Nonprofit Ally

Many nonprofits will host an event of some type over the course of the next year. It may be as simple as a member meeting or more complex like a multi-day music festival. In either case, a successful event entails planning, coordinating, outreach and management. In this episode I talk with Jessica Edwards, the Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska State Fair, who talks with us about how she and her team pull-off hosting and average of one event per month. This includes a four day state fair, a two day beer festival and a one night film festival.

Jessica walks us through the process of organizing a large event. This includes planning/preparation, marketing, hosting, contingency planning, and post event wrap up.


  • If you hold more than one event each year, it is a good idea to cross-market upcoming events with the current events your are advertising. This way you can introduce other events you host when people sign-up or order tickets for your current event.
  • Be sure that you are branding your events with your logo, the event logo and any original art that you may use.
  • Be sure to advertise on all available mediums. This include: social media, posters, newspapers, radio station, flyers, pamphlets, website and word of mouth. Be all everywhere.
  • Use scarcity! If your event has limited tickets available, then use that to your advantage. Jessica tells us that their beer festival has 1400 tickets available and they sell out in hours.
  • What is “special” about your event? Location? Guest speaker? Art? Entertainment?


  • Start early. Very Early.
  • Make a list of your needs (credit card processor, poster art, hall rental, guest speakers, sponsors, etc) and put them on a timeline for completion.
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you have to build or order anything? These things typically take more time than you think. Plan early.
  • Line up and lock-in your speakers, entertainment, etc early and make sure they are available for your event.
  • Identify the needs you will have during the event and start lining up volunteers. Be sure to match a volunteers skills to their duties. This will help volunteers feel more like they contributed.


  • Meet often with staff and volunteers. This will keep everyone on the same page and help you prioritize any last minute needs. This also works as a team building exercise.
  • Keep a list(s) and visit it often. Keep it updated.
  • Set up a communication system. Are you going to use handheld radios, cellphones, email, etc?
  • Have a contingency plan. What happens if the power goes out? Are you prepared for a medical emergency? What is a volunteer or staff member is sick and can’t show up?
  • If you are the one running the event, then do not get caught up in taking care of things your self. Find a volunteer and delegate this responsibility. Keep your eye on the big picture
  • Know who your “go to” people are. Who is the tech person, the medical person, the maintenance person, etc?


  • Have a plan for what needs to be done once your event is over. This may include clean up, thank you cards, returning of rental equipment, etc.
  • Post event activities can effect whether someone returns next year to help again.
  • Be sure to celebrate.
  • Thank everyone – volunteers, sponsors, staff, board members, guest, speakers, entertainment, etc. Do your best to personalize these thank yous. A sponsor thank you should be different that a volunteer thank you.
  • Plan post event needs by thinking through the entire event. Do you need to track who attended the event? Do you need to track money? Do you need to transport anyone or anything?

By being prepared and having a plan you can reduce the stress on your team and help ensure the enjoyment of those who attend your event.


Jessica Edwards is the Executive Director of the Southeast Alaska State Fair. You can learn more about the fair at:


Phone: 907-766-2476

Artwork by Kevin Forster, Deft Yeti Studios

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