Reimagine Your Signature Events
(Photo courtesy of Noah Wolf Photography)

Reimagine Your Signature Events

How to refresh and reimagine your signature events that are rooted in tradition.

For many organizations, there are a handful events that are deeply rooted in tradition. Oftentimes, these events are central to their identity and mission.

But your audience’s expectations are shifting right alongside the event landscape. So how do you refresh a signature event without threatening its identity?

Reflect on what’s really important

At the heart of every signature event, there are key traditions and experiences that are sacred to its brand. While the venue, décor and catering are important, it’s the experience and emotions that your attendees have come to expect and look forward to. That’s what really defines your event’s brand.

If you’re not certain what those brand elements are for your particular event, ask those that know your event best – your attendees. Invite both longtime and newer attendees for coffee, gather a focus group in your office, or send out a survey to a larger audience and ask why they choose to attend your event. These responses, combined with input from your staff, board or vendors, should start to identify a few key themes.

Identify what those key emotions and experiences are for your attendees, and work to protect and integrate them as you move forward with the process of reimaging your event.

Let the data lead you

Analysis of recent years’ event data is a crucial step in the initial evaluation. Analyzing event elements include attendee demographics, attendee retention, expenses and revenue, and auction or directed giving opportunities. These can help inform which event elements demand the greatest attention.

To help you hone in on what data points are needed for your particular needs, start by stating the questions you’d like answered: Are new or returning attendees more financially valuable for this event? How many attendees are new versus returning? How are different age groups spending their money at the event? Stating the questions in plain language can help you more clearly dig into the right data.

Look ahead

In a crowded event and non-profit landscape, your attendees are always tempted by other events, missions, and ways to spend their money. Whether your data reveals that your audience is consistent or changing from year to year, it’s important to make educated predictions about what your audience may look like in five to 10 years. Additionally, consider if there would be a benefit to introducing a new audience to your event, and if that should be a priority. Does your current event model fit the needs of attracting or retaining these audiences?

Take your time

When all of your pre-work and data analysis is done, you may feel excited to make some needed changes right away. You may also feel a sense of anxiety, realizing that with every change comes a need to rebuild a model you may have down to a complex yet comfortable science. Acknowledge that with needed changes, you’ll need time to execute them in a responsible and meaningful way.

Reimagining signature events can be a massive endeavor, but the landscape of live events and fundraising is always changing. Don’t be afraid to dream big, push the prior limits, and try something new.

About the author

Sarah Ober is the senior events coordinator for Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF), a national non-profit based in Minneapolis. Children's Cancer Research Fund supports the brightest and boldest minds whose groundbreaking research is leading to better treatments and cures for childhood cancer. Ober is the lead coordinator for several of CCRF’s signature fundraising events, including the Dream gala and Time to Fly, a 5K walk. A graduate of the College of Saint Benedict, Ober serves on the board of directors for the Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter of the International Live Events Association (ILEA).

About ILEA

The International Live Events Association (ILEA) represents and supports more than 5,000 members globally – event professionals who do business together, share knowledge, nurture talent and progress the live events industry. For more information on how an ILEA professional can help you with your event, please contact