You’ve worked endlessly on designing the schedule. You did your outreach.
You’re all ready to go.
But—on the day of the event, there are more empty chairs than occupied ones.
What went wrong? The event is free, and it offers an excellent service. Is there a way to grow your audience to ensure seats won’t be empty again?
This guide offers seven tips to increase the number of participants who attend your nonprofit’s sessions. Follow these simple steps and you’ll continue to build your nonprofit’s goals in a more meaningful way.
1. Identify Your Purpose and Audience
Ask yourself: what should you do when starting to plan a series of meetups for your nonprofit?
Look at your purpose. You must know what value you are bringing to people. It’s the reason why they attend your meetings in the first place. Focus on the purpose of your event as the first part of your planning checklist.
Identifying the purpose will help you identify the right audience to target for the event. Let’s say you are trying to increase awareness of the work your nonprofit does. You help subsidize single mothers who can’t pay for childcare.
Start by creating an event call to build an emotional connection to your nonprofit by increasing engagement. Find someone who has been part of the nonprofit and offers a great testimonial. A message from her will motivate your target audience in a more personalized and meaningful way.
2. Choose the Venue
The venue is essential—but not for the reasons you might think. Sure, you want to have an exciting and accessible event location. People are more likely to attend an event if it is convenient to get to and provides a great atmosphere.
But—it’s all about your target audience. Location is essential in event planning because certain types of venues attract certain kinds of crowds. Think again of your target audience. Are they likely to attend at the specific location you have in mind? It is an important factor to figure out before you decide on the venue itself.
Here are a few things to consider:
Match your mission and values.Let’s say you’re an environmentally friendly nonprofit. You stand for clean air. You don’t want your guests to attend and think the location goes against your goals.
Consider capacity and function. Choose a venue with multi-use conveniences (size, functionality, comfort).
Look at cost and logistics. The venue must stay within budget and be convenient to travel to.
Match the mood of the event with the venue. It’s the least technical aspect of location planning, but still important.
3. Do Your Research on Trending Topics
You know your target audience. You chose the venue. Now is the time to start asking why people will want to attend your session.
You’re in a tough space. People can attend tons of events each day. But you want to be the go-to on a certain topic. Make sure you keep up with new technologies or trends in your field to be the definitive authority on the subject.
This research will help you find new areas of opportunity. Imagine you’re an organization that helps war veterans. You make an event for families of war veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. A good number attend. Follow up with them and ask why they attended in the first place, and what else the veteran community would be interested in learning about.
This is the area where you gain valuable insight from your target audience. And it lets you branch out so your next event can be even more targeted. Let’s say your post-meeting research shows veterans need help landing civilian jobs. You now have a focus for your next event that should resonate with your target audience.
4. Broaden Your Connections with a Powerful Platform
You need to find partners, speakers, and technical volunteers for your event. But you need to choose the right type of invitees and volunteers, ones who believe in your organization’s mission. What do you do if you don’t have such a broad network and are starting from scratch?
If you don’t already have a powerful platform you use, then now’s the time to start. Meetup is your new best friend. It’s a platform for managing events and finding people who are interested in attending and building a community. It makes recruiting technical volunteers much easier. And it’s the volunteers you want.
Why? Because they’re oftentimes already members of the platform and are searching for events like yours at which to volunteer. In fact, 25 percent of TechSoup’s technical volunteers came from email notifications send out after they created an event through Meetup. But Meetup does even more than find technical recruiters—it helps you build your professional network as well.
Having partners for your event will grow your attendance. And Meetup helps you partner with tech incubators, university classes, and organizers of other meetups. There are many organizations eager to help nonprofits, but they need to be invited first.
Try this—find three or four organizations and let them co-host the event in some facet. Then have these organizations invite the people they know as well. Sit back and watch your attendance expand when you find the right partners.
5 .Find a Guest Speaker Who Draws an Audience
The topic of your meetup should be fresh and relevant for your target audience. But that’s not enough. You’ll need great guest speakers—people who attract audiences just by showing up.
Increasing attendance by bringing in a popular guest speaker is a no-brainer. But getting the guest speaker who fits the part is difficult. Using your own network may not bring the result you want. So, you’ll have to search elsewhere.
There are some good resources out there, such as Speaker Match, which lets you post a request for your upcoming event. But it’s best if you look for speakers from leading organizations. Affiliation is crucial in the nonprofit sector.
Look at different niche professional organizations that have expertise on the topic you are discussing. Or check local universities that have experts who can weigh in on a subject or new study. Professors are often skilled communicators and educators, so they are ideal guest speakers.
6. Get a Media Partner
Events work better with partnerships. You nailed a great one down. And you have a nice guest speaker attending.
But—if you want to take your numbers to another level, you’ll have to bring in the big guns. Who is the cavalry then?
Having a media sponsor will help you reduce costs while increasing your pool of attendees. It’s a great way to target like-minded individuals to engage with. Let’s say you want to build local interest in your new nonprofit. Your best tactic is to target media sponsors on a regional or local level, be they newspapers, television, or radio networks.
Why does media sponsorship help? Brand visibility and targeted marketing aren’t the only things that matter for your meetup events. The general public’s perceptions of your organizations is another key factor. And 74 percent of people are more likely to buy products or attend events after they are exposed to a branded marketing experience.
7. Engage with Social Media
The time of sending out Facebook invites and getting hundreds of people to attend an event are gone.
Because people are bombarded these days with all types of social media interaction. And none of it is targeted. Still, targeted social media outreach will work—at the very least, people will know more about the work your organization does.
Don’t assume the people in your network know about the event. Do reach out and remind them through social media channels. But, if you really want to gain some traction on social media, you’ll have to hit all the channels and keep up with promotion on them.
Let’s say you have a great speaker who will present at your next event. Turn to Reddit. Have them do an “ask me anything” (AMA) event. You’ll boost the event’s visibility and gain valuable insight about what your target audience (and beyond) are most interested in.
Promote this AMA on all your social media channels as well. And make sure you have catchy titles for all your events. Don’t say, “I’m running an event this week. …” Instead, go with “Calling All Indie Developers: We’re Hosting An. …”
Being a top-notch promoter for a nonprofit might feel like climbing Mt. Everest, blindfolded.
You’re competing with so many other events and organizations.
So—start by implementing these seven essential tips. You’ll be closer to increasing the number of people who attend your events.
Roger Maftean is a career writer at Zety (formerly Uptowork), a career site fueled by more than 40 million readers a year, including nonprofit professionals.