EVENT MANAGEMENT: A Place to remember

MIKE FLETCHER

- Is there is anything you can offer the venue in return for a reduced package fee? Maybe there is an element of the event that the venue could sponsor?

- If you can provide your own speakers, volunteers to help on the day, table decorations, for example, will the venue offer a further discount?

- Does your organisation have any links with politicians or business people who have access to unusual venues?

- Ask key supporters if they would be willing to host lunches and meetings in their corporate headquarters.

- Don't be afraid to approach venues that don't normally hire themselves out. As a charity they may be more willing to welcome an event especially if the charity can prove it is experienced in working with difficult buildings.

- If you opt for the obvious choice of venue, some of your guests will have experienced it before and it won't create such a lasting memory.

The venue can make all the difference between another hotel do and a memorable event. Mike Fletcher looks at how charities can turn on the glitz on a limited budget

Last month, the NSPCC teamed up with the Villa Park Conference Centre in a deal that will mean regular sightings of the charity around the corridors of Aston Villa football club this season.

The NSPCC chose Villa Park because of the importance of having an unusual venue to host its regular events. The Midlands-based Premiership side chose the children's trust due to its strong links with some of the players including Dion Dublin and Ian Taylor.

Football clubs have been called "theatres of dreams" and coupled with improved conference facilities and flexible rates for charitable organisations, they are often looked upon as ideal venues for meetings and fundraising events.

"We encourage charities to hire our facilities during closed season so we can offer the most flexible price," says Karen Fish, sales researcher at Villa Park Conference Centre. "Our biggest plus point is 4,000 free car parking spaces. Although we don't have any accommodation on site, we compensate by bussing people back and forth between local hotels."

The inspirational message that accompanies a campaign launch or charity AGM needs to be memorable. All too often, organisations give in to financial pressure and plump for a dreary room in a town hall or motorway hotel.

Gemma Peters, national events development manager at Mencap, says the majority of high-level supporters come to a number of events, so an even greater importance is placed on hiring somewhere unique, rather than expecting guests to return to London's Park Lane hotels time after time.

"These people make up the charity circuit and they'll associate your event with whichever venue hosted it," says Peters. "We do have a biennial ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel but we make sure it comprises unusual elements that make up for the venue's lack of originality."

Regina Cox, corporate fundraiser at the National Autistic Society, also advises charities to steer clear of the usual suspects in a venue line-up, but sounds a note of warning when it comes to hunting elsewhere. "We were looking forward to hosting an event at Billingsgate Market but it's £30,000 before you even get through the door," says Cox.

Joanna Coral, event manager for Breast Cancer Awareness, agrees: "We looked at many unusual venues for an event we were planning for next year," she says. "But as a charity you just can't entertain a £7,000 room rate for somewhere like the Tower of London because the risk of not selling enough tickets is too great."

Cox advises that charities team up with an event company to put on an unusual hotel-based event. A venue that is not centrally located may offer better charity rates. Alternatively, make good use of corporate sponsors by negotiating the use of their corporate headquarters.

"Event companies are good at advising on venues of interest and we ask our key supporters to provide lunch venues such as the Barclays Bank vaults," says Cox.

The influence of a key supporter resulted in a recent fundraising event for Mencap, held at Spencer House, a private stately home owned by Lord Rothschild in London's Green Park. Norma Major is an ambassador for the charity and her friendship with Lord Rothschild persuaded him to open the house to 90 guests and waive the £20,000 venue hire charge.

"We held a champagne reception followed by a Noel Coward recital by the actress Patricia Hodge. It's an incredibly beautiful venue," says Peters.

In March 2003, Mencap will use the Cholmondeley Room at the House of Lords for a fundraising dinner and exhibition overlooking the London Eye and the River Thames. This time, the charity's chairman Lord Ricks has been able to secure the exclusive venue as it can only be hired out if the host is a peer.

"You need to have the right connections, but there is still a very long waiting list," says Sophie Hutchinson, event development fundraiser at Mencap. "We put our name down in April but normally you need to book over a year in advance."

Whizz-Kidz is a children's charity aimed at providing disabled children and young people with independent mobility. When the London Eye opened in 2000, the charity was presented with an opportunity to use the symbolism of the wheel and celebrated its 10th anniversary with a fundraising event.

Each pod was hosted by a disabled child and businessmen paid for a champagne ride. A member of the charity's development board, who is also a leading figure in British Airways, brought the venue to the attention of the charity.

"We were one of the first to use the London Eye and we're very lucky to have somebody who could acquire the venue for free," says director of communications Jill Cochrane. "We used it again last year because it is very accessible for wheelchairs. The two events raised more than £230,000."

Access is an important issue for most charities planning events. Mary Ryan, communication projects officer at Cancer Research UK, cites the example of the Magic Circle as a charming yet inaccessible venue because access to facilities on three floors is by staircase or a small lift.

However, the venue disputes this potential drawback and cites Age Concern as one of its regular customers. "Clients of all ages enjoy coming here for meetings or conferences because our location is perfect and we understand the budgetary constraints for organisers," says Sheila Rahmen-Christensen, a spokeswoman at the Magic Circle.

Ryan insists, however, that access, as well as exclusivity is key to sourcing venues and sometimes it is better to invest a little bit more in a memorable experience. "In November last year we held two events on the same day. The first was an exclusive ceremony for volunteers hosted on the terrace at the House of Commons. The second was an awards celebration for prolific fundraisers held at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster. It is part of the Emmanuel Evangelical Church and has great facilities and good access," she says.

For those charities without contacts able to secure the more memorable venue, or who simply can't afford the risk of hiring somewhere expensive, the alternatives are to do something special with the venue you've got or redefine the term venue to promote a new campaign.

In September, Macmillan Cancer Relief did the latter to try and raise £3.5 million to help support people living with cancer. The World's Biggest Coffee Mornings took place in venues that ranged from Earls Court exhibition centre to the cockpit of a Ryanair aircraft. Breast Cancer Awareness also redefined the event venue when it began its Life Cycle campaign during October's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Volunteers flooded into the UK's gyms and sport centres to complete a 50-mile sponsored exercise bike ride.

So whether the venue is a historic royal palace or a top-flight football club, its uniqueness will go a long way to ensuring the success of the event. Wherever you host your next event, it's good to be remembered for it.

CASE STUDY CRIMESTOPPERS TAKES THE FUNDRAISING BALL TO COURT

Crimestoppers Trust, set up in 1988, is the only UK charity aimed at putting criminals behind bars through an anonymous freephone number.

On 16 November, the charity will host the Crimestoppers' Ball at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, London. The Royal Courts of Justice is the home of the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and Crimestoppers has been granted special permission to hold the event in the Great Hall with a drinks reception in the Costume Gallery, surrounded by judges' wigs and legal outfits through the ages.

"The venue wasn't available for corporate events when we first considered it as an option," says Roy Greaves, director of marketing and fundraising for Crimestoppers Trust. "It's a working building and houses more than 1,000 people. We approached its external caterers who advised us to speak to the superintendent. He told us to compile an application for special permission to use the venue."

Crimestoppers Trust had previously held an annual dinner at New Scotland Yard so could prove they had the knowledge and know-how to put on an event in a high-security building.

"We don't use the key London hotels because it is important to have a unique selling point as a charity and ensure a memorable occasion," says Abbey Saintley, press officer at Crimestoppers Trust.

"We always wanted the venue to be consistent with our brand so we spent six months looking at historic royal palaces and prisons," continues Greaves.

"The Royal Courts only charged what they felt would pay for the disruption which was no way near the rates of a traditional hotel."

The venue's natural synergy with the charity was also paramount when promoting the event. At the time of going to press, around 400 tickets have been sold, priced at £125 each. "The Count and Countess of Wessex will be attending," says Saintley. "We'll also have an auction with prizes that include a walk-on part in a Lynda La Plante drama." The uniqueness of the venue has also posed problems, however, and the catering will be done in marquees. "The venue has assisted us with its excellent resources and they've been very supportive," says Greaves.

The Royal Courts of Justice can accommodate 700 seated for dinner in its main hall or 1,000 for an evening reception at a cost of £7,000. The venue also has a gallery area for 250 seated, priced around £2,000 or smaller rooms for between 80 and 100, priced at around £1,500.

Crimestoppers Trust works in partnership with the police. Operating through 31 UK regions, each call centre is supported by a board of volunteers drawn from the local business community and the media. The trust's job is to make sure that the phone keeps ringing, by promoting and explaining the scheme to the public at large.

TIPS FOR IDENTIFYING AND SECURING A VENUE

- Talk to venue -finding agencies and event organisers for advice.

- Arrange to visit several unique venues at least a year in advance of the event. Some have very long waiting lists.

- Compile a checklist of must-have facilities or access requirements such as does the venue have wheelchair access?

- Ask if the venue has special rates for charities. Some venues will be flexible if you can agree to hold the event on a weekday instead of a weekend night.

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