How a volunteer planning committee can make or break a signature event

Kate Goffredo Dougherty

By Kate Goffredo Dougherty

A signature event can be a truly seminal moment for a nonprofit. Execute well, and your organization is likely to receive a windfall of donations and a surge of support from stakeholders and prospects. Execute poorly, and you may find yourself with dwindling coffers and finger-pointing within the ranks.

That’s a lot of responsibility to place upon the shoulders of a volunteer planning committee. Fortunately, there are tried and true methods that Dunleavy & Associates has honed while helping to plan signature events for our nonprofit clients.

The first thing we tell any nonprofit in the early stages of planning an event is to assemble a committee of volunteers with a diverse set of networks and availability. It’s best that committee members have varying work schedules, ensuring someone is always available to complete tasks, and also varying social and professional networks, creating a large pool from which to solicit funds. A tried-and-true recipe is to have high-powered committee members use their network to pursue large donations, while volunteers with more free time handle day-to-day administrative or communications tasks.

Once you have formed the volunteer planning committee for a signature event, the next step is to organize. Subcommittees and their chairpersons should be selected on merit, and tasked with clearly defined responsibilities. Exact positions will vary based on the needs of each event, but all subcommittees will work best when chairs are chosen for their skill set and experience, not their seniority or patronage. In most cases, it’s wise to select a committee chairperson who is high-energy and experienced in planning, and who can take charge, grease the wheels daily, and motivate the committee throughout the process.

Perhaps just as important as utilizing the strengths of the people you do have, is to recognize the weaknesses presented by skills that are lacking. Common examples are organizations that are planning an event for the first time and don’t have experience in securing a location, or those that lack the capacity to handle the large volume of communications that successful event planning requires.

You’ll need to fill these gaps, lest one becomes the Achilles heel of your event. If you’re unable to find the expertise or capacity required within your own network, it’s at this point that enlisting the services of a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates should be considered.

Once you have all of your role players in place, it’s crucial to make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and follows through on those responsibilities. Often times, well-meaning subcommittee members will step outside the lines; a person responsible for securing a location will start nosing around the catering menu, or a volunteer tasked with calling donors will start shopping around for flower arrangements. While their intentions are to help, such blurring of responsibilities often ends up wasting time and annoying committee members already assigned to those tasks.

If you’re not sure you have the right people or enough experience to knock your next signature event out of the park, be sure to follow these best practices and consider bringing an organization like Dunleavy & Associates on board if there are gaps within your volunteer team.

About the author: Kate Goffredo Dougherty is Senior Project Manager, Operations at Dunleavy & Associates. With a background in nonprofit administration, Kate oversees the lion's share of Dunleavy's operations, and shares her expertise with clients seeking to improve their operational and organizational management. She also specializes in event planning.