Event Planning Guide
Your Guidebook to Organizing a Progressive Event
Thank you for your interest in planning and hosting an event with Campus Progress! The Campus Progress (CP) events team connects young people with the speakers, films, and resources needed to set up engaging panel discussions, film screenings, spoken word performances, rallies, trainings, and more.
Campus Progress believes that educating people through events and inspiring them to take action can help build a stronger, more progressive community. Our events stimulate discussion about current issues and generate publicity and interest in the work of progressive groups and publications run by young people.
By engaging your community on multiple issues and offering them guidance on how to raise awareness and/or take action, we can work together on continuing to build a progressive movement.
Throughout the planning process, you should consider how your event is going to contribute to your campus, your community, your city, and the country at large.
The CP Events Team will help you with the nitty-gritty of executing successful events and will also help with funding for speaker travel and accommodation, advertising, and refreshments. In return we ask that you do all the on-the-ground work to ensure a successful event. This includes booking rooms, outreach, and staffing the event. Examples of all event planning documents can be found at the end of this guide.
Event Concept and Goals
To provide a uniform vision for the team of planners and to attract sponsors, you should create an Event Concept.
The Event Concept is a 3-4 sentence description that focuses your ideas and allows you to create a plan for executing your event.
You should ask yourself questions like these in preparing the Event Concept and throughout the planning of the event:
- What do you wish to accomplish by hosting this event?
- Are you trying to create a new network of activists?
- Do you hope to raise awareness and/or provide a discourse surrounding a specific issue?
- Are you trying to get a piece of legislation passed or influence policy makers in your community?
Put yourself in the shoes of the typical attendee. Ask yourself these types of questions:
- What type of events do you or your friends frequent?
- How long do they usually last?
- What things at these events keep your attention?
The event concept should communicate the “who, what, when, and where” of your event.
Who? Identify your target population. How many attendees do you expect? What is the demographic you hope to attract?
What? Describe the goals and takeaway of your event. Your goals should be SMART:
Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Time bound
- Specific—Set goals in terms of how many people you want and expect to attend. How many supporters will you have (organizations, co-sponsors)? Be specific about the timing of the event; break it down minute-by-minute. Lastly, set goals for the number and types of achievements you want to take away from your event: photos, letters written by attendees, canned food collected, etc.
- Measurable—List the goals and revisit them after your event. Did you meet your requirements? Measurable goals are a clear cut way to demonstrate the success of the event to your organization and outside partners.
- Attainable—Ensure that your goals can be achieved in the span of time you have to plan the event.
- Realistic—Be realistic about your time, workload, and the atmosphere on campus and within your coalition of co-sponsors.
- Time bound—Your event should have a clear start (including planning time) and end time.
When? What time of day, month, and year will work best in accomplishing the goals of the event?
Where? Where are the possible locations for the event?
Note: Think of other organizations that can potentially increase your audience size and scope by endorsing or co-sponsoring the event. Partners can also shoulder some of the workload or price, and make it easier to juggle all aspects of the planning process. Think of possible organizations that align with your mission and goals.
Location, location, location
As the saying suggests, where you host your event is crucial to its ultimate success. There are a few things you should keep in mind when thinking about a venue.
- Think about acoustics. If the space is large, add audio equipment so attendees and videographers can pick up sound easily.
- Room arrangement is key. Ensure that the entire audience can see presenters. Add stage risers to elevate speakers.
- Accessible location. You want to make sure that your venue is in a central location and that there is clear directional signage so it is easy to find. Always be sure to consider rush-hour traffic, public transportation, or public parking when determining the time and location for your event.
- Less is more. You can never be sure exactly how many people will attend, so pick a room that holds less people than you think will show up or arrange fewer chairs in the space. It’s better to have too many people in a small room than have too few people in a big room.
- Ask the experts. For help with audiovisual or stage set-up, contact your theater department, activities office, or a performance group for tips.
- Be environmentally friendly. Try to use a venue that offers proper recycling. Note if the venue has a great deal of natural light, which could limit the amount of electricity you use to light your space.
If you have not secured a venue, do so immediately.
Spotting a Perfect Location for your Event
Production Folder and Tic Toc
When planning events, it’s important to stay organized, keeping all event-related materials together in one place. Creating a Production Folder will provide this organization for you, ensuring that the event planning process runs as smoothly as possible.
A Production Folder is a frequently-updated collection of documents related to the event. It should include:
- Contact lists
- Business cards of vendors, speakers, and partners
- Notes from planning meetings or phone calls
- Copies of fliers and other promotional materials
Keep the most recent documents at the top of the file for easy reference.
In addition to the Production Folder, a Tic Toc is essential to the execution of a successful event. It will provide you with a step-by-step, minute-by-minute break-down of the event. The Tic Toc is a detailed schedule of the event that designates who will be doing what throughout the day leading up to the event, during the event, and after the event.
When making a Tic Toc for your event, make sure to:
- Keep everything in order by time and date
- Assign someone to every task
- Include the specific location where each task is taking place
Inspire & Engage
A great speaker or performer can make an event. Campus Progress can help you bring experts, prominent professionals, and creative performers to your campuses or community. It is important to brainstorm an extensive list of potential speakers, and be flexible by choosing several top picks. Keeping an open mind when choosing a speaker is important— think outside the box.
Consider a wide range of speakers for your event. Having a panel of people coming from diverse backgrounds with different sets of experiences can broaden the scope of your event, make it more inclusive, and make it more interesting—no one wants to listen to four speakers agreeing with each other for an hour. You want to be conscious of your targeted audience and how they might perceive your speaker(s). Can the audience relate to the speaker(s)? Think about the following:
- Is the speaker local or national? Having a speaker that is local can cut down on travel time and costs.
- If you decide on a national speaker, try and add a local speaker to infuse the event with a local perspective.
- Do the speakers represent a variety of viewpoints?
After deciding on a speaker or performer, your next step is to invite him/her to your event. Keep in mind that your invitation is the speaker’s first introduction to your event and organization. The invite must be no longer than one page (about 450 words). Language must be persuasive and show the speaker why their participation would improve the quality of the event. Remember that the speaker’s time is valuable; tell him/her why participating in the event benefits him/her. See below for an example of a speaker invite letter.
1st Paragraph: Event details (date/time/location), and why the speaker should participate:
- When and where, and why—purpose of event
- The anticipated audience
- How the speaker will contribute to the event
2nd Paragraph: Organization sponsoring the event
- Brief history
- Role of organization on campus or in the community
3rd Paragraph: Thank speaker for their time in advance
- Mention other organizations participating
- Check, double check, and triple check the title and spelling of the speakers’ names
- Ensure that your letters are free of grammatical or spelling errors
- Include the proposed date, time, and location of the event. Speakers can be very busy so be as flexible as you can
- Be persistent but patient. Speakers and their assistants often receive multiple requests on a daily basis
- Following up on your requests, in a reasonable timeline, ensures that you remain at the top of the pile
- Make a list of alternative speakers
- Don’t be discouraged. You will almost always receive a few rejections
At this point in the planning process, you should be thinking about ways to invite people to your event. You have already selected your target audience in the process of building the Event Concept. Now you must develop an Outreach Plan to ensure they come to your event. Your outreach efforts will determine the scope of the event, so devoting time and energy to outreach is essential.
Step 1: Reach out to student and community organizations
Notify the following people about your event and provide them with paper and digital copies of flyers and your media advisory. Search for organizations that might be interested in your event and then contact its leadership, public relations, and/or events staff. For maximum exposure, email them, set up appointments to talk to them in person, and get on the agenda for their weekly meetings to announce your event. Think of people outside your campus that may be interested in the event as well. Envision a population that may have interest in the event topic. Make sure you are including people from traditionally disadvantaged or overlooked communities. Be sensitive toward gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, and other identities.
Note: Secure a sign language interpreter or offer assisted listening devices for participants if needed.
- Political Groups: College Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, Progressives, Conservatives, etc.
- Ethnic/Identity Groups: Multicultural center; Black, Latino, Asian or Muslim Student Unions; Gay/Straight Alliance, etc.
- Progressive Issue Groups: Students for Choice, Campus Climate Challenge, Students Against Sweatshops, Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, Roosevelt Institution
- Student Government: Student Body President, Class Representatives/Student Senators, Director of Public Relations, Events Coordinator, Faculty Advisor 12 Campus Progress | Event Planning Guide
- Fraternities and Sororities: Attend the weekly/monthly Pan-Hellenic and Inter-fraternity council meetings. You should also target professional fraternities like Pi Alpha Delta, the Pre-Law fraternity
- Community Groups: Rotary, Interact, City Council, YMCA/YWCA, City Year, AmeriCorps
- Miscellaneous Groups: Public Relations Society of America, Students in Media, Business Club, etc.
Note: Consider the intricacy of reaching out to different groups. Advertising your event as a “mixer” versus a “summit” can make all the difference. Tailor the language you use in your outreach for the different groups you’re targeting—without changing the event itself, of course.
Step 2: Reach out to Faculty and Administration
- University Events Calendar/University Programming Board: Get your event posted on your school’s website and calendar for optimal exposure.
- Departmental Offices: Email the Secretary/Office Manager/Academic Advisor an electronic flyer to forward to applicable parties and provide a paper flyer to post in the office.
- Departments to look for: Film Studies, Political Science, International Relations, Sociology, Anthropology, Law & Society, Peace and Conflict Studies, History, Law, African American Studies, Asian/Pacific Islander Studies, Latin American Studies, American Culture, etc.
- Faculty: Email professors of relevant courses and ask to make an announcement at the beginning of class. Bring a friend to pass out flyers. Suggest the professor make your event an extra-credit assignment or provide an incentive to encourage his/her students to attend.
Step 3: Make a Facebook Event and a Facebook Flyer
Invite everyone you know, and encourage others to invite everyone they know—and don’t forget about nearby schools!
Step 4: Do On-the-Ground Legwork
It’s essential to employ a grassroots, on-the-ground outreach strategy, because emails are too easy to ignore! Campus Progress Event Organizers can be reimbursed for up to $200 worth of publicity costs (printed flyers, Facebook flyers, banners, etc). Make sure to save your receipts so we can reimburse you.
- Put up flyers all around campus and city: The best places to post are kiosks, bulletin boards, classroom buildings, dorms and community bulletin boards. Make sure to research your school’s flier-posting policies (e.g. where you are allowed to post, what kind of tape or tacks to use), or your fliers will be removed.
- Quarter-sheet/postcard size flyers: Place these next to computers in computer labs, libraries, or study rooms. Target any areas where young people are looking for a distraction!
- Table: Set up a table in the student union or quad and pass out quarter-sheet/postcard- size flyers for your event. You always want to ask for permission first—your 14 Campus Progress | Event Planning Guide student activities office should know who you should contact. Table by your city council offices or local shopping center. Campus Progress can provide you with key chains, t-shirts, stickers, etc. to distribute at your table.
- Create table tents: Table tents are triangularly shaped pieces of paper that stand upright, with different pieces of information on each side. Place these on tables in dining halls or food courts.
- Use sidewalk chalk: Draw visually appealing advertisements on the concrete. This is truly “on-the-ground” organizing! Remember to include the time, date, and location of the event so attendees can find it.
Step 5: Contact the Media
Make sure all of your materials look professional, are branded with the (Campus Progress logo) and list Campus Progress as an official co-sponsor. Note the dates and times that your local media offices are open, whether they provide free services, and how much they charge for radio announcements.
- Create a media advisory: A media advisory is a short, concise document inviting media to cover an event, and notifying them of the event details and why the event is newsworthy. Media advisories are typically sent out a few days BEFORE an event. See the bottom of this guide for an example.
- Distribute your media advisory along with a flyer for your event: Send copies to your school newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and TV stations, as well as to local and regional publications.
- Find and keep track of journalists: Find the contact person at your local or regional newspaper who specifically writes university-related stories. If you find him or her, save his/her contact information for future use!
- Campus Progress Journalism Network: Find out if there is a Campus Progress-sponsored publication at your school that could assist you with promotion. Our network is up to 60 publications, and growing every day! Read more here.
Having press at your event can help raise awareness about your issue. Follow the steps below to help attract members of the press to your event.
When possible, do NOT have events on Monds (you can’t remind press about it the day before) or Fridays/weekends (many press don’t work then). Try to have your event early on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, as reporters often work to meet deadlines after 3 p.m. and may not be able to leave the office.
Be sure your event is somewhere accessible. Try not to have events in campus buildings with a lot of security or that are very hard to locate. Make it as easy as possible for the press to locate and enter the building: send them maps, detailed directions, etc. Be sure to put up ample signage so that press knows where to go.
It is always a good idea to tape off a few seats near the front of the room for press who might attend; if they don’t show up by the time the event starts, you can open them up to the public.
If you are anticipating that press will want to videotape your event, be sure to leave enough room at the back or the sides of the room for video camera equipment, and make sure that there are enough electrical outlets/power sources nearby. You can always ask press about specific needs before the event, especially those that are tech-related.
Be sure that your logo is front and center so it will be visible in any photographs or video taken at the event. Centrally display podium signs, tablecloths or backdrops with your logo on it. A backdrop will ensure your organization is well represented.
For the benefit of the press (and your audience) test microphones/sound quality and any A/V before attendees arrive at your event.
Make sure you have a table near the entrance to your event where press can check-in and make sure to label it with a “Press Check-In” sign. At the table, you should have the following:
- Pre-printed nametags for press who have already RSVPed
- Blank name tags and markers to make additional nametags
- At least 2 copies of the press RSVP list
- Highlighters to check off names
- Business cards (if you have them)
- Press kits
A press kit is designed to give reporters all the information they need to write about your event and/or organization. To make a press kit, staple together the following with a cover sheet, or put them all in a folder with your organization’s name and logo on it:
- Press release about your event
- Basic 1-pager about your organization
- Speakers’ bios
- One or two past press clips about your organization from notable media
- Any other relevant partner materials
- Fact sheets relevant to the topic of your event
After the event, send press releases to reporters you previously contacted. Press releases should highlight successes from the event, and include quotes and anecdotes from attendees (Click here for an example).
High Profile Speaker Event
If you have high-profile speakers at your event, make sure you work with their team beforehand to determine if they are OK with being recorded and/or photographed. Provide a quiet space to conduct interviews with high-profile speakers before or after the event. This could also double as a green room.
Event To-Do Lists
At this point, you’ve planned everything down to a T. Now it’s just a matter of executing the steps in your plan. This is where your organization efforts are put to the test. To help make sure you’re ready for your event, we’ve devised this check list.
At least two weeks before the event:
- Appropriate sized room booked in an accessible location
- Other co-sponsors signed on
- Flyers posted in key locations around your campus and community
- Facebook event and Facebook flyers made
- Alerted the student and/or local newspaper(s) about the event
- Announced the event at key campus and community meetings
- Drafted a tic toc
- All organizers and volunteers have been given their assigned tasks
- Listed all materials you will need at the event
- Introductions written
- Speaker bios compiled (if applicable)
- Wrote a few good questions for the Q and A session to get the ball rolling (if applicable)
- All speaker logistics taken care of (if applicable)
- Evaluations are printed
Ordered food, or decided what to serve. If you decide to serve food and/or beverages at your event, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Is the food locally sourced?
- Be considerate of allergies, dietary or religious restrictions
- Include vegetarian and/or vegan options whenever possible
- Provide accurate labels for food and separate meat and meat-free options
- Use sustainable/compostable/biodegradable utensils and plates
- Donate excess food to local shelters
Day of the event:
- Set up a table and/or an assertive volunteer to distribute your hand outs and get people to sign the sheet. After the event, please return the sign-in sheets to Campus Progress
- Microphones and speakers work. Make sure you have people designated to work the audio
- Designate event photographer/videographer
- All backdrops, banners, placards and any other materials are ready to go
- Speakers have water and anything else they requested on stage
- Know your speakers’ arrival time and have someone ready to meet them
- Signs posted in event building with arrows directing attendees to the event and the restrooms
- Speaker bios/ event program available (if applicable)
- Assign time keepers to keep the event on schedule
- Evaluations distributed to the audience
During the event:
- Be alert to the needs of your speaker(s)
- Be ready to deal with anything that comes up
- Watch your audience: make sure that they are comfortable and can hear everything
- Keep an eye on time
- Have fun!
Evaluations and Thank Yous
Following up with all speakers, attendees, and organizers is important in maintaining valuable relationships. It also creates a reputable and professional image for you and your organization.
- Collect evaluations from attendees
- Congratulate your speakers after the event. Get their opinion of how the event went
- Send your speakers and other sponsors thank you notes shortly after the event and include any anecdotes from the audience. See below for some examples
Campus Progress will highlight your event on our national website. Contact your campus photographer, or take some digital pictures of the event, and send pictures to us at email@example.com. As we get closer to the event we will mail you Campus Progress literature that should be distributed. The package will include our 1-pager, postcards, and event sign-in sheets.
Some of our staff may also be attending the event—we’ll let you know if we’re coming to your campus.
Plan a Film Event
The Campus Progress Events Team helps bring films and their creators to campuses and communities across the nation. To plan a film event, or for more information, contact the Campus Progress events team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Every great event starts with a great idea. What are you trying to accomplish with this event? Are you raising awareness, planning an entertaining evening, trying to recruit new film makers, or trying to get young people to take action on your cause? Check out our Events Page and Film Library to get an idea for an event. Once you have an idea, submit an event request form. If we choose to help you with your event, we will ask that you fill out our co-sponsorship form. Take a look at it so you know what we expect from you.
Select a few possible dates and times to hold the event, and be sure that they don’t overlap with any important campus or community events. Make sure to pick a suitable venue, that is, one with a projector/laptop and screen and a good speaker system that is easy to use. You never know how many people will attend, so a smaller room is probably best. It’s better to have too many people in a small room than have too few people in a big room. Be smart and strategic.
Get the Film
Our film library includes over two dozen progressive films that we can to send to you free of charge. We will cosponsor a screening of a film that is not in our library, but we cannot help pay for the rights to screen the film. Our films must be returned no later than 10 days after the film screening.
You’ll decrease your burden and workload if you reach out to other organizations about the possibility of co-sponsoring. This can increase your audience size and help you spread the word. If you are a partisan organization (i.e.: College Democrats, Green Party, etc.) we ask that you co-host the event with another organization. Ask if there is a Campus Progress Chapter or Publication on your campus to work with. If you have any questions about this, feel free to ask!
This is probably the most important part of hosting the event. Be sure to include all relevant information on your outreach materials and we highly encouraging using Facebook and other websites. Campus Progress will generally reimburse up to $200 for outreach costs. We require that you put our logo on all your outreach materials. For more information on receiving Campus Progress funds, please review our co-sponsorship agreement form.
As we all know, free food brings students. Campus Progress will generally reimburse up to $200 refreshments.
If you’re planning on inviting a speaker to your event, we will ask you to write an invite letter. We will then ask the speaker if he/she is available, but we cannot guarantee this. Be sure to have some backup speakers just in case. If you are unsure of who to invite, we will work with you to find speakers that are right for your event. If someone aggresses to come, we can help handle their travel and accommodation expenses.
Be sure you are prepared! Check that the amplification system (microphones and speakers) are working before the event. Be sure to have designated an event photographer and that you have prepared an introduction and a few good questions to get the Q and A rolling. Please be sure that all Campus Progress Materials, most importantly the sign in sheets and the network cards, are prominently displayed.
To request a Campus Progress film screening on your campus on in your community, please fill out our event request form and someone from the Events Team will get back to you shortly.
Below are the terms and conditions for co-sponsoring an event with Campus Progress:
CP can cover costs of some travel, lodging, meals, and ground transportation for a limited number of speakers. This must be approved in advance.
If you are hosting a film screening, we will mail you the film and there is no cost to screen one of our films. Films must be returned no later than 5 days after the film screening. If the film is not returned to Campus Progress, the group sponsoring the screening is responsible for securing a new copy of the film. Reimbursements will not be processed until the film has been returned to Campus Progress. Films must be returned to Campus Progress no later than 5 days after the screening. If a film is not returned, I accept responsibility for securing a new copy of the film.
CP can generally cover up to $200 for the costs of refreshments for an event. You will not be reimbursed if you cannot produce original receipts or if you do not adhere to all terms outlined in this agreement.
CP can also allot up to $200 for costs related to advertising. Any advertisements you create must have the CP logo on them and must state that the event is co-sponsored by CP. Students are solely responsible for publicizing their event. You will not be reimbursed if you cannot produce original receipts or if you do not adhere to all terms outlined in this agreement.
In order for CP to sponsor your event, we need all the information about the event at least ten business days in advance. This includes time, location, topic, and all sponsoring groups. Please take a look at the events page to get an idea of the information you must send back to the events team.
Campus Progress does not pay honoraria for speakers, but that does not preclude you from paying speaker honoraria from your own budget.
We strongly recommend that you look for other groups to work with. This allows you to share costs and ensure larger attendance at the event. This is not a requirement for co-sponsorship, but it is encouraged.
If a CP staff member is in attendance at the event, the event organizer must arrange a meeting between the CP staff member and any young progressives who may be interested in working with CP on future projects.
We will send the student event planner CP materials. These materials must be displayed prominently at the event. All attendees must fill out the sign in sheet with their name, email and zip code. This form must be returned (either via mail or scanned and sent via email) within 5 business days of the event. You must also return all completed network cards.
If present, a CP staff member must be given 5 minutes at the beginning of the event to give a short description of our organization and screen a short video about CP. If one is not present, the event organizer must screen the video about CP. If video is not available, we will provide you with a script about CP that we ask you to read to the audience.