"I'm thinking acai bowls for January. A coffee bar for February. Trivia challenges over lunch. Plant classes next month. Plus, spring into summer party … annual corporate meeting … holiday celebration…”
"Sounds wonderful," the executive team says, “But what's all that going to cost? Not sure we have money budgeted for all that."
And there it is. You've heard it before (and you’ll definitely hear it again). An event planner's reality of working with a budget. And a very little one at that.
It might be hard to do but my recommendation when this kind of conversation happen is simply, don’t be discouraged.
(Stay with me, I wasn’t lying when I said this wouldn’t be easy. But it’s worth it.)
Fighting For Your Internal Events Budget
Internal events at your company can be an undervalued line item in your budget and quickly become one of the first things to be looked at as an unnecessary cost—and then, unflinchingly, cut. Not shocking when you consider that almost half of CEOs see internal events as a cost rather than an investment.
Recognizing the value and being able to show the return on these important investments as a part of your overall employee engagement budget can be your strongest, most important argument when setting your yearly planning or talking with your financial decision-makers.
Getting ready to meet with these decision-makers about these events or finding the money for them can seem intimidating and sometimes discouraging. Especially if you think they won’t give you all of the funds needed to hold those fantastic events you know they would be excited about and have the potential to create connections between fellow colleagues, improve employee engagement and even possibly transform the company culture.
Less Money? More Creative Opportunity!
If you know you're going to have less money to operate with, be creative with your budget and your operation! For over 15 years, I have had to sell events and their cost to many different types of senior leaders. More often than not, after these meetings I’m told, "You have this. And that's it."
Instead of leaving deflated, I recognize the creative opportunity for what it is. And there’s actually research that backs this up. According to one study, “the greater the constraint mindset, the more creatively a given person will make use of their resources.”
Internal events can sometimes feel like a revolving door of rejection, but if you take the time to collect data and prove event success you’ll be better prepared to make the argument for additional money to host more or bigger internal events in the future.
Here's three lessons I've learned over the years to assist you with budgeting for your internal events:
1. Clearly Define Your Internal Event Objectives
The first goal of any planner should be to determine the objective. Why are you having these events? What is it you’re wanting to accomplish? Are you looking to increase employee morale or networking? Do you want to position your organization as a great place to work? Are you seeing an increase in people wanting to get healthy? Or, do you just need to provide some fun and time away from the work day grind?
Before diving into your budget, you absolutely must define what it is you want your event to accomplish. Don't go into any meeting with your decision-makers without understanding why you're even wanting to do the event. Once that’s defined, make sure to share the story.
Creating compelling stories for your event can increase buy-in at every level.
Plus, storytelling helps you capture decision-makers’ attention, connect with them better and communicate in a way we can all understand (because we’re hardwired to do so).
2. Think Beyond a Single Internal Event
If you don't have a history of employee events and are looking to build out a calendar for your story, develop a plan around your event goal. Find the happy medium between too infrequent to care and too much to handle and cover the categories of your event type. Is it purely social? Does it have a give back component? Are family members invited? Is this during the work day or after hours? How many people do you estimate will attend? Do you have volunteers internally to help with this event or will you have to hire an outside supplier?
After you address those questions, then the fun begins. Of course, you have to get realistic financials. Get costs. Call around. If it's a catered event, are you going to find a team of employee volunteers to put the work into buying, prepping and cleaning up or are you going to use a caterer or vendor?
While your first instinct might be to avoid all high priced items, there’s some benefits to smart (and forward looking) investments.
At ITA Group, we host coffee days throughout the year. Instead of hiring baristas to come in every time, we decided to purchase large percolators so we can brew our own gourmet coffees with tasty add-ins.
Purchasing a popcorn popper for the office was another item that’s proven worth the cost. There was an initial cost with each, but now we can make these pop-up snack days very affordable and effective at bringing team members together. Doing an event this way, requires little time and labor from volunteers—which at our company is pretty easy to find. Does yours have that? After determining costs for each event you'd like to have, go in to your decision-makers with a calendar, the requested budget and your story with your objectives.
3. You Must Prove ROI
When talking about the event, I can use buzzwords all day long. Fun. Unique. Authentic. Engaging. In reality, what do decision-makers really want to know? ROI. How are we measuring the internal event’s value? The first thing you must do is get a pulse on the demographics of your employees. I offer suggestions to our leaders on what’s "trending" in events that I know colleagues would enjoy. Delivering a snack to an employee's desk with a note from senior leadership and a verbal thank you is worth $1.00 a person. A holiday party where employees get to bring a spouse or guest to see your workplace culture and meet the people they work alongside every day; or, a family movie on the lawn where their children can come enjoy food trucks and some popcorn (from your purchased popcorn maker) while watching a movie at "mom's company" is a win for your employees and their moral.
You can't measure on just attendance alone. Gather a ton of data on all of your internal activities, especially employee feedback, which can help you make the case for next year’s budget.
Tell these to your decision-maker. Some feedback I couldn’t wait to share was when an employee told me that her son said to her, “Mom, have you been having these movie nights forever and been holding out on me? This was so awesome." Suddenly, that event had feelings behind it that a decision-maker can relate to and showed that it was well worth the spend.
Keep Your Chin Up
Don't get discouraged if you don't get to have all the events you want the first time you ask for money. Keep writing the story—it isn't over. Start measuring the success now. Right now. Ask if you can present budgets to be considered on a quarterly basis rather than yearly basis. Monitor your budget constantly so you can find ways to add some small pop-ups (if you are creative and spend wisely). Spend the money on the ones that drive the most ROI. Don't just do the event to do it. Do it because it aligns with your internal goals and plays a part of your employee experience.
Looking for more tips and tricks around employee event and engagement best practices? Dive into our newest ebook to learn how to Improve Retention and Engagement by Enhancing the Employee Experience.