Business blogs and magazines are full of stories about experiential marketing events run by major corporations. But just because for-profit companies plan the bulk of the event marketing activations doesn’t mean experiential marketing is out of reach for charities. Charities are being told to act more like businesses all the time. Why shouldn’t your nonprofit take a page from the big players?

Is your charity trying experiential marketing for the first time? Or working to shift some of its existing events so they’re more in line with the techniques that make experiential marketing so effective? We share several pieces of advice to help you convince your boss this is a good idea – and make your activations as high-quality as any planned by a Fortune 500 company.

You can have a small budget. Just make your event create big memories.

We tend to hear about big, flashy experiential marketing events because they’re the ones that make the biggest splash. But don’t feel like you have to spend your whole marketing budget on an experiential marketing event. Smaller gatherings can be just as impressive as bigger events as long as you stick to the core principles of experiential marketing.

Experiential marketing is so effective because it appeals to people’s emotions. You have a great story to tell, and you already know how to tug at people’s heart strings or make them feel compelled to join a cause. In that way you have a leg up on major corporations.

Event marketing events can give people an opportunity to experience a brand’s products and services with all five senses. But events can also be extremely effective when they have nothing to do with a product or service, and everything to do with creating a positive association between an individual and a brand.

Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When you give someone an experience that feels good, they’ll remember it for a long time. They’ll also remember the organization that made them feel that way. They’ll be more likely to support your organization with their time, money or goodwill.

Leverage your ability to solicit sponsorships

If you really want to do a huge, expensive experiential marketing event, you can. Maybe your charity has deep pockets and can fund it without support. If not, you can raise money to put on an expensive event.

If this is the route you take, leverage your talent for soliciting corporate sponsorships. Your charity likely already has relationships with companies that provide in-kind donations, event underwriting, mentors or volunteers, or another type of support. They may be eager to find a new and different way to support your company’s mission – and connect their name to an important cause.

In 2001, the Minnesota Housing Fund partnered with local unions to build and play the world’s largest Monopoly game. People served as game pieces and walked around the board, pondering whether to purchase certain properties, build houses and hotels, and bail themselves out of jail (or just wait until their “sentence” is up). Corporations sponsored the spaces on the board and contributed to the game in other ways.

The Minnesota Housing Fund used the game to draw attention to the fact that the state lacked housing that was affordable to working families. Over the 12 days the Monopoly board was set up the charity gathered over 100,000 signatures from people who wanted to see more affordable housing in Minnesota. This is a great example of an experiential marketing event that raised a lot of money through corporate sponsorships and met multiple other goals for the charity.

Let corporations put on events for you

Speaking of corporations being interested in connecting their name to your cause – it’s possible you don’t even have to plan an experiential marketing event to reap the benefits of one. As more companies get into experiential marketing, many of them are choosing to incorporate cause-related marketing into their strategy. That means they might want to plan an experiential event in partnership with your charity, and make your charity the recipient of any revenue they generate.

The hardest thing about this strategy is that you can’t put out a broad solicitation asking a corporation to plan an experiential marketing for you. But keep it in the back of your mind. Some day you might have a conversation with a corporate sponsor and discover they’re looking to do something different, and you could suggest this. Or if you know a corporation that does experiential marketing events and finds a new beneficiary every year. Talk to them and see if you can get into their rotation.

The other trick to letting a corporation use your good name is making sure they don’t drag it through the mud. It’s always hard to say “no” when someone offers you money, but it’s harder to get your reputation back if you “sell out” your charity’s mission and values by going into partnership with a company that works counter to those things.

Plan experiential marketing events for internal supporters

The experiential marketing events we read about are often outward-facing. But companies do plan inward-facing experiential marketing activations. For example, brands often plan experiential marketing events to educate vendors about new products, or to reward top members of their sales team.

A few years ago Factory 360 partnered with spirit company Moët Hennessy to plan an experiential marketing experience for leading sellers of Hennessy cognacs and other spirits. The company held an exclusive trade show that coincided with Super Bowl XLVIII. Besides learning about Moët Hennessy’s new products, attendees bowled alongside famous football players at the NFL Celebrity Bowling Classic, and attended the official NFL tailgating party before sitting down in prime seats at the big game.

Why not plan an experiential marketing event to reward your top volunteers, or better educate your donors and other stakeholders about your work? Providing consumers who are already committed to your charity with a memorable, meaningful experience may have a bigger return on investment than trying to attract new people to your cause.

If you typically host a plain vanilla thank you event for volunteers, why not turn it into a family-friendly carnival or exclusive food and beverage tasting event? If you typically thank major donors with a gala or dessert, why not give them an insider’s view of the organization, an opportunity to explore a beautiful natural area that’s typically closed to the public, or a chance to meet with community leaders or local celebrities?

If your charity wants more advice about planning a top-tier experiential marketing event, or is looking for a firm to help you execute a flawless event, please keep Factory 360 in mind. For over 10 years we’ve worked with nonprofits and for-profits to create high-quality experiential marketing events around the country. We’re happy to provide an initial consultation at no charge. Contact us today for more details.

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