The 4 Keys to Successful Special Events

(CNCS/SustainAbility Initiative/Campaign Consultation, Inc.)

The MLK Day of Service is a special event. If your organization wants to host one or more events in addition to the service projects, you will need an Event Committee to manage the process. To ensure your event is successful, be certain to utilize the 4 Keys listed below and the Event Planning and Budgeting Checklist. Examine how each of the keys unlocks a treasure chest of opportunities for your program.

Key #1: Enlist the RIGHT People

Depending on the size of your MLK Day event, it may require a team of people to produce. This is the time to enlist every volunteer you can find. Your organization leadership should be committed to the success of the event and the event planning team should be enthusiastic about their work. However, you will encounter some volunteers who fail to come through for you—so have plenty of folks on hand who can fill in the gaps.

Make sure you have volunteer leaders including an Event Planning Chair. If possible, seek an Honorary Chair or Co-Chair, who has a great deal of influence in the community.

An honorary chair can lend credibility to your event and by attaching their name to your event may expand the audience that will want to attend.

Don’t forget to work closely with members of other committees, as appropriate. The Fundraising, Communications and VIP/Leadership committees will be vital in finding an event location, securing speakers, and promoting the event among other important tasks.

Key #2: Choose the RIGHT Event

Whether you are having a fundraising event in the months prior to MLK Day, a series of community discussions, an opening or closing event on the King Holiday, or a volunteer recognition event after the Day of Service, you should select an event that is consistent with Dr. King’s teachings and with the mission of your organization.

Other things to consider when planning your event are:

  • Determine Your Event Objectives – If the event is successful, what will you have accomplished when it’s over?
  • Identify Your Target Audience – Who do you want to attend your event and what is their role? If you are having a fundraiser, how will funds be raised—sponsorship and advertising, auction, raffle, ticket sales, or something else?
  • Align Your Event to Your Capabilities – It is better to have a successful event for 300 people, than to have a disastrous event for 1,000 people. Make sure the event is consistent with the budget as well as volunteer and staff time and abilities.
  • Select the Best Date – Ensure that your event does not conflict with other major events in the community or with holidays where people may be away or wanting to spend time with family.
  • Book the Best Location – Sometimes the location will help to encourage people to attend; either because it is beautiful or intriguing or because it is convenient. Make sure the location is consistent with the type of event or that you can create the atmosphere that you want at the location of choice.

Key #3: Run Your Event Like a Business

Whether you are planning your MLK Day event with full-time staff, a combination of staff and volunteers, or fully volunteer led, your event should be planned and implemented like a business.

  • Give Yourself Enough Time - Create a schedule and timetable for everything that needs to be done. Some events may need separate timetables for specific aspects, such as printing or public relations. Allow time for goal setting, team building, logistics, marketing, and communications in addition to pursuing sponsors and donors.
  • Develop and Manage Your Event Budget - Every event must have a budget even if you are expecting many items including the venue and refreshments to be donated. This will allow you to determine where to trim if sponsors do not come through with all anticipated donations.
  • Promote Your Event Like Crazy - If you are trying to get the word out about the MLK Day of Service, events that take place even months prior to King Holiday are a great way to begin to raise awareness. If the event is on the Day of Service, and includes great speakers, the event promotion may also increase volunteer participation.
  • Avoid Pitfalls - You must plan for the unexpected. If you have an outdoor activity, make sure you have a backup date in case of rain or snow. Even if indoors, significant snow can ruin an event. Know the Laws in your state or municipality for what you can and cannot do. Check into any licenses and permits you may need, including regulations for raffles. Also be aware of IRS rules on donated items and what portion of funds paid for an event is tax deductible.

Key #4: Recognize, Reward and Review

Say Thank You…

  • Be gracious and generous with your appreciation. Thank absolutely everyone involved with your event and do it right away.
  • Thank them in person, by phone, with letters and in your newsletter, too. When done well, this is a time-consuming task. If your event is large enough, consider an “Acknowledgement Committee.” Thanking is crucial to the success of your event and any future events you may have. Make certain you have not forgotten a single sponsor, donor or volunteer.
  • A post-event gathering or luncheon is a great way to thank the volunteers who assisted with the event planning.

Measure your success…

Measuring your success begins the moment the first person arrives for the event. Are your attendees smiling? Absorbed in the activities? How about your volunteers? Are people thanking the planning committee? Asking if you plan to do it again next year? Planners and organizers should write down all of the comments they hear—positive and negative—to be included in an evaluation of the event.

Refer back to the expectations you established when planning your event and see how you did:

  • Was your event well-organized, well-attended, and well-regarded?
  • Did you get positive media coverage?
  • Did you get new members, donors or volunteers?
  • Do you have a more educated community?

Compile your evaluations into a summary and distribute it to all the key players.

Event Planning and Budgeting Checklist

Use the checklist below to build out the items necessary in planning and budgeting for your event. Include every item as part of your planning, even those in-kind donations and services.


  • Event space
  • Holding room, business office or pressroom
  • Dressing or break rooms
  • Set-up and clean-up
  • Lights/sound hookup
  • Special electrical, internet or telephone hookups
  • Venue/Stage managers
  • Stage crew
  • Coat check staff
  • Security
  • House staff
  • Other


  • Number of people to be served
  • Cost per person
    • Food
    • Beverages
    • Total cost
  • Waiters, Bartenders
  • Bar setup and glassware
  • Rented table service, Table linen, Waiters trays and stands
  • Catering kitchen rentals
    • Tables
    • Ovens
    • Heating lamps
  • Gratuities/Service charge
  • Sales tax
  • Other


  • Canopy or tent
  • Backdrop or trellis
  • Tables, Chairs
  • Flooring or carpeting
  • Risers
  • Ropes or stanchions
  • Podiums/podium lights
  • Props
  • Registration tables and chairs
  • Portable restrooms
  • Booths
  • Heaters
  • Fans
  • Easels/Sign standards/Weights
  • Coat racks/Hangers
  • Mirrors
  • Trash containers
  • Fencing
  • Generators
  • Delivery
  • Other


  • Design concept and package
  • Advance announcements/save the dates
  • Invitations
  • Confirmation notices
  • Programs
  • Tickets
  • Maps
  • Place cards/table assignments
  • Signs
  • Registration packets
  • Name tags and holders
  • Table numbers
  • Alphabetical registration cards
  • Awards
  • Any other printed materials
  • Other


  • Postage for mailing printed materials
  • Bulk mail of promotional materials
  • Mailing house charges
  • Shipping and handling
  • Other


  • Shuttles
  • Traffic control and parking attendants
  • Valet
  • Traffic directional signage
  • Other


  • Flowers
  • Table decorations
  • Extra plants
  • Candles/candelabra/votive
  • Podium décor
  • Stage scenery
  • Other


  • Slide, data, overhead and film projectors
  • Teleconferencing services
  • Screens
  • Extension cords
  • Projector carts
  • Microphones
  • Mixers
  • Speaker system
  • Computers
  • Tape recorder
  • Television monitors
  • VCRs
  • Pointers
  • Flip charts
  • Blackboards/white board
  • Technician and operator services
  • Other


  • Fees
  • Instrument rental
  • Promoter fees
  • Additional equipment (i.e. speakers, monitors, music stands)
  • Hospitality
  • Other


  • Advertising
  • Website
  • Social Networking
  • Photographer
  • Printed photos/photo albums/proof sheets
  • Videographer
  • Slides
  • Entertaining/hospitality for the press
  • Press room office equipment (computers, fax, copiers)
  • Banners
  • Other


  • Overtime and compensatory time
  • Additional staff (temporaries, students)
  • Data processing
  • Telephones and toll charges
  • Duplicating
  • Postage for general correspondence
  • Supplies (pens, pads, decals, folders, nametags)
  • Committee materials
  • Hospitality for committee members/volunteers
  • Staff accommodations
  • Staff travel and expenses
  • Other


  • VIP travel and expenses
  • Honoraria
  • Gifts
  • Mementos
  • Security
  • Fire marshal
  • Medical personnel
  • Taping and transcribing proceedings
  • Permits
  • Certification
  • Internet access (Web design, Web-casting)
  • Complimentary tickets
  • Other


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Adapted from UCLA Special Events and Protocol, based on materials in Special Events and Planning for Success by April Harris published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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