One of my specialties is being able to create highly successful events and meetings while working with very restrictive budgetary constraints. The key to being able to provide everything needed with limited funds is to actively seek out and garner in-kind support. However, planning for in-kind support takes time, forethought, and tenacity.
This means that during the initial planning process, you must convene with the designers of the event (Executive Director, Board, etc.) to get a full understanding of the organization’s mission, desired event outcome and become aware of any constraints in which you must abide. For example, if you are planning an event for epileptic individuals, you would not want to seek a light show for entertainment as they are known to cause problems for that demographic.
You also need to gather as much information as you are able on past events held. This information will be the most useful resource in your toolbox when seeking support for the upcoming event. Knowing the detailed demographics and return on investment (ROI) with stakeholder outcomes are vital pieces of information that will really make a difference when asking for support.
Inaugural events can be the most difficult to promote and requesting in-kind support is no different. Because you do not have the past information to provide to potential supporters, make sure that you fully understand what this event is meant to achieve and the attendees that you are planning to attract. You can also relate statistics of similar events for comparison. Establishing credibility and trust is very important when requesting in-kind donations. It is essential that you never make up statistics or exaggerate to get support. This is fraud.
Now that you are armed with enough information to begin planning, list out all of the potential expenditures for the event. Be sure to include pre and post meeting expenses as well; any areas where you can offset expenses will allow more wiggle room for other budgetary items. More than likely you will need a venue, food, beverage and décor. Will you also need lanyards, badges, registration area, technology, entertainment, clean-up, etc.? List everything.
Don’t begin outreach until you have secured a venue. Venue planning is particularly important because the venue chosen will determine the types of in-kind requests that you can seek. My first goal is always to attain the venue as the first in-kind donation. I prefer to work with local venues where they will usually negotiate with what is allowable to bring in from off-premises. This will allow you to bring in all of the in-kind donations that you will begin to seek.
Next, you need to determine who to contact to request in-kind donations. Initially, begin building your outreach list by creating a database of the current and past stakeholders of the organization and the upcoming event. Put substantial thought in determining who to approach as a stakeholder. Don’t overlook those that you don’t think have anything to provide.
Two years ago I was able to get the entire food and beverage donated for 125 attendees by the aunt of a computer technician at the organization producing the event. She happened to own a local restaurant and was thrilled to support the mission and get the exposure. She has continued to provide the food and beverage for the annual event and plans to remain doing so in the future. You never know who will lead you to significant support.
After you have compiled a list of stakeholders, create a list of companies that align with the mission of the organization and would also benefit from the exposure. Be sure to keep the business of the providing organization in mind.
When you are ready to begin outreach think about how each individual or company would prefer to be contacted. If you are cold calling, be sure to identify the marketing department for larger organizations. If they are accustomed to in-kind requests they may have procedures in place that you can find on their website. If the deadline for requests has passed, be sure to maintain that information so that next year you are able to place your request during their acceptance period.
If the attendees will be mostly local, be sure to contact local, small businesses as many are amenable to in-kind donations when they are able to directly market to their target customer. This is why knowing what the attendee base is comprised of is so important because you are able to align the business with their target audience.