Events on a shoestring: tips from U of M planners

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Between the public lectures, workshops and conferences and internal meetings, the University of Minnesota has no shortage of events. But when it comes to planning them, our time and resources are often limited. As a result, event coordinators at the U of M have learned to be extra-creative and resourceful. Here, they share a few tips and tools for pulling off a successful event with a low (or no) budget.

Know your scope.

“Define your mission and vision and know your audience. Plan ahead, allowing at least three months for larger events. Form a task-driven committee, preferably with no more than five people.”

Serena Wright, director of events, College of Education and Human Development

“Start planning as early as possible and create a budget that includes staff time. And talk to your communications office in advance. They’ll be your best resource for help with everything from promoting your event to producing event materials for the day of.”

Laura Walton, events and operations coordinator, University of Minnesota, Morris

Team up and reach out.

“Collaborate with others. We work with Extension, the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station and other groups to create a University of Minnesota presence. This not only helps with cost, but also creates a more complete view of the research, outreach and education that’s taking place in these areas.”

Honey VanderVenter, constituent relations coordinator, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

“Utilize the skills of your staff and students. And take advantage of free resources across the university, such as classroom space and posting events on college websites.”

Sue Moldenhauer, program associate, College of Continuing Education

“Get a good editor to edit invitations and mailings. Use bullet points in your communications: three is perfect, and no more than five. And don’t use jargon. Put everything into plain English — an editor can help with this.”

Elaine Nissen, coordinator, Office of Business Relations

“People are more apt to attend an event with a personal invitation. Faculty should talk to their students, colleagues and staff about the event and encourage them to attend. And provide a snack. It may require a little more time, but stopping at the store to pick up a bag of apples, candy, etc. entices people to attend and costs a fraction of what a caterer charges.”

Nichole Axtman, event coordinator, School of Public Health

Make the most of existing tools.

Eventbrite is great for creating and sending out email invitations to free events. You can embed images in your invitation and upload your college wordmark, and it automatically creates a Google map to the venue and sends a reminder to all who register the day before.”

Camille Gage, coordinator, Humphrey School of Public Affairs

“Use electronic communications as much as possible. Negotiate pricing with Printing Services at the U of M. Vistaprint also offers very low-cost print options.”

Becky Kiefer, special events and alumni relations manager, College of Science and Engineering

“I rely on Brief, MyU faculty portal, listservs, posters, flyers, and our department newsletter, website and Facebook page. I also do most promoting through the campus groups I maintain.”

KT Cragg, event coordinator, Office of Information Technology

And of course, when appropriate, submit your events well in advance to your campus’ master calendar. Direct links:

Twin Cities | Crookston | Duluth | Morris | Rochester

What’s your advice for planning events on a shoestring? Leave a comment below and continue the conversation.

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