The Little Details of the Big Picture

Learning How to Properly Plan an Event

Learning to plan events is useful, no one would argue with that. However, there's a significant difference in planning an event for a major organization versus a smaller organization. For example, at my undergraduate university, there is always a traditional pep-rally the Friday before homecoming. Many organizations participate; IFC and CPC Greeks usually do skits, the band and A Cappella groups perform, etc. When I was in undergrad, the winner of the NPHC step show would also perform; now the NPHC step show is at the same time. It took a lot for NPHC to convince the office of Greek Life that they should be able to have a step show during the homecoming festivities, particularly at a time that overlaps one of the school's biggest traditions. On the surface level it made sense, as many schools do have step shows tied in to their homecoming (especially HBCUs). Alumni usually come back for homecoming which makes it convenient for them to attend and it creates stability for the date of the event.

There are negatives to this as well, though. Anyone who is a member of an organization that participates in the pep rally cannot attend the step show. NPHC organizations can't participate in the pep rally. Also, since the pep rally and the step show are on the same side of campus, traffic can be a problem. Previously, the step show was on a Saturday, this made it easy for visiting chapters to step and/or attend. Not to mention, those same alumni that come to homecoming, generally have jobs and may not actually get in town until Friday night. These are little details that were either overlooked or deemed unimportant, but have the potential to seriously affect attendance of the show.

Clashing With Other Organizations

Learning to plan for large organizations, such as the organization that puts on the pep-rally, is fundamentally different from planning for a smaller organization. Traditions are set, you can usually count on people to go with tradition. The NFL doesn't have to worry about someone planning something on Super Bowl Sunday—people will watch the Super Bowl. The university doesn't worry about what events are planned on football Saturdays, people will pack out the stadium and tailgate regardless. It's the job of the smaller organization to watch out for these events and make sure their event doesn't coincide with a larger, more traditional, event.

The above may sound like common sense, but many new comers to Greek life have to be reminded of this. I don't know how many times I've told a neo something along the lines of "that's the day before Thanksgiving break, no one's going to stay for that." Not only do you learn to map out the little details in planning, but you also familiarize yourself with what's happening in your community—this often leads to becoming more involved as well.

So you know that you can't out do the big organizations, but what about the little ones? At HBCUs and larger schools, I've noticed that it's nothing for two NPHC organizations to host events at the same time. This is a major no-no at my university. Generally speaking, the majority of attendees to NPHC functions are black students. Why? Perhaps its the advertising, perhaps its the subject matter. These are also things that you are forced to think about when placed on a planning committee for a BGLO. Do you want your audience to be all black, or are you trying to branch out a get more participation? Well, currently, as I said, majority of the attendees are black and my university is currently about 6% black (I'm sure this number was smaller when I attended as an undergraduate). This 6% gives you about 1,000 black students. Now some of these students are Greek, let's say 100 of them; so you really have about 900 non-Greek, black students. You'll never get 100% attendance at anything (and education forums, fundraisers, etc. will always have lower attendance rates than parties). 

Making Money

Lets aim high and say 75% of these black students attend parties, that's 675 students. Now, let two organizations throw a party at the same time; if they're lucky half will attend one party and half will attend the other, meaning about 338 people will attend each party. Charging $10 a person (which is on the high end), each organization can still collect $3380 dollars, subtract the $2000-$2500 it cost to rent the place, hire a DJ, hire security, etc. and they've made between $800 and $1300. For reference, a stand alone party would have pulled all 675 students and garnered a profit between $4250 and $4750. Again, that scenario is wishful thinking. What actually happens is one of two things. One organization is notorious for horrible parties and the other is known for good parties, so no one attends the part of the organization notorious for horrible parties and they accrue debt. Or, both organizations are known to have great parties and people can't figure out which party everyone is going to, so no one goes to either party and both organizations accrue debt. This is obviously not what you want to happen, so again, you have to be mindful of what else is happening in the community to avoid disastrous results.

Education and Forums

Forums are the devil to get people to attend. Many complain that Greeks only party, but convincing people to show up to talk or hear about pertinent issues relating to health, safety, finance, etc. is very difficult. As seen above, you definitely don't want to share your audience with the other organizations for events that are going to have even less of a turn out. Clearly, it's important to take note of their events and event patterns—ask yourself, do they host similar events, has someone already done this, does someone usually have an event on a particular day. The more interesting detail here is how far free things will take you. If you can give away free food or prizes at your event, people are bound to show up. We used to have a cookout to raise money for March of Dimes every year. We'd get local grocery stores to donate the food and then we would serve it for free, but we'd put the donation jar before the plates. Even though it wasn't required to pay to get the food, people would second guess the "free" they'd seen on the flyer and drop a dollar or two in the jar for good measure. When we started the event, we missed the deadlines to request food donations from the grocery stores and we lost money buying the food. We also walked around with the jar instead of placing it near the food. As we continued the event, we learned a lot about how to maximize the attendance as well as the amount of donations we received.

Knowing how to plan for a small organization is more useful than knowing how to plan for a large organization in the sense that you can carry these traits over and they will still be advantageous. Large organizations have bigger budgets, so you may not have to scrape and find deals to afford everything you want/need. Large organizations also come with more advertising; you may not have to learn how to market your event without the aid of an advertising budget. When you can't hire a professional designer for your flyers or a professional cameraman for your promo videos, you have to learn to make quality advertisement pieces on your own. All of this comes in handy as you continue on in life.

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