6 Tips to Produce a Nonprofit Event with Real Impact

by Matthew Kovalsky

by Matthew Kovalsky

Account Manager & Producer, Happily

When you place your values at the center of your decision-making, the impact of your event will just flow naturally.

After years of working in the nonprofit world planning events, I have learned many tips and tricks to making a global impact, while staying grassroots. I have contributed to many events within NYC Pride ranging from The Rally, The March, Pride Island, Youth Pride, Human Rights Conference, and The Brunch, as well as other mission-driven organizations such as Sesame Workshop. As event planners, having the opportunity to contribute to missions that are driving change and positively influencing our communities, is what drives myself and the Happily team.


Image: New York Pride March, 2019. Photo by Lucas Jackson / Reuters.

Here are just a few tips for producing a successful - and more importantly - impactful event.

1. Define the purpose of your event and let that drive your decision-making

Effective event planning requires clear and focused goals that are communicated to all those involved. These goals serve as the driving force that ensures your event aligns with your organization's mission, engages the right audience, and delivers the intended results. Defining the purpose of your event will act as a beacon, guiding every aspect of the planning process; from selecting the perfect venue and building an engaging agenda, to selecting vendors, curating talent, and measuring success. An event is the culmination of countless decisions - both big and small - and having a clear guiding statement will ensure that each decision leads towards your desired outcome.

As an example, the mission of NYC Pride is to “work toward a future without discrimination where all people have equal rights under the law. We do this by producing LGBTQIA+ Pride events that inspire, educate, commemorate, and celebrate our diverse community.” When planning The 51st Annual Pride Rally as Director, I sought after speakers who would not only represent the community, but who were trailblazers, and activists who were doing the real work on the ground. Through their words and messaging I was to produce a values-driven show, and continue the work they were doing with our platform.

2. Design the physical space with intention

Providing the desired experience for attendees comes down to the details. Be intentional about the atmosphere you are creating with the physical design, layout and details in your event space/s. With the venue, the decor, music, colors, light, accessibility, signage placement and other such elements, you can create an environment that reflects your brand, complements your messaging, and inspires your attendees.

The thing I also want to spotlight here is accessibility. The event space should be inviting no matter a person's physical or mental abilities. Taking into consideration all members of the community who will be attending your event will ensure that a wide range of people can engage with you. Something that I have seen done to create a more inclusive space is an initiative by London Pride with their Access Stewards. It is a program where trained volunteers in bright colored shirts are available to assist any attendees with navigating the event and providing information focused on accessibility.

BEAM's Black Healing Remixed, LA 2022

Image: BEAM Black Healing Remixed 2022 Summit, Los Angeles.

3. Be a mirror of your community

Your attendees need to see themselves in your event. Whoever your target audience is, you should have them front of mind in your decision-making - especially in your talent selection, and your marketing content. By having a diversity of faces and multiple points of view in your programing, your attendees will be able to really connect with your content and engage with your message. Secondly, this will extend to all the various graphics, language, photography and such event collateral produced. Are you speaking to your audience in a way they can relate to? Do the visuals you are presenting to your audience make them know that this event is for them?

4. Stay relevant to the current political and social climate

In this ever changing world, be aware of the current events, social media dialogue, local issues, political news or trending topics that are happening around the date of your event. By finding ways to really ground your event in the present day, you will be able to tap into the current mood and connect with trending matters that your community cares about. To incorporate this into your event, don’t be afraid to leave a session topic open-ended in anticipation for the presenters to drive a conversation around a current topic/s. Or if you want to be super dialed-in, leave one speaker spot open until closer to the event so you can fill it with someone who can talk to a relevant and trending topic.

5. Tie it all together with an action plan

As a nonprofit, at the core of every event is your mission. Your event needs to be constantly giving your audience actions on how they can contribute to your cause and reminding them why your cause is important. Providing your audience with a plan of action will create a sense of empowerment and involvement among attendees. It will translate the event's mission and goals into tangible actions that attendees can take to make a difference. This can lead to increased engagement, support, and advocacy for your cause, as well as potentially attracting new volunteers, donors, or partners.

6. Reflect on the event's successes, challenges, and opportunities for improvement

By formally analyzing the event's data, feedback from attendees, and the team's own observations, you can make informed decisions on how to improve future events. A debrief report or meeting will also provide opportunities to celebrate wins and recognize the hard work of everyone involved. Overall, a post-event debrief ensures that you are continually learning and growing their events to better achieve goals, serve your mission and impact your community. Sending out post-event surveys to attendees, sponsors or partners, can be crucial in evaluating the success and engagement of your event. By asking attendees to provide their thoughts and opinions, you will gain valuable insights into what worked well and what can be done better next time.