How to Plan an Event: A Complete Guide

Looking for advice on how to plan an event? You've come to the right place! We've seen a lot of organizations' events over the years. And while we can't identify every last detail you'll need...

Looking for advice on how to plan an event? You've come to the right place! We've seen a lot of organizations' events over the years. And while we can't identify every last detail you'll need to think about (it often depends on the type of event!), we've got a bushel of best practices that work well for everybody. Whether you're new to running an event or are just looking for some refreshers, this post will cover information including:

Why you need an event plan

The core features of an event management plan

A free event planning template (plus checklists for in person and virtual events!)

How to plan a successful event in 13 steps

Without further ado, let's dive into the ins and outs of planning an event!

Claim your free trial of WildApricot to leverage tools that will streamline your event planning and boost your results.

What is an Event Plan?

An event plan is a guide for all the components of your event. Also called an event management plan, this tool organizes all of the steps and key information that go into running an event. Whether you’re neck-deep in conference planning or setting up your first small park event, an event plan serves as your North Star as you prepare for the big day. Regardless of the size of your event, a good plan covers the same essential components (which we’ll cover in the next section!). These components become an event management plan when they’re worked into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals and objectives, as well as a timeline. To identify your timeline, we recommend working backwards from your event date with a workback schedule.

What Are The Core Features of an Event Plan?

A big part of knowing how to run an event successfully is keeping all of the components in one place—which is where an event plan comes in! With a clear event plan example, all you need to do is fill in the blanks. Your event management plan should cover:

  • Event goals and objectives
  • Individual roles and responsibilities
  • Volunteers and volunteer training
  • Budget
  • Date and time of the event
  • Event master plan
  • Event location
  • Event management software
  • Event Branding
  • Event speakers and special guests
  • Partnerships and event sponsorship opportunities
  • Promotional, advertising, marketing, and publicity plan
  • Day-of processes
  • Vendor information

While this may feel like a daunting list, we’ve created a step-by-step breakdown of each element and everything you need to know to get started.

Two Free Event Planning Checklists

Looking for a bit more structure for planning an event? We’ve created a Free Event Planning Checklist you can simply download and modify to your organization’s needs.

If you want a few more event planning guidelines, we also have this guide to using your event planning checklist effectively! This guide includes details on timelines and best practices for event follow up.

Finally, we know that running an event looks different in the virtual sphere, so we’re also offering a Free Virtual Event Planning Checklist.

13 Key Steps For Event Planning

Planning a successful event comes down to following these 13 steps:

  1. Set your goals
  2. Organize your team
  3. Recruit and train volunteers
  4. Establish (and stick to!) your budget
  5. Choose a date
  6. Create an event master plan
  7. Choose your event software
  8. Book your venue
  9. Brand your event
  10. Confirm your special guests
  11. Connect with partners and sponsors
  12. Execute a strong event marketing plan
  13. Set up your day-of processes

Ready for the complete breakdown on how to plan an event with these steps? Let’s dive in!

1. Develop Your Event Goal and Objectives

The very first step in planning a successful event is to establish tangible goals and objectives. Ask yourself these questions: Why am I organizing this event? What do I hope to achieve? Who is this event for? What are my metrics of success? If you know your organization’s key goals before planning, you can ensure that every part of your event is optimized for success. Are you trying to raise awareness for a cause, or collect a predetermined amount of donations for your next project? Are you hoping to attract 50 guests or 500? Running an event will look a bit different depending on these answers. Setting a goal with quantifiable metrics of success will make it easier for your team to ensure that you reach them. Even better, figure out what happens if you meet, exceed, or miss your goal! At what point do you wrap up shop? At what point do you get to do something more exciting next time? Understanding where you’re going will only help you get there faster.

2. Organize Your Team

Any event takes a concerted team effort to handle all the details! A team of dedicated staff members can execute the task lists, and your board of directors can use their networks and knowledge to help with the big picture. Some event planning roles to delegate include:

  • Event planning team (event manager, board members, committees, etc.)
  • Volunteer coordinator
  • Publicity and communications strategist
  • Venue management specialist
  • Vendor coordinator
  • Partner and sponsor liaison
  • Fundraising and donor management
  • Marketing and branding experts

Assigning individual roles to team members creates a system of accountability and prevents tasks from falling to the wayside. Plus, it’ll allow you to delegate—but don’t forget to account for committee meetings in your event plan timing!

"Delivering high-quality events requires buy-in at all levels of an organization. To create a truly unforgettable experience, you’ll need support from your executive team all the way to your on-site event staff." —Bill McGlade, CEM, President at EpiQ Creative Group

3. Recruit & Train Volunteers

Rockstar volunteers are key to planning a successful event. But before you begin working with them, make sure you understand what their roles are and how you can begin recruiting them.

  1. Define volunteer roles. Make sure you have an understanding of what types of volunteers you’ll need and who will lead them. You may need volunteers for parts of your event such as:
  • Setting up and tearing down the event
  • Tech wizards for running a virtual event
  • Ushers and coat check
  • Parking
  • Refreshments
  • Registration
  1. Make a plan for recruitment. A great place to start is to share the volunteer opportunities with your existing contacts. Then identify the best channels for putting up your volunteer posting, such as volunteer sites and social media. Identify volunteer leaders. Once you have volunteers, who’s responsible for training them? And how will you manage that training? Select volunteer leadership and provide either written guidance or in-person (potentially virtual!) workshops. To knock it out of the park, you could even provide both.

To make sure you have the volunteers you need, include volunteer recruitment early in your event management plan.

4. Establish Your Budget

Establishing your event’s budget is one of the most important parts of planning an event. Creating a solid budget enables you and your team to generate ideas within realistic parameters. This means that the parts of your event that you’re excited about stay top of mind, and are adjusted for what you can afford.

Some of the critical expenses you need to include in your budget for running an event are:

  • Venue: This cost should encompass the rental as well as any necessary insurance. When it comes to navigating how to plan a large event, shop around for the best bang for your buck.
  • Food and drink: This field is pretty self-explanatory. However, remember that the amount you can afford might also dictate the number of tickets you can sell!
  • Entertainment: This field can be customized however you need it to be—whether it’s allocated for speakers, a DJ, or even a talking pig, make sure you have wiggle room for travel and accommodation costs as well as any compensation.
  • Décor: Will you be going with a DIY mason-jar theme, or one that’s a little fancier? Establishing the costs upfront will help you determine which one you can afford.
  • Staff: This category might often be forgotten, but it’s key to account for the transportation and lodging costs of your staff, especially if you’re headed out of town. Even budgeting staff time (what would they be spending time on if they weren’t working on this event?) can help you decide whether that extra meeting is worth it.
  • Marketing: Determine whether you decide to promote your event through Facebook or go old-school by putting flyers up all over town,
  • Software: If you’re not already paying for any kind of event management software, consider incorporating it into your event planning. Software can help streamline your processes, help save time, and enable your team to do more.
  • Hybrid and virtual conference costs: If you’ve got a virtual component, make room in the budget for streaming and captioning costs. However, we will say that one of the best parts of running a virtual event is the money it can save you in the budget!
  • A/V: From projectors to wi-fi to speakers, the tech should stay top of mind.
  • Miscellaneous: Even the best-planned event will have some additional costs come up. Accounting for them in your budget will ensure you’re not caught unawares.

Even if some of these items aren’t fixed costs yet—for example, if you haven’t yet picked a venue—it’s important to keep the maximum that you can afford to spend in mind before making those decisions.

5. Set the Date

The date might already be pre-set for a recurring event, but if you’re planning an event that’s new, there are some things to keep in mind. Be sure to consider the following before firming up your date:

  • Give yourself enough time! Ideally, you should have 4-6 months to plan, if not more (depending on the event)
  • Be aware of statutory and religious holidays
  • Avoid school holiday time periods (winter, spring and summer holidays)
  • Check dates with key participants - speakers, presenters, VIP guests, etc.

Once you’ve set the date and have your budget outlined, you can start booking any external staff (such as caterers) you need right away.

6. Create an Event Master Plan

Once you know all the costs and the timeline associated with your event, it’s time to start the real plan! Creating an event master plan will allow you to ensure every aspect remains on track, as well as making it easier to coordinate with volunteers and event committee members.

Your event master plan should encompass all aspects of the event, including:

  • Venue, logistics & catering management (contracts, permits, insurance, etc.)
  • Speakers and presenters (identifying, confirming, logistics & management)
  • Creating a conference agenda and schedule
  • Activities and entertainment
  • Publicity and promotion (email campaigns, events calendars, printed programs, media relations, signage, social media, etc.)
  • Registration (online sign-up, payment and tracking, QR code check-in, etc.)
  • Sponsor and partner management
  • Volunteer management and responsibilities

While planning an event, consider also creating a detailed timeline, so that everything moves smoothly. Include when any permits or insurance policies need to be submitted, when registration ends, and a detailed timeline of the day-of.

Although it might be tempting to say, “It’s all in my head! I'll be fine!” and not be concerned about writing it all down, beware: this kind of mentality will make it much more difficult for you to assign accountability! It’ll also make it more difficult to remember what you did for the next event—so do your future self a favor and keep everything written down.

Finally, if you or your organization has run previous events of a similar type, reviewing any documentation that exists at this stage can help you ensure you’re not missing anything.

7. Choose Your Event Software

The right event software can make all the difference in streamlining the processes in your event master plan. Types of event software that can be worthwhile having include:

  • Registration
  • Ticketing
  • Event website
  • In person and virtual attendee engagement solutions
  • Lead tracking tools
  • Virtual event solutions
  • Hybrid event solutions
  • Attendee management

If you run a membership organization and are sick of processing event registrations and payments by hand, membership management software could be an automation dream!

Did you know that WildApricot has been repeatedly voted the #1 Membership Management Software on the market?

It can help you:

  • Allow easy creation of online event 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 membership organizations easier. You can automate away administrative tasks like managing your contacts, website, finances, and email communication.

If you’d like to see if this kind of software is right for your organization, sign up for WildApricot’s 60-day free trial today!

Claim your free trial of WildApricot to leverage tools that will maximize your event planning results.

As 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

8. Book Your Venue

Once you have the date nailed down, it’s key to book your venue as soon as possible. Your event has to have a date and location nailed down before you can begin advertising, so this task is priority number one in your event master plan.

(Some flexibility around the date might also help you out at this stage and open up a wider variety of venues!)

When picking a venue, consider these event planning guidelines:

  • Accessibility. Does the venue have accessible entrances and elevators? Are there all-gender washrooms? Will you have space for interpreters or a live-captioning screen? This and many other factors go into choosing a space that all participants will feel comfortable in.
  • Size. An event for 50 people will need a very different space than one for 500. Additionally, consider whether or not you’ll need separate rooms for breakout sessions or other small group activities (or, hey, even a green room for your speakers and/or VIPs!).
  • Parking. Is there a parking lot, or is it easy to access via public transit?
  • Insurance. Will you need to purchase separate insurance? What are their liability rules?
  • A/V. If your event needs speakers and microphones, make sure it’s easy to set them up in the space that’s available—including plugs, or extension cords, in the right places. The same goes for Wi-Fi access (and cellphone connection!) or any other technological needs your event has.
  • Costs. How much of a deposit is the venue asking for? Will there be additional costs? How much will you get back if you (heaven forbid) need to cancel?

"Do not believe everything you see on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s a sad reality we face, but this industry is becoming more creative in terms of their marketing materials. They know the right photos to use, the right angles to photograph, the right photo edits to make venues look larger, cleaner, and nicer. So we advise going to see the venue in person, meeting your vendors in person, and taking the time to do your due diligence. And if you don’t have the time, hire the right professional who will work to ensure these components on your behalf." —Lauren Grech, CEO and Co-Founder of LLG Events

9. Brand Your Event

A timely and compelling theme can be just the thing that sets you apart from other events! Choose a dynamic theme and apply it to all elements of your event, including its name. Highlight the elements that make it special, especially in online media, because this can be what attracts people to attend.

A few branding steps for event planning:

  • Brainstorm names. When you’re brainstorming the event name, ask yourself: How is your event different from other events in your sector? What are you hoping to convey through this event? What are the main components of your event?
  • Create a tagline. Once you’ve come up with a name, craft a tagline—a short, memorable branding slogan that describes the event.
  • Design a logo. If you’re planning a major event or recurring event series, make sure you’ve created a logo. A logo can be an effective branding tool that offers immediate recognition of your event in all your publicity and promo items (such as t-shirts, water bottles, bags, and more). It should also be cohesive with your organization’s larger logo!
  • Create your visual identity. Create a cohesive visual identity for your event to bring everything together. Choose a distinct font, color(s), voice and tone, story, graphics, and thematic elements.

Once you have your name, tagline, and logo, use it in all your marketing collateral so that people who are unfamiliar with your organization will start recognizing your brand—and remember that the event is happening!

10. Confirm Speakers & Special Guests

Want to know how to plan an event with awesome turnout? Book the best guests! Industry leaders, subject matter experts, or local influencers are all examples of great speakers or special guests to have at your event. The right speaker can make all the difference in increasing registrations!

Here are a few tips on how to coordinate an event with notable speakers and special guests:

  • Use social media. Use your LinkedIn network to find potential speakers or guests that have interests or expertise that aligns with your organization. You can also browse hashtags related to your organization’s mission to find people who would be a great fit.
  • Browse professional speaker websites. Sites like the National Speakers Association and SpeakHub are great resources to tap into to find a great speaker. The directory is organized by topic and also lists a track record of their previous events.
  • Reach out to your existing network. Ask people within your organization—or your board!—for recommendations. See if they can peruse their social media networks too, then cross-compare lists for potential contacts.
  • Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce. If you are a chamber of commerce, refer to the tip above. However, if your organization is not, a chamber of commerce can be a great resource for finding like-minded businesses who may have had success with a speaker at a past event.
  • Ask your members. Events are great ways to expand your membership base, so who better to ask about what would resonate best with your attendees than your members? Reach out and ask them for suggestions of who they’d like to see at their event with a member survey.
  • Review post-event survey results. The event survey questions you asked in the past are chock full of useful information. Review survey results and use that information to find a speaker that your attendees will be interested in.
  • Review events you’ve attended in the past. Remember a great speaker from a past gala you were at? Reach out to them and see if they’d be interested in making your event special.
  • Check industry publications. Whether in print or online, look for notable people who have written about topics of interest to your organization and could be part of your event. Depending on who they are, they may be speakers or be great special guests at your event.

11. Identify and Establish Partnerships & Sponsors

Partnerships and sponsors can help defray your costs and increase potential participation. When you involve other people or groups in your event, they have a stake in helping spread the word and making the event a success—the more the merrier, right?

When you set up an event with business collaborators, consider:

  • Seeking corporate sponsors to fund a portion of the event. This could include national organizations that might want to sponsor a dinner, offer a door prize or a key silent auction item, or local businesses that might be able to provide goods or services, such as flowers for the tables, gift bag items, etc.
  • Partnering with community organizations who can offer a venue and/or assistance with organizing or staffing an event.

If you’re looking for businesses to sponsor your event, keep in mind that they’ll be more likely to do so if they can see the clear benefit to them. If you’ve had sponsors in the past who are willing to speak up on your behalf, so much the better—but if not, be prepared to craft a compelling case in your sponsorship letter for support when you initially reach out.

12. Promote Your Event With A Strong Marketing Plan

Even with the most amazing speaker or entertainment line-up, you need a promotional plan to get people in the door. Make sure you have the three major functions of event promotion covered in your event master plan:

Marketing

This is the analytical side of your promotional plan and should be driven by key objectives and KPIs to mark success! Anything within your marketing should be informed by the wants and needs of your attendees, plus the goal of your event. This can include a marketing landing page, social media campaigns, or email drip campaigns.

Advertising

Use information about your audience to figure out what channels to focus on to advertise your event, such as event listing websites, social media, around your community, in partnerships, or in print. Once you’ve got your channels set, you can distribute and disseminate information to get people excited for and interested in attending the day-of!

Media Relations and Publicity

News stations, radio, and print media are all excellent ways to garner interest when you’re running an event. Reach out to media outlets and pitch an idea for a compelling story, such as a feature on a notable speaker or on your event’s cause.

Some components you might want to include in your promotional plan include:

  • Web page announcement
  • Social media
  • Email blasts
  • Printed materials
  • Press and media connections

Finally, no promotional plan is complete without the post-event thank-yous, sponsor acknowledgements, and articles about the event’s successful fundraising!

Things to Keep in Mind on the Day Of Your Event

In the days leading up to a successful big day, you’ll need to check off some crucial last-minute items. Here’s a list of what to prepare 48 hours in advance as you coordinate how to plan an event:

  • Send a reminder email to attendees
  • Contact your media attendees
  • Check the setup of your venue and do a walkthrough
  • Set up a room or space that will act as your command center
  • Check the weather forecast and prepare accordingly
  • Touch base with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page
  • Check in with vendors and deliveries
  • Confirm speakers and special guests
  • Double-check your event checklist
  • Charge and check all technological equipment
  • Prepare a kit of day-of supplies (extra pens, highlighters, paper, USB drives, chargers, extension cords, etc).
  • Prepare an emergency event collateral kit that has PR documents, itineraries, etc
  • Pack an extra outfit (in case something happens to the one you’re wearing!)
  • Set aside time to center yourself and relax

That last point is key. You’ve done all the hard work to create a robust event plan, so the last part is to rest and remember that you’re prepared for what comes next! Running an event will come with stressors, but it should also be fun. Find time to relax and enjoy yourself when you can.

How to Plan an Event to the End: Post-Event Review

Congratulations: you survived planning and running an event! But wait—it’s not quite over. After collapsing on the sofa for a well-deserved nap, regroup to assess your event to see what went well and what you can do better next time. Check in with those success metrics and KPIs. Did you meet your goals? Surpass them? Find success in unexpected places? Assess how your event was received by:

  • Sending out a post-event survey
  • Gathering data from your registration numbers
  • Reviewing social media engagement
  • Tracking donations raised or money earned
  • Accepting sponsor feedback
  • Reviewing how your staff is feeling (avoiding burnout is a BIG success!)

Once you’ve gotten back your attendee survey and talked to your staff, a few questions to ask yourself are:

  • How did we perform against the forecast? This can be your attendee number forecast, your budget, or any other prediction you made about the event. If you ended up on target, great! But if not, review what you could do better for next time.
  • What was attendee feedback like? Some one-off comments can be written off, but if there are some points that come up several times whether positive or negative, they’re worth taking into consideration.
  • How did our team perform? You can use your event as a great feedback generator for everyone else who helped you with it—as well as earmarking volunteers for particular tasks in the future.
  • How did our marketing do? Which activities provided the most ROI? Whether it was creating an event on Facebook or talking to the local press, determining which one performed best will help you decide which route to take next time.

Event and membership management software is incredibly helpful for streamlining how you gather and review this information. With WildApricot, you can reduce admin time with features like membership renewal, waitlists, discounts, early bird registration, email automation, QR codes, and more.

Sign up for your 60-day free trial today to make event planning a breeze!

Start your free trial of WildApricot to make the most of your event planning efforts and engage more supporters.

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