We’re thrilled to bring you another 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 your association is planning for your conferences, networking opportunities, and other get-togethers, your event planners are likely teeming with great ideas. There are so many incredible experiences to be had at a well-run event!
However, before you can dive in and get started with these incredible ideas, it’s important for your organization to set some things straight. You’ll need an effective budget to accomplish some (if not all) of the incredible ideas for your association’s event.
The first step to an incredible event, therefore, is creating a financial plan for success.
This means creating a detailed budget for every aspect of your event, from the food to the marketing. You may have some initial questions about what this will look like, which is why we’ve created this handy Q&A guide.
While you’re crafting your financial plan, you may ask yourself:
- What should my budget look like?
- How big should my financial cushion be?
- Where are my opportunities to save?
- What are some sample line items to consider?
- How do I get started?
Creating a financial plan is responsible and effective for creating the best events possible for your association. Ready to make sure you’re ready to start yours? Let’s jump in.
What should my budget look like?
All event budgets look slightly different depending on the type of association hosting them and the necessary elements to include. For instance, a large conference might require budgeting for a spacious venue. Meanwhile, a smaller networking lunch may be held in a small office space.
However, there are some shared elements in the structure of your budget that you should be sure to include.
Make sure your event budget has space to help you outline the following elements:
- Budgeted Expense
- Actual Expense
If you’re just getting started with the budgeting process, you may consider looking up downloadable budget templates. You can find pre-made general templates for all aspects of your event as well as more specific templates for individual event elements such as your technology allocation budget.
These budgets are perfect to help associations get started and create a plan. While handy for small or new associations, keep in mind that these budget templates tend to offer fewer customization options and rarely integrate with your organization’s accounting software.
Another option is to explore the budgeting templates available through the features of your fund accounting software. These templates are highly customizable and created in tangent with your annual budget. This makes it easier to streamline data between budgets and ensure you stay within your organization’s means.
How big should my financial cushion be?
Just as line item budgetary expenses vary based on the organization and the type of event you host, the financial cushion your organization plans for should also vary depending on the other items in your budget.
You may be thinking, “How does that answer my question?” While we can’t tell you an exact amount you should save for a rainy day, we can guide you through some research steps you can take to find the right amount yourself.
First, consider the absolute worst possible thing that could happen. (We know, it’s not fun to think about).
Generally, the worst thing that could happen is potentially canceling. What would canceling cost your association? Plan for these possible expenses to ensure that if something disastrous happens, your organization will be alrightall right.
Next, consider your annual budget.
Think about how your event plays into the annual budget. Make sure you have enough of a cushion set aside so that you won’t be tempted to dip into other funds to cover the cost of your event.
If you’re unsure about how your event budget will fit into your larger budget, it might be worth investing in an annual fund consultant to help you learn more about how these budgets connect. This Averill article about how to hire an annual fund consultant will help get you started.
Don’t be afraid to spend.
Many nonprofits do a great job of creating this cushion but are too hesitant to spend the money when they need it. If something goes wrong at your event, remember that this is why you put the money aside to begin with.
If you have money left over, you can cycle it back through your nonprofit’s unrestricted fund for future use. But you should never feel pressured to keep the funds longer than necessary.
On the flip side, don’t use this budgeted money for anything other than emergencies. It can be tempting to dip into this fund for some additional decor or small items but resist this urge unless it’s necessary.
As impossible as it may seem, it is possible to keep your event within your budget! All you need to do is make sure you’re prepared with an adequate cushion and effective planning.
Where are my opportunities to save?
Opportunities to save money are scattered throughout your event’s budget. Some opportunities to save will even help make your event more successful!
Consider the following opportunities such as:
- Smart marketing. Instead of pushing your event on every single platform and taking every single angle to promote it, take a step back to establish some smart marketing techniques. Identify your audience and consider the best platforms and messages that will best entice them about your event. Focus your time and energy on those.
- Careful food selection. When you select food for your event, be sure to do so carefully. First, be sure to choose a method of distribution that won’t interrupt the flow of networking. Hors d’oeuvres tend to be less expensive than a complete buffet or plated meal.
- Asking for in-kind donations. If you find that you’re running short on a staple item, such as tables, chairs, etc., one of your association members is or has connections to a willing donor. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help from these members, as they can loan or donate the materials you need.
- Choosing comprehensive software. One of the best ways you can save time, energy, and money for your event is by ensuring your software arsenal is up-to-date and effective. Be sure you have access to the accounting technology you need for budgeting as well as the management tech you need for planning your event. Comprehensive solutions will save you time and eliminate the need to work within multiple systems.
Of course, depending on the type of event you host, there are plenty of other opportunities to save money throughout your budget. The only way to see these opportunities is to keep an open mind.
Many organizations get stuck in a rut because they set their hearts on a single vision for the event. Sometimes you need to open your mind a bit to see the opportunities for saving that can actually help your event succeed.
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t have a vision. Visions are a great way to reach towards your goals of a great event. However, in addition to your mission, it’s important to keep an open mind to other possibilities.
What are some sample line items to consider?
As you create your association’s budget, remember that the best budgets are as specific and detailed as possible. That’s why line-item budgets are so effective. The more time and effort you put into creating your budget details, the more likely you’ll be to stick to it.
Some of the line items that your association should take into consideration include:
- Travel expenses
- Photography or videography
- Water/electric/wifi of venue
- The speaker
- Management software
- Event staff
- Equipment rental
- Gift bags or merchandise
Consider the different things you want to achieve during your association’s event. Afterward, you can establish those line items that will be most important for achieving those goals.
For instance, if you want to create memorabilia for your attendees or a swag bag, consider bulk ordering t-shirts with your logo on it. Various top companies (like the one linked here) make it easy for organizations like yours to customize t-shirts and order them to give out or sell at your event.
How do I get started?
We’ve answered a lot of questions in this guide thus far except for one major one: How do you get started?
You can get started with the financial planning process for your upcoming event by doing the following:
- Conduct a technology audit. Look into your current technology and consider the various functions you have available to your association. Are you getting full functionality out of all of your solutions? Consider consolidating the smaller software solutions to a more comprehensive solution. For instance, MIP Fund Accounting can help take care of accounting and related internal HR needs.
- Purchase and implement any new technology. Tech is your best friend while planning an association event. You’ll want to have access to all of the technology you need long before the event begins. Plus, the implementation of event planning and budgeting software will help you create your budget down the line.
- Make a list of your association’s needs/wants for the event. This list, broken out like this, will help you prioritize the line items on your budget. Once you have this list, start conducting research to determine an estimated price point for each line item. This research consists of analyzing previous budgets and asking vendors for price points for each item.
- Keep accurate records. Keep records of your expected budget as well as the expenditures your organization has for each item on your budget. This will help you in the years to come. Plus, keeping up with the recording of this information will help hold you accountable to remain on a healthy financial track.
Now that we’ve answered the important questions, you’re ready to get started with your association's next event 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!