.
Events are handy tools that can help your association further aid its members, while raising even more money to invest back into the future. While you’re planning for your association’s social event, fundraising event, or conference, be sure your budget includes the following strategies:
- Define the goal of your event.
- Keep an organized expense sheet.
- Pick a theme and make it happen.
- Know where to make budget cuts.
- Take careful notes.
- Create a detailed plan.
- Don’t undersell line items.\
- Take a fearless approach.
Of course, classic 501(c)(3) nonprofits and associations differ in the nitty-gritty of their planning processes, but that’s why we’re here! Let’s dive into what makes your association unique and how your nonprofit can best budget for your next event.
1. Define the goal of your event.
The goal of your event should define the core of your budget. The core of association events focuses on networking and education, but every event is different.
Consider what you are trying to accomplish and write it down. Then, write down the elements that contribute to this core idea.
The elements that will contribute to your overarching goal and to the main event content may include components such as:
- Session plans and abstracts.
- Your keynote speaker.
- Presentation materials.
By starting your budget with a clear focus in mind, even as you further develop your budget, you’ll never lose sight of your primary purpose for hosting the event.
2. Pick a theme and make it happen.
Related to the goal of your event is the theme around which you choose to plan your event. Your event’s theme is the secret sauce to success. This is what takes your event to the next level and helps it stand out. Therefore, it’s important to factor in the expenses that will help make this theme happen.
While the theme elements tend to be one of the first places that associations cut when over-budget, we encourage you to think carefully about the impact that could make on your event before doing so.
Every small touch related to the theme brings your event to the next level. These small touches may include elements such as:
- Creating an event logo for marketing materials. For instance, you may decide to design a T-shirt with your logo or tagline on it. Sites like Bonfire can help you to customize the perfect T-shirt with your logo.
- Designing signage and decorations for the event. Make sure everything in your event space coincides with the event theme itself. Decorations have a way of pulling everything together and making a positive impression.
While you should always think twice before cutting your theme budget, you should also make sure you stay within your budget. It’s easy to get excited about this fun element of your event, so it’s easy to want everything that relates.
Strike a balance between cutting this budget too far down and getting too excited about your theme decor.
3. Keep an organized expense sheet.
In addition to maintaining your focus throughout the financial planning process, you’ll need to be sure you’re also keeping organized. This doesn’t only mean organized with respect to your budget for your event. You should also understand how this event will affect your annual budget.
The easiest way to maintain an organized expense sheet and plan for the impact of your event is to make sure you have access to effective accounting software.
When you have a software solution that allows you to budget according to your specific needs, you can effectively plan out the total amount you can allocate to the event, as well as the specific investments you’ll need to make for the event to be a success.
It gives you a location to track all of your expenses and make sure you remain within your specific allotted amounts for each line item.
While recording these line items can be done using a simple spreadsheet, accounting software will help you take into account the overall impact on your budget. Check out Abila’s guide to accounting software to read more about what you should look for when making your decision.
4. Create a detailed plan.
The more detailed your budget, the better off you will be. When you assign specific numbers to each line item in your budget, you’re much more likely to keep within the confines of your plan.
Plus, detailed plans help make you more aware of what’s going on in your budget when you start purchasing event items. It’s easy to take note of where you spent more or less than originally anticipated with an extensive plan.
To make a detailed plan, you will need to conduct a lot of research about each of the items in which you wish to invest. The following steps will help you make this detailed plan:
- Make a wish list of the items you want to buy for your event.
- Organize these items into groups. The first group should be the necessities (those related to your goal), the second should produce value (such as theme items), and the third group should be your desired items.
- Research the approximate price for each item in every group and list it out next to the item.
After you have your wish list defined, you can start prioritizing the items even further.
5. Don’t undersell line items.
In the midst of your research and the creation of your detailed plan, it can be very tempting to undersell the line items on your list, especially for your desired items. Many associations think their budget looks nicer with lower costs for line items. Resist the urge to undersell.
Actually, the best practice is to find the median price for each item and plan to spend that much on each line item.
Budgeting for the median puts you in a great position. If you overspend sightly on one item, it’s likely you can find another at the lower end of the price range. The theory is everything will balance out in the end.
6. Know where to make budget cuts.
Don’t rule out the idea that you can cut costs without cutting activities. You can look for in-kind donations or volunteers to help your association’s event succeed.
While your detailed plan will help you stay on track as much as possible, unexpected expenses are a frequent occurrence in the event planning world. You may have forgotten to factor in something, such as venue insurance costs. Or maybe something breaks and you need to replace it.
No matter what, you should be ready for the unexpected to occur. There are two things to consider when expecting the unexpected.
First, you should always have some money set aside for these types of situations. Be prepared for budgetary variation with a small emergency fund set aside from the beginning.
Second, if you have to cut into part of your budget, you should always know where to cut first. Generally, the first place to cut is in the “desired” section of your detailed budget plan.
However, be sure to explore all your options before you begin cutting items willy-nilly. Many times you can find in-kind gifts from loyal supporters or ask your speaker to volunteer to help pay for travel expenses. You never know the answer until you ask!
7. Take careful notes.
Making notes along the way will ease your future event plans. Not only should you keep track of your actual expenses versus budgeted expenses, but you should also write notes when there is a drastic variation between the two for any line item.
Make sure you’re making notes in the right place too! If your accounting or event management software integrates with your other solutions, keep in mind that sometimes, the best place for those notes is within the other solutions.
For instance, let’s say you pay more than expected for your event’s keynote speaker. You may decide to make note of such an expense in your event content manager, as well as in your budgeting expense sheet.
Make these notes wherever it makes the most sense to you and wherever you feel confident you’ll see them the next time you’re planning an event. Then you can budget in the types of variations you’ve seen in the past for more accurate future financial planning.
8. Take a fearless approach.
One of the best tips when it comes to financial planning is don’t be afraid. There are a few common fears many association professionals feel when they start planning an event.
Fear #1: The fear of spending money
Too many people are afraid to spend the money they have allocated toward their event. It can be hard for some to pull the trigger and spend hard-earned cash. However, to make a great event, it’s necessary to spend some. With a realist approach and an effective plan, your money will go to good use.
Fear #2: The fear of asking for help
The price of events can add up if you’re not careful! You can’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Write sponsorship letters to get support from your community or talk to local businesses about the potential for a partnership. You never know what kind of help you’ll receive if you never ask for it!
Fear #3: The fear your plans won’t work
This feeling should be less of a fear and more of a motivational concern. If you’re worried your plan won’t work, make it more detailed to settle that feeling. If you’re still concerned, ask someone to be your accountability partner. If you’re still worried, try to relax. If you put in the work, you’ll see the results you’re looking for in your budget.
After your event is over, you’re not off the hook just yet. Go back and analyze your planned versus actual budget. You can always learn from the things that went right as well as those that didn’t quite work out how you planned. Then, check out Hubb’s post-event checklist to make sure you’ve done everything.
Pia Simeoni is Director of Marketing for Nonprofit Solutions at Community Brands. You can find Pia on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Want to verify you have done everything you should have? Check out Hubb's Post-Event Checklist!