A Case Study in What NOT to Do: How One Event Let Its Participants Down

Posted on November 16, 2012

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Patrick Riley and Sarah ConiglioIf your fundraising event leaves participants feeling disappointed and deflated, then you’ve really blown it. And that can have a negative impact on your nonprofit organization for years to come. Sarah recently took part in one such event. We’ll keep the details vague to protect the guilty.

The event, which benefitted several charities, took place at a historic venue in a U.S. city. But the fantastic setting was greatly outweighed by a slew of missteps. For example …

  • Spectators were too far away. The spectator section was on the opposite side of the venue from where the action was taking place. Supporters could barely make out individual participants — and thus had little reason to cheer anyone on. As a participant, it seemed like you were navigating the course on your own.
  • Volunteers were scarce. There were few volunteers present throughout the course, including at many of the water stations. This, along with the spectator situation, meant that participants didn’t receive the kind of encouragement they need during a physically challenging event.
  • They didn’t pay attention to the little things. It’s always a bad sign when event registration and check-in is a mess (Sarah waited in line for about an hour). The lack of announcements or posted directions left many participants feeling lost. One more reason to be an unhappy participant.
  • Where was the sense of ceremony? Rather than an arch or something else grand, the finish line consisted of two trash cans. As you ran through, no spectators or volunteers were on hand to make some noise. From there, the participant experience just petered out — no grand finale. You walked away wondering, “Was that it?”
  • Follow-up wasn’t there. Sarah thought she would receive a post-event email detailing the race results and other event highlights. But two months after the fact, she still hasn’t. 

A Missed Opportunity 

The bottom line: This event represented a huge missed opportunity. It took place at such a great site, but most every other aspect fell short.

What could organizers have done better? As you can see above, the answers are pretty obvious. From a participant standpoint, the key would be to raise the excitement level by getting spectators and volunteers involved more intimately.

Our colleague Meghan Dankovich recently blogged about the growing popularity of spectator tickets. Giving spectators an up-close view would have amped up the energy exponentially, thus creating a better participant experience. Participants want to feel like they’re part of something — at this event, that sensation was sadly absent.

Here’s the kicker: Most anyone who took part in this event isn’t going to be motivated to come back again. Which means those charities that are the beneficiaries won’t get nearly the financial return that they should. For that reason, here’s hoping event organizers make some major changes and turn things around.

“Patrick and Sarah’s Experience Hub” blog posts are featured monthly. Directors of production projects Patrick Riley and Sarah Coniglio each have many years of hands-on experience in almost every aspect of event operations and production.

Would you like to speak with an expert in event development and production? Please email Patrick or Sarah today. 

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