Category Content strategy

12 cost-effective ways to bring more participants to your NGO’s events


NGO events promotionEvents can be a great way to boost your cause and strengthen or expand your NGO’s community. Mixing face-to-face meetings with your online initiatives can work wonders in establishing top-of-mind awareness for your cause. Events offer an ideal platform to emphasise the urgency of an issue and build the personal connection needed for mobilising support. But how can you ensure successful participation numbers on a limited budget?

1. Craft an irresistible value proposition

This will be the backbone of all your event promotions. An inspiring message that resonates with your target audience, shows the uniqueness of your event and triggers action is key in driving registrations. To craft an irresistible message, don’t forget to use Simon Sinek’s golden circle: start with the ‘why’ and then address the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. An effective approach to help you answer the ‘why’ is to keep asking ‘So what?’ to every answer you give until it’s obvious and feels silly to continue.

Here’s an example:
Learn new breathing techniques (So what?) –> So that you relieve stress and achieve inner calm (So what?) –> So that you feel relaxed, radiant and alive every day.

So the message can become:
Feel relaxed, radiant and alive every day. Discover new breathing techniques that will help you release stress and achieve inner calm.

Once your event information is on the website, don’t forget to optimise the content for search engines. Check out this HubSpot blog post for on-page SEO management tips.

2. Build anticipation

Got a clear theme and a date for your event? Even before you have all the practical details figured out and open registration, start generating some buzz around it.

• Announce the event while participating in another event.
• Let your partners know.
• Post on all your social media channels.
• Send an email to all your subscribers who might be interested in the theme as well as to relevant previous participants.
• Maybe even create a short intro video to accompany the announcement.
• And of course, don’t forget to put a sign-up form on your event page for people who want to receive more information about the event. This way, when registration is open or keynote speakers are booked, you already have an interested crowd.

3. Slice and dice your email lists

Email marketing is one of the most effective tools in event promotions. But do stay away from email blasts and make sure you are GDPR-compliant. Understand your subscribers’ preferences and only target the people for whom the theme of your event is relevant. An effective approach is to identify the key segments in your database and map all the event topics against these segments. In this way you will have a clear content overview to help you in your promotions as well as an easy way to tailor your messages.

An important group is that of previous participants (as long as the theme is relevant to them). These people were previously engaged with your organisation so they are likely to want to participate again. In addition to obvious segmentation by job title, organisation type and size, career level, topics of interest, country of residence etc, this list can further be split based on level of satisfaction with previous events, number of events attended before, sessions they attended etc. And if you don’t have all this information available now, make sure you start gathering it.

4. Launch a new product or publication

If you’re planning to launch a report, a book or a new product, why not use your event as a platform? This way, your launch can receive extra attention and your event can gather more people interested in hearing about the launch. Double win!

5. Develop a content strategy around your event’s theme

Having a content strategy around your theme can help your event get found by the right people and trigger action among a relevant audience without having to fight for their attention. By picking a set of key topics from your event and writing related content that addresses the problems and needs of your ideal participants, you will attract qualified prospects that you can then nurture into registrants. Make sure that each piece of content that you produce ends with a call to action and a sign-up form.

6. Promote the location of your event

While the theme, speakers and set-up of your event will define the unique selling points, the location and venue of the event can also make a difference in your promotions. After a full day of discussions and learning, people love unwinding and discovering new places. You can talk about what the city has to offer and describe the atmosphere of your venue to give your potential participants a taste of the event’s ambiance and thus, an extra reason to join.

7. Unlock the power of your network

The NGO world is highly collaborative – organisations and individuals support each other’s causes and work together towards shared goals. Help your partners promote their work and they will surely return the favour.

In addition, give your speakers ready-made messages to announce their speaking engagements among their networks and also encourage your employees to spread the word. Last but not least, identify influencers and ask for a shout-out. Most of the time, people will step in for a good cause.

8. Prepare a (social) media kit

You want people to help spread the word? You gotta make it easy for them. Don’t expect them to go to your website, figure what to say about your event, craft a message and tailor it to different channels. Maybe you’ve got a few evangelists out there but most of the time people are too busy to make all that effort.

But if you give them the right tools, they will help. So take your event’s value proposition and adapt it to all the different channels where you’d like to get some visibility (eg social media, email). And then make some variations so people have some choice and your message gets out there in different forms. Plus, always attach some channel-specific photos for extra visibility. When your kit is ready, send it to all your employees, speakers, participants and partners. In this way, everyone can just copy, paste and publish your messages, and you can generate a lot of buzz.

9. Raise awareness at other events

Whenever you or any of your organisation’s employees attend other events, make sure to bring marketing collateral to promote your event. And if you have a booth, use pull-up banners, flyers and screens to feature your event’s unique selling points and promo videos. Make sure you allow for people to sign up to be notified about the event and also consider organising a raffle as an incentive.

10. Turn your registrants into event ambassadors

Very often, registration confirmations are the last touch points before the event takes place. So many lost opportunities! What if you could turn your registrants into ambassadors for your event? Here are some ideas:

• Add share buttons and ready-made social media posts to the confirmation page and emails. Make it easy for people to instantly share their excitement with their networks.
• Invite them to the Facebook event and thus raise awareness among their friends as well.
• Send a monthly newsletter to registrants as you book new speakers, add some exciting sessions to the programme or develop interesting content related to some of the topics. This is also where you can mention practical details and boost enthusiasm about the city and the venue. In this way you’ll keep your registrants engaged and give them content to share with their networks.

11. Extend your event participation to the online space

Give the world a glimpse into the content and buzz of your event through live video and tweeting. Think Facebook and Twitter live video as well as live tweeting from key sessions. By doing so, you will boost the visibility of your brand and raise interest in future events. Make sure to have a sign-up form on your current event page for both participants and people who could not make it to be informed about future events.

12. Follow up

The end of your event should not be the end of your relationship with your participants. Follow up with a survey; ask them what they liked and what they would improve; send a link to photos, recordings and presentations; get in touch with each and every person who you promised to contact after the event; send them relevant content (ebooks, webinars) based on their session participation. Establish a connection that goes beyond the event participation and who knows, maybe some of them will even become ambassadors of your brand.

What other tactics do you use to boost participation at your events? Share in the comments below.

Photo credit: @kanereinholdtsen, Unsplash

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Reframing the message in international development: where are we heading?


Reframing the message in international developmentHow can NGOs get the public involved in development projects without being too simplistic in their communications and fundraising efforts? This was the main topic of discussion at a conference organised some time ago by Wild Geese Foundation, a Dutch NGO that supports community-based projects in developing countries. The event’s goal was to share the findings of the EU-supported training and communication project, ‘Reframing the Message’ and discuss the way forward.

‘Reframing the Message’ aimed to improve the communication practices used in international development by advocating for a more realistic and mindful approach; an approach that is transparent, shows both lessons learned and success stories, and is respectful of the dignity of the people involved.

Let’s first take a look the perceptions of the sector. An article published by the Guardian states: ‘[…] media outlets accuse NGOs of […] exaggerating the scale of disasters to attract donor money.’ Furthermore, a street poll conducted by BrandOutLoud illustrates once again the negative images associated with the African continent and the distrust in the way NGOs are using public money. Yes, the sector urgently needs a change in the way it communicates (and not only, but that’s another discussion).

Judith Madigan from BrandOutLoud and Fiona Coyle from Dóchas were two of the speakers who shared their thoughts on the topic. Here are some highlights from the discussions together with my reflections:

The real mission

Step back and think about your nonprofit’s values and role in society. How are these aspects reflected in your communications? Although it might be challenging when in a fundraising role, focus on the long term effects rather than on the short-term gain. Let your mission transpire across all your communications.

A genuine voice 

There is a blatant disconnect between NGOs and the people they work with/for. Involve the local communities in your communications, let their voice be heard. As someone from the audience said, stop talking about Africa, talk about the people, the change agents! NGOs must once and for all stop talking about Africa as if it were one country (no wonder the existence of articles such as ‘Africa is not a country’) and lose the ‘white savior’ attitude. Get closer, listen actively, understand, collaborate. ‘Let’s focus on what unites us not on what divides us’ was someone’s remark.


When crafting a message or designing an image, think about the dignity of the people. Ask yourself: would I like to be portrayed like that? For inspiration, see how BrandOutLoud (an advocate of ‘reframing the message’) is empowering grassroots organisations through branding and communications. Or check out charity: water, whose mantra is ‘Opportunity not Guilt’. These organisations are leading the way.


For NGOs to gain credibility and become sustainable, they need to communicate both success stories as well as lessons learned. What went well? What needs to be improved? Share the inside stories, be open to criticism and implement the feedback.

A new narrative

All these ideas go hand in hand with the research published by FrameWorks Institute, which looks at how nonprofits can re-frame their social media messages in order to fundamentally drive social change (eg. ‘avoid compassion fatigue’). Through Strategic Frame Analysis™, an approach which ‘roots communications practice in the cognitive and social sciences’, nonprofits are encouraged to rethink their narratives so that they integrate their mission and values and have an impact at the system level.

I see these discussions as crucial for the sector and hope that by building on them, integrating them in our daily work and disseminating them, we will soon transform the way NGOs communicate about their programmes.

What’s your NGO’s approach to communications? Share in the comments below.

Photo credit: d_pham, framed (Flickr)

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