Event planning isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
There are so many moving pieces to consider; from the small details that need constant attention, to the big picture visioning that’s all too easy to forget when you’re in the weeds. And if ‘event’ isn’t part of your job title — the case for many of us in nonprofit — forget about it. This all becomes 10x harder!
Fortunately, it’s possible to pull together an event and make it great. Once you’ve organized your massive to-do list, start thinking about the small touches that will enhance the experience. What simple, budget-friendly things can we do to wow our guests (and our bosses)?
Check out these 10 easy ideas to get started.
10 Easy, Affordable Ways to Add Flare at Your Next Event
1. Name Tags
Name tags aren’t just a nice-to-have; they’re an underrated element that can easily add a sense of community to your events. People always feel special putting them on, especially when their name is preprinted on a custom designed card. Plus, name tags can go beyond names: employer, graduation year, even favorite color can be effective avenues for guests to connect with one another.
*Tip:* If you’re at a loss for design, sign up for a free account on Avery.com and give their Template builder a whirl. They make designing easy, and as as fun as it can possibly be.
2. Table Card Holders
These little miracle workers prop up your signs for guests to easily read. Visibility aside, table card holders up the anty by making your events feel fancier — for a minimal, one-time cost. They come in different styles and heights, so get a variety pack for your org’s smaller events.
*Tip*: Without going crazy…use these babies anywhere you need a sign. Table numbers, food labels, even a ‘welcome!’ sign at registration will immediately have that touch of flare. (If you’re curious, here are the ones I purchased for my org recently).
Floral arrangements are a given at large gatherings, like galas. But a fresh bouquet of flowers in the conference room can add a pleasant touch to even your most stale events. (Even better if the arrangement matches your nonprofit’s colors!)
*Tip*: If you ever want to play florist and happen to be in NYC, take a trip to the flower district. Spanning W 28th street (between 6th & 7th aves), these wholesale stores give you tons of options to mix and match. Here’s a great overview for first-timers.
Lighting isn’t the most obvious focal point for defacto event planners. Sure, guests need to be able to see what’s going on. But when you treat lighting as an intentional decor choice, you can easily jazz up your event space. Hosting a cozy reception or nighttime event? Opt for paper lantern lamps draped from the ceiling, or votives with battery-operated tea-lights.
*Tip*: Most of us are not lighting experts. A quick visit to your local craft store, or the home section in your local department store, can be a great source of inspiration. (That’s how I found these mason-jar lights that I used at my last event!)
5. Special dishware & cutlery.
Glass is for galas, and paper plates are for your pizza-pie-dinner meetings. Still, for events that fall in between, dishware can be a clever way to make a statement.
Care about sustainability? Splurge on some compostables, and be sure to let guests know where they can buy some too. Focused on wildlife & nature? Then grab woodsy plates like these to drive your mission home. Don’t care a lick about what your plates & utensils are made out of? Then go crazy and get them in any color imaginable. I’ve added links here, but you can find any of these items on Amazon or by doing a quick Google search.
6. Linen table cloths
Linens are the mac daddy of fancy event flair. It doesn’t matter what tables are hiding underneath; as long as they’re the right shape and size, they go from drab to fab instantly. You can always rent your table cloths, but if you decide to purchase, be okay with the occasional trip to the dry cleaners. White and black are common, though you can get them in any color (and even with your logo) on sites like this and this.
*Tip*: Keep tabs on your linens, particularly if you lend them out to staff. They’re a pricy investment, so you don’t want them getting lost or ruined!
Costs aside, a good giveaway can leave guests feeling extra grateful towards your org. It’s also one of the hardest ROI’s to track, which is why your giveaway needs to tick off a few boxes. Ask yourself; what is something that is on-brand, in budget, and flows with the overall theme of my event? This really could be anything, from branded office supplies to baked goods packaged in your nonprofit’s colors.
*Tip*: If you’re short on ideas, ask colleagues. I’m terrible at gifts, so you won’t hear any ideas from me….but I’m often amazed by how quickly my teammates can rattle off viable, fun ideas.
8. A Step & Repeat.
Okay, so I’ve never arranged this for an event. I’m one of likely few millennials who doesn’t get excited by these. But the social media generation is
taking over everything quite a force, and if they’re the target of your event, then a step & repeat is a smart idea. (If you don’t know what this is, look here.) Instagrammers, tweeters, snappers (snapchatters?) will love the idea that they can add your event to their timelines in a fun, culturally-relevant way.
*Tip*: This can go further if you have a hashtag or handle that guests can tag in their photos. If appropriate, consider buying some funky props and callouts that guests can pose with too, like this!
Consult your HR representative and make sure your insurance covers this before hitting the liquor store! But yeah. As long as your org’s work doesn’t involve substance addiction issues, you can count alcohol being a draw for people (for better or worse. Yes, that includes me.).
*Tip*: For my last event, our office coordinator had the brilliant idea of shopping for wines from local vineyards, owned by smaller shops. It cost us a little extra, but the social impact was worth it (and a fun conversation starter for guests!).
If all of us were Voldemort, then coffee would be the unicorn blood that kept us going in our orgs. Regardless of the time of day, someone is bound to need that pick-me-up to stay conscious for your event. Do the right thing and help ’em out!
*Tip*: Don’t forget to include milk, creamer, tea & decaf options. The only one thing worse than going to an event without coffee, is going to an event where there is ONLY coffee and nothing else. You’ll leave guests wondering:
When we’re too focused on the big picture, it’s easy to lose sight of the small touches that resonate most with our guests! That’s why it’s important to occasionally take a step back, look at the plans in front of us, and identify areas where we can make a big difference with the tiniest amount of effort and resources. That’s what separates good events from great ones.
- Related: The Nonprofit Event Checklist