One of the most important elements of a signature event is that it tells an organization’s story in a way that is compelling to current and potential donors or stakeholders.

The greatest and most commonly missed opportunity of signature events is that they focus only on fundraising and miss out on the opportunity to tell their story.

Many guests in attendance at signature events are there as third-party guests meaning that they have been invited by your sponsors or donors as their guests. These attendees may know little or nothing about your organization, but don’t let them leave that way. During a signature event it is important to weave information about your organization (mission, goals, key successes, ways to engage, etc.) into speeches, printed programmes, entertainment and videos. Keep in mind that even those attendees who think they may know your organization, likely only know of some of the programs and services that are offered.

Story telling (and brand reinforcement) need to go beyond speeches. Nothing is worse than attending a gala dinner leaving with only one memory – there were too many (boring) speeches. At the beginning of the planning process, staff or volunteer leaders need to define the purpose of the event and what message you hope attendees will take home with them. After defining what you want to communicate the next step is defining how you will do so.

The telling of an organization’s story at a signature event can take many forms, including:

  • Videos – several of our clients have had tremendous success with short, documentary style videos that include testimonials to help tell their story. It is important to keep videos shown at an event to no longer than seven minutes in order to keep the audience engaged. A well written and produced video can make a significant impact at an event and can be re-used on your website or in future presentations.
  • Speakers – is there an individual who can speak to your audience on your issues? Having an outside expert who can reinforce the valuable work of your organization or educate stakeholders can be powerful. It is a form of third-party validation that can resonate with an audience.
  • Entertainment – Entertainment (like speakers) can help to sell tickets, but you need to find the right connection. Whether a local cultural group that can show off something that your organization is a part of or a well-known international performer there has to be a reason why you include them in your program – they need to help tell your story.
  • Speeches – While it is impossible to not have some speeches at an event, think about who needs to speak and why. Often the less that is said the bigger the impact. Have the necessary people speak and make sure that their remarks tell your story in a clear and concise manner. Do not be pressured into having a politician speak at your event unless they are a major stakeholder or sponsor and have something to add to your story.

In addition to the above traditional content items, give some thought to how the décor, presentations, signage, etc. tells your story and portrays your brand. A well-entrenched, well-established organization may opt for an elegant look for their event while a more community-based organization may choose to have a more casual look. Make sure that your organizations logo or key messages are well positioned in the room to be captured in photos or video. This is especially important if media are reporting on the event.

As with all elements of event planning and fundraising, telling a story takes planning. Know what your goals are, start with outcomes in mind and plan ahead.

Great story telling takes work, but the results have a lasting impression.