10 Easy, Affordable Ways to Spruce Up Your Nonprofit Event

It really is the little things.

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. 

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 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.

Plus, there’s a certain specialness people feel when they see their name preprinted on a custom-designed card. And they can go beyond names! Employer, graduation year, & even favorite color can be nice conversation starters 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.

2. Table Card Holders

These little guys 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*: 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 chose for my org.)

3. Flowers

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.

4. Lighting

Lighting isn’t the most obvious focal point, since it’s a given that guests need to see. But it’s another easy way to jazz up a space.

For example..if you’re hosting a cozy reception or evening event, you can opt for paper lantern lamps or votives with battery-operated tea lights.

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. Focused on 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.

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!

7. Goodies

Costs aside, a good giveaway can leave guests feeling extra grateful towards your org.

Ask yourself: what’s something that is on-brand, in budget, and flows with the theme of my event? This could be anything, from branded office supplies to baked goods packaged in your nonprofit’s colors.

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 step & repeats seem to be in right now! (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.

9. Alcohol

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 on alcohol being a draw for guests.

*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!).

10. Coffee.

If all of us were Voldemort, then coffee would be the unicorn blood that kept us going in our orgs. So if yours is an AM event, make sure you stock up.

*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:

To wrap this up..

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.

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