Every nonprofit event has some hiccups, so we’ve come to expect them.

But imagine if you didn’t have to stop five, ten, or a dozen times throughout your event to troubleshoot the guest list, or fix a data entry error. Imagine how much faster registration and check-out would move. How much of that time could be better spent giving the best service possible to your guests?

All it takes is a tiny bit more preparation, practice, and organization. Make these five small changes to your process, and you’ll find you can breathe much easier on the big night.


Maintain Physical Organization

Consistent organization for all your important documents sounds simple, but can be the difference between order and chaos.calendar-428290_960_720

So let your inner perfectionist out! Be meticulous about paper, and keep all like things in one place. Create an “auction binder” for all your event-related materials (for things like your contract with the venue, caterer contact information, your timeline, etc.). Store a hard copy of every ticket you sell, and every piece of guest information you collect over phone or email, and keep it in one place for future reference.

Keeping things organized is the easiest to start, and the hardest to remember as life at the office gets hectic. But prioritize it and you’ll no longer have volunteers asking a million questions on event night that they can find answers to in a box or in a binder. Order breeds order.


Practice Data Safety 

There’s one rule for data: treat it like you’d treat your big VIP donors. (Some of your data are VIP donors!)

Good data is a good event—it means fewer fires, fewer “special cases,” and faster movement at registration and checkout. So practice “data safety” with these rules:

  • Don’t rush yourself. Double-check all entered data against the physical record before pressing “OK.”
  • Data doesn’t track itself! Enter everything as it comes in, keeping things that have already been entered separate from the rest.
  • Keep physical records together and labeled, so you can find them again.


Do an Integrity Check

So you’re in the final week before the big night—time for an Integrity Check.

Print detailed and summary reports of all your data. Check it over by yourself, and again with others. Are the numbers what you expect? If not, what’s missing? Look for gaps in the detailed reports like missing names, partially-full sponsor tables that should be full, or gaps in package numbers.


Start reconciling. Compare your computer data against your paper records.

If you need to, make phone calls. Get missing names, phone numbers, and addresses from sponsors. Don’t be afraid of picking up the phone or writing an email if it means someone’s name might be missing from the guest list.

Before event night, triple-check all your printed materials against the data: place names, bid sheets, item displays. Any transposed package number could be a ten-minute delay at pickup.



Practice, Practice, Practice 

The only way to find the holes in your process is to try it. Not just once—you’ll have to run through your event procedure a few times to find all the slowdowns.

Dry runs have wide-reaching benefits. Volunteers get to try out the equipment and learn what to expect in advance, so they’re faster on event night. They’ll help you find the holes, and you’ll see the places where check-in or checkout will hiccup.

Remember: good data means faster check-in. The more comprehensive your guest list, the less information volunteers have to collect on the spot—and the quicker each attendee gets into the event. That means a shorter line!


Prepare for the Worst 

Print plenty of copies of each report you think you might need, in case some disappear. Keep everything important in one central location, so everyone can find it if they need it—and instill in your staff the necessity of putting everything back.

Devise an event “plan,” in case something does go wrong. What’s your process for registering new guests on the fly? Where do you have room at a table? What if something changes?

Put a process in place for “troubleshooting.” Have a separate computer station available for surprises. Take the guest out of line so they don’t have to wait or keep others waiting, and assign someone to help them who can help them.

So many event directors dread their event, but you don’t need to if you follow these rules. Do the heavy lifting now, and you’ll fix event night challenges before they can even start!