Why does Habitat for Humanity do special events? -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Why does Habitat for Humanity do special events?

By Lysa Ratliff and Karen Haycox

There are many reasons why organizations undertake special events. At Habitat for Humanity International, our purpose is simple. We do events to increase our ability to build more houses. That may sound strange, given that the building of houses is the responsibility of affiliates and national offices around the world.

But the strong message and awareness created during a special event plays a key role in engaging more funders and volunteers, which ultimately support building more houses. A well-crafted, high-profile event such as the Jimmy Carter Work Project also provides a unique stage for communicating to the public about our mission and the scope of our work locally, regionally, nationally or internationally. We've made some great strides in this regard, but how many of us have heard musings from our community such as, "I knew about Habitat, but I didn't know you were working here...?"

With each new high-profile event, we garner new opportunities to drive home the message that Habitat is at work right here in your own community and in countries in need around the world.

Sponsorships of special events also provide our corporate partners or partner celebrities with a unique platform to showcase their commitment to our work, to celebrate their own philanthropy and to lead by example in an audience of their peers. Corporate partners, celebrities or respected community members create media appeal. When the media gets involved, Habitat can utilize their communications channels to reach audiences in numbers that we would not be able to through builds alone. This outreach helps with participation and fundraising.

Also critical to our work is that we talk about the broader issues that surround sub-standard housing and the solution that Habitat presents. It is in this way that housing issues are put on the hearts and minds of the public, thereby increasing their desire to get involved and do something—“to make simple, decent and affordable housing a matter of conscience and action.” As we move into the future, our hope is that we participate in more events with community partners, leaders and those interested in eliminating poverty from the world.

Top 10 things to consider when planning an event

  • Define your goals: Consider the following questions: Why are you doing the event? Will the energy you are putting into planning and implementation be worth it?
  • Who will pay for the event? Determine how the event will be funded. Engage your board and fund-raising staff. Events should be profitable, and internal funds should only be used when the benefits of the event outweigh the cost.
  • Resource availability: Ensure you have the resources available to implement a successful event.
  • Time and place: Think through where and when you are proposing an event. Consider the weather and make sure the location is easily accessible and will appeal to your audience. Check to see if there are holidays, conferences, or other events that will take away from the success of your event.
  • Key messages and outreach: What do you want to communicate and who will be the most powerful person to communicate it? A keynote speaker, a board member, a local government official or a celebrity? A public figure can draw attention and create a higher level of credibility to your event and your messages.
  • Who should you invite? Think this through. Invite guests who will be interested in the event. You want them to have a good time. Use the event as an opportunity to cultivate relationships and ask a third party to review your list and provide feedback.
  • What next? Think long-term. How will you use the event to your advantage? What is your follow-up strategy?
  • Create a planning team. Do not work in isolation. Identify a team that will help with planning, not hinder it.
  • Logistics: Develop a complete work plan, identifying what needs to be done and who is doing it. What are the milestones and deadlines? Establish a meeting and communication schedule to make sure plans are on schedule. Be flexible—things may come up that throw you off plan, but focus on the solutions not the problems.
  • Plan for contingencies: Weather, schedule changes and other occurrences can take away from the success of your event. Think through contingencies and plan for them.
  • Have fun: People expect to have fun at events. They will have a better time if you are having fun too.

Lysa Ratliff is director of Special Events at HFHI. Karen Haycox is regional development director at HFHI.