Into the World of Nonprofit Events: A Conversation with UNICEF

Blue yellow and green bubbles with the text Into the world of nonprofit events: A conversation with UNICEF
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Episode description

While events can be used as a great marketing tool, they can also be used to do a lot of good as well. Every year, there are a large number of charity and nonprofit events all over the world that are working to help change lives for the better.

In this episode, Tyler Armstrong, Managing Director of Special Events at UNICEF, joins the show to share his insights into the world of nonprofit events. At UNICEF, Tyler’s been making a change through events for several years, working to improve the lives of children everywhere. Hear his stories about some of their previous events and the impact that they’ve been able to make. You’ll also learn how UNICEF is looking to expand their event strategy in the future by hosting cultivation events, and how you can partner with UNICEF to run your own nonprofit events. Along the way, Tyler shares his advice for anyone looking to jump into the world of nonprofit event planning.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The importance behind nonprofit events
  • How UNICEF is changing lives through events
  • How to generate engagement around a nonprofit event

Things to listen for:

[03:11] Tyler’s Background
[06:27] How UNICEF is changing lives through events
[12:21] The importance of UNICEF’s annual Snowflake Ball
[18:48] Capturing new engagement
[22:00] Other UNICEF events
[25:30] The nonprofit event scene
[27:38] Tyler’s advice for nonprofit event planners

Meet your host

Rachel Andrews, Senior Director of Global Meetings & Events, Cvent

Meet your guests

Tyler Armstrong, Managing Director of Special Events, UNICEF
Elizabeth Powell, Marketing Manager of Industry Solutions, Cvent


Click here to watch the short film mentioned in this episode

Episode Transcript

Tyler: Yeah, so UNICEF works for every child and our program areas, the focus areas that UNICEF focuses on the most are, healthcare, protection, respect, and education. And, obviously under each of those main pillars, there are a number of different sub-sectors, climate and gender equity.

And with each of those, you can only imagine the amount of stories that, and lived experiences that come through. And so it's our job, like I mentioned, to bring those stories closer to the US.

Intro: Great events create great brands, and it takes a village to put on an event that engages, excites and connects audiences to your brand. And we're that village. I'm Alyssa. I'm Paulina. And I'm Rachel. And you're listening to Great  Events, the podcast for all people interested in events and marketing.

Rachel: Hi, everybody. What is going on in the wide world of events? My name is Rachel and welcome to another great episode of great events. I'm joined this week with an internal guest host, Elizabeth Powell, who is an industry solutions marketer for our nonprofit world, amongst other things. Elizabeth, before I introduce our guest, I want to give you a quick background on your role really quick.

Elizabeth: Yeah. Thanks Rachel. Like many of our listeners, I imagine, I once too was an event planner. I did it in the luxury wedding space. I've done it for universities, and I've done it for associations and nonprofits. Per a transition with an MBA from Georgetown. Now I help Cvent, as a solutions marketer, which means I'm constantly listening to the trends in news and the challenges you face as a nonprofit event professional or marketer, and think about how we can provide better resources and solutions for you.

Rachel: Very awesome. cool. This is going to be a fun conversation today as all of them are, but I have a good friend of mine, an old friend of mine, Tyler Armstrong, who is the managing director of special events at UNICEF. Welcome, Tyler.

Tyler: Hello. How's it going?

Rachel: Good. Tyler and I go way back, to 2007, 2006. We were good friends when I lived up in New York, and had many fun adventures together. Tyler also uses Cvent now. So we're, we've, we, remet again at Cvent CONNECT a few years back, and acquainted with him, but we hung way back in the day. I feel really old saying that now, but.

Tyler: Yeah, I know such good times and, it was so cool to see, CONNECT, come through and to see there as well.

Rachel: Very cool. I know for our listeners, we do a lot of corporate stuff on this podcast, but I'm very excited to have Tyler on today because we rarely do nonprofit, and I, and Tyler has such a cool role at UNICEF. So what, Tyler, why don't you give our listeners just a little, the background of your history, your role at UNICEF and what you bring to this great industry.

Tyler: Thank you. And it's, it's an honor to be here. So first of all, I'm with UNICEF USA. UNICEF USA is the fundraising and advocacy arm of UNICEF, which, obviously, is the global children's organization, part of the United Nations. So I am in New York. I've been with UNICEF USA for 12 and a half years now.

I'm the managing director. I oversee a team of producers, event planners,and we specialize in doing fundraising events that are both creating awareness and engagement and community building and, and advocacy for UNICEF. So really it's our job to, to produce events that are going to reach audiences far and wide in the USs.

And mainly, and this is our big goal is to connect American audiences, US audiences with the global work of UNICEF. UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories worldwide. And, and most, most of us may never visit a lot of those countries. And it's my job as a producer and my team's job to use events as a portal or a window into the lives of children and their families that are living around the world.

So yeah, we've been,for many years, for the 12 years that I've been a part of the team, we've been designing mainly, large, galas or formal seated fundraising events. We were mainly doing those, pre-pandemic. And then, when the pandemic hit, like all of us, we had to pivot.

We did an assessment of our skill sets, the skill sets on the team. And we immediately just decided to start doing events very differently. And, inherently reaching, wider audiences, different audiences than we were, pre pandemic. And that's helped us guide a new strategy that we're now implementing moving forward. So that's my role in a nutshell. I'm happy to answer as many questions as you have about any of that.

Rachel: I love it. I always say, event planning is we're not saving lives here, but you quite literally are doing that with your events and your event strategy. So maybe I should hold my tongue when I say event planners don't impact that. Cause I do think that a lot of in, event professionals and experience makers, however you want to call us, because we are a lot of different things under the umbrellas of planning do impact the lives. I love what you said about using events and experiences as a portal into others' lives, like how cool is that? One, can you just take us through like some of those different portals that you've opened? I know you just talked about obviously the galas and things like that people know you for, but talk through some of the other things that you've done that have helped shed the light on folks that are within the spectrum of events, but also have broadened that scope.

Tyler: Yeah. so UNICEF works for every child. and our program areas, the focus areas that UNICEF focuses on the most are, healthcare, protection, respect, and education. And, obviously under each of those main pillars, there are a number of different sub-sectors, climate and gender equity.

And with each of those different pillars or program areas, you can only imagine the amount of stories that, and lived experiences that come through. And so it's our job, like I mentioned, to bring those stories closer to the US. You'd, I think, be really surprised at all of the similarities that we'd see between ourselves and those going to school and other parts of the world. And some of the major differences too. And the role that we play as event planners is really to make sure that we're making that emotional connection between those stories so that people can really immediately see those similarities and differences.

So one example would be during the pandemic, during the pandemic we were really all facing the same types of global challenges when it came to education. Millions of kids, 2 billion kids on earth, were out of school. And we were faced with a global pandemic and, it was, a time when school looked very differently. So the portal that we created during the pandemic was setting up virtual events where we could, show or showcase, students taking, taking us on a tour of their school, their home, what their school looked like at that time. The different ways that they were, that they were playing, interacting differently, so that's just one example.

Rachel: cool that the backstage thing is really nice. That's, it's helpful to see. And create attention and awareness around those things. Otherwise, you're just shouting into space at things without giving people, Hey, this is what's happening. This is why you need to care or help.

So on that side of your events, your goals. Let's talk about you as a business owner for UNICEF for a second. Your goals for obviously is shedding a light on the children and the different environmental factors and things like that. But for your events and driving awareness to that, I'm sure you're doing more than just creating awareness. You're also hitting financial goals, and getting that information to major stakeholders. Can you get, give us a little bit more behind the scenes peek into that?

Tyler: Yeah, absolutely. So our main ways that we were fundraising,that really haven't changed, this year right now we're planning a gap. Gala that will take place on November the 28th on Giving Tuesday. So that will take place in New York at Cipriani on Wall Street. The basics of the operations of planning that fundraising gala are, we work with, volunteer event committees, and core leadership members that volunteer their time to reach out to their networks to sell tables and tickets to attend the event. The event is an exclusive one night only event where we sell tables for, starting at $30,000, and going up to sell sponsorships up to a hundred thousand, 250,000 for a presenting sponsorship.

We really rely on our board members who also volunteer their time to support the organization. We have regional boards and a national board with UNICEF USA, made up of really people from every industry who are coming together to volunteer their time to reach out to their networks to support the efforts of UNICEF and what they're doing for every child. So we're currently in the process of working with those groups to sell tables and tickets onto this event on November 28th. And, the event, the structure of the event will be a stage program. There will be people who are youth voices and people who are speaking from the stage about UNICEF's work.

We'll use film and,different, audiovisual, tools in order to make sure that we're building those, as you call them, like portals into the lives of others, that evening. And then we also will have a performer who will donate their time to entertain our guests too.

So in the past, we've had Diana Ross. We've had Mariah Carey, Pink, Katy Perry,Walk the Moon perform at our annual event. This will now be in its 18th annual year the UNICEF Gala at Cipriani Wall Street on the 20th of November. So we're currently on sale and our website will launch next week, and we'll be announcing the talent in the next couple of weeks to a month.

Rachel: Elizabeth, do you have $30,000? Do you want to go in on a table?

Elizabeth: I was just thinking about that. I was like, man, if we just pull our resources together. Tyler, you raised such a good point about it sounds like this is the real showcase event of the year for your team and a lot of attention and planning goes into this and you've been, your organization's been doing enough for 18 years.

Sounds like you've been along the ride for a number of those as well. What keeps you guys coming back to the drawing board with this event, what have been some of the biggest innovations with your gala in the past couple of years?

Tyler: Great question. So coming back from the pandemic, I think we will all agree that we're in a different place and, and I think that people's interests have changed, a great deal. and people are really wanting more immersive experiences. They really want to not be spoken at or spoken to, but engaged as, as part of, the conversation that we're having.

They want to feel more of a connection to the children and their families that we're speaking about from the stage. And we're using technology in many ways to make sure that we're creating a more personal or personalized connection to those audience members in the room.

They've also shared with us that it's as much about learning what's going on in the world as it is about connecting with one another in the room. So that was something that was like definitely missed and something that people were craving during the pandemic that they wanted to make sure that we work on building our community of really, like the engagement is just as important as the fundraising, and people with UNICEF, and, the board members and people who have been involved in the event for that many years, they get so excited about bringing in new audience as well to into the fold to introduce them to the work of UNICEF.

I think that, it's not common that we hear that, or it is common that we hear that, that people have said, I know I'm familiar with UNICEF, like I've heard of UNICEF. What do you do every day? Is it something to do with kids? And so I think that events like these are a time for people to connect over the UNICEF mission and to, and to give back.

And so that's, really, one of the reasons why we've been consistently doing our event on Giving Tuesday for many years. We were actually always the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and then giving Tuesday became a thing. And we just, we save the date and we continue to just ask people to reserve that day for us.

And so it's been incredibly successful. We've raised millions and millions of dollars through the gala, over many years. And this year we're set to raise 4 million and we will achieve that goal through both table sales, ticket sales, and then, sponsorships. And then we also have a live appeal that takes place that night in the room, where people can fund the need and they can raise their hand during a think of it more like a live auction moment.

But, instead of purchasing things for yourself, you are able to give back. They can pledge to send an emergency relief SUV truck to the field that can reach kids that are living in parts of the world that are difficult to reach. You can pledge a water pump, a community water pump that provides clean water to a community that is not just an immediate need, but something that can serve a community for many years to come. It’s so impactful and I think that’s just what keeps my team and I going.

Rachel: It's not just a KPI on your sheet. It's actually impacting a life, which is so much better.

Elizabeth: Yeah, and even like just creating that opportunity, not even knowing where the cap is, like that evening, that it doesn't just stop with the sponsorships, but that you have the power to create the atmosphere, to drive change in that moment is really cool. And I think something completely unique to the nonprofit event space.

That makes it challenging but also really exhilarating and rewarding. I'm really curious. It sounds like you listened to your attendees and there's a group that kind of is really invested and comes back year after year, and maybe they're even part of your marketing. How have the role of these volunteer leaders or organizers evolved and how do you rely and coordinate with them as part of your outreach and engagement for that event?

Tyler: Yeah. So this is something that we're talking about a lot now that we have a core group of supporters that attend the event year after year. We have data that shows at around 33%. We have retention year over year from like a core group of supporters, that's an average across all of the events that we do.

And so the rest of that, the rest of the room is, are new audiences that are coming back, or coming to the organization new. And that's a testament to our board members, our committees who are working with us year after year to make sure that they're reaching out to new groups.

So some years I think, board members are looking to new corporations. They're thinking about the UNICEF programs that are very top of mind in that year and the companies that have similar interests. So climate and clean water and emergency relief, which companies are inspired to give or give back in those ways. How, where are the similarities in terms of just  the scope from company to, to organization? Yeah, it's definitely like a moving target or cycle from year to year in terms of audience reach.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I think it's really fascinating how much nonprofit events really are brought together by the volunteers and the attendees themselves, right? It's such a galvanizing movement leading up to the event. How are you, capturing on like new attendee engagement?Are you generating buzz like before the event through word of mouth?

Are you following up with them after with new content or updates? Talk us through how you keep the community going.

Tyler: Yeah. This is a great question. I think like there are a lot of different tentacles, the ways that we do that. It's not just my team, but, but I think, I work with a number of colleagues who. generate buzz around the event. So I think a part of it is word of mouth, the word of mouth, the board members and event attendees that have attended the event in the past.

We also have a really fantastic group of colleagues who are working on PR efforts and not just promoting the stage participants, so those performers or entertainers that are a part of the evening, but also the theme or the focus of the event. So this year our focus is gender equity and girls and women. And that's going to be like a big part of our messaging and we're thinking about right now, the different communities or community leaders who would want to be a part of that event. We're thinking about companies that have supported UNICEF in the past that have potentially lapsed, companies that have a special affinity for girls and women.

We're reaching out to even the people that we're hiring to work with us. So our vendors are part of our outreach pool. Yeah, I think that, it's definitely like a big effort that goes into establishing the buzz or like building the audience. but one other thing, it's not just the before, I think, equal importance to the after.

So after each event takes place there's a team at UNICEF USA that is specifically focused on stewardship. The media, the minute that the event ends, we think about how can we give this event a very long tail? The event is an incredible investment for UNICEF USA. And so how can we maximize that investment? I think Cvent does a really good job of this too, by the way. you immediately leave Cvent CONNECT and you get like a survey, and you're following up with the people who are attending that conference. And UNICEF has a similar philosophy and we want to keep the engagement and the conversation going. Because you're learning a lot at a gala like the UNICEF Gala, and we want to not only get people's thoughts about what their experience was, but also what was most interesting to them about the event. Then we have a great team of people just standing by to follow up on those interests.

Rachel: I am sure there's so much that you can do and learn about too that you need to be followed up with because you may have missed it at one of those amazing events that you produce.

Elizabeth: Or that's something we're finding is the attendee journey, as we call it at Cvent, can look really different and unique within the nonprofit space when you're looking to engage as a volunteer or a donor, not necessarily like a one-time sales trade show conversion, right? It's a really different story. It's a really different model. I love that you were able to just speak to that. Are there other ways in which you, your other events in your program kind of contribute to this long tail?

Tyler: Yeah. yes. We're diversifying currently our event strategy moving forward. And in the past, as I mentioned, we've been doing a lot of, more formal seated, fundraising. dinners, they tend to take place in the evening. They are traditionally called galas. In the future we're looking at cultivation events.

We've found that some supporters really feel more comfortable in a more intimate setting. They want to be able to ask questions, or CEO or or specialists, in the field of child education, nutrition. So we're hosting more intimate, like cultivation events that are more geared towards 50 to 60 people.

We're doing 13 of those events around the country, each year. And those are in addition to the bigger gala that'll take place in November, which is for hundreds. So we're expecting like around 800 people. Then, and then, as we look to the future as well, we're also looking at, we've seen incredible growth in community fundraisers, third party fundraisers. A lot of events are taking place where people are contacting us and they're offering to host an event on our behalf. So they can reach out to our team and say, I want to do a bake sale, or, I have this great connection to a performer and I'd love to do a concert for UNICEF.

So the way that works is that there's a form that you can fill out on the UNICEF USA website. And, we just ask some questions to make sure that our values are aligned with yours. And then you get approved to have use of our in supportive UNICEF USA logo, and you essentially can produce an event on your own on behalf of UNICEF, whether it be, for your birthday or for Halloween. And then, then you can send us the check afterwards, whether there was money raised, at the event, or if it was, merely an event for advocacy. So that is growing this year. We will raise over 1.7 million just in those third party fundraisers, where people are just sending us the net revenue, for those events.

Rachel: So cool. I love that. Activate your base and recharge, reach beyond that.

Tyler: Yeah. Yeah, I know. And I'm like the stories that are coming from those events are just so impressive. Really great program.

Elizabeth: That's gotta be really cool to read about. You're like, oh, you're taking on the role of what I do a little bit in a way, and you're getting to experience some of the fulfillment there.

Rachel: We, we talked about that. I'm just getting a little bit, but we talked about that, doing that internally at Cvent, just saying, here's how you plan an event. Here's an event in a box for you. Just to our internal folks. Not the same thing at all, but. Yoursare way more important than that. I'm very curious about the nonprofit industry, in the event space.

Do you have associations that you're a part of, that you're, can bounce ideas off each other. Are you collaborating with other nonprofits to evolve and grow with them as well? I'm blind to that side of things. I'm obviously in the industry with you, but I don't know enough about the nonprofit world at all.

Tyler: Yeah, there are really fantastic forums. I'm on this huge email list with a lot of other nonprofit arts organizations in New York, that are just constantly, chiming in with ideas, referrals. There's a shared calendar where we make sure that there's no big overlap on major events or opening nights.

Yeah, there, I don't think that there's a week that goes by where someone isn't, saying hey, could you send us a list of producers that you worked with recently, or who are you using for fundraising on site? What platforms are working well for you? So there's just like a constant thread of ideas that are very inspiring. 

Elizabeth: They’re helpful too.

Tyler: Yeah, definitely.

Elizabeth: Who doesn't appreciate a good referral locally?

Tyler: Yeah. there was a lot of that taking place, like during the pandemic and and and I think that like as soon as someone, as soon as someone sees that there's like a new, like more innovative way of doing an event, there's a lot of like info sharing.

So I've been in touch recently, with Charity Water, with Memorial Sloan Kettering, we had a lot of just like benchmarking conversations with different colleagues that save the children, that are doing events differently or, having a different approach to their style of events.

Rachel:  Yeah. Wow. that's really cool. I like that you're bouncing ideas off each other, offer a common good cause 

Elizabeth: Yeah, it almost makes me think we get a lot of folks who turn in tune into the podcast from all sorts of industries, but yours might garner some really specific attention given that we haven't had a nonprofit event professional on, I want to say in some time. Rachel can correct me if it's ever, what would you want to say to the other nonprofit event professionals listening to you talk about your career in your day-to-day life?

Tyler: Here's a plug for you. I would say go to Cvent CONNECT because I was

Elizabeth: That’s why we asked.

Tyler: I was really, so first of all, I just, some background about our relationship with Cvent. We started working together probably seven or eight years ago. We were looking for a system that was going to track RSVPs and streamline all of the data, for our CRM, for a summit where we were accepting reservations for students, for high school and college students, for board members, supporters, corporate partners. And, the more we widened our audience for that summit, it took place in DC the more complicated it got. We had a pretty complex registration and Cvent was, I think a really fantastic system for that particular event.

And the team was right there with us at customizing the registration process. And so since then years have passed now and we've sunset that,but we're still using Social Tables. And around the same time that we were working together in that first few years I went to Cvent CONNECT and I didn't really know what to expect.

I envisioned that I would be like one of the only nonprofit representatives there. And I loved how you divided certain areas of the conference to be, divided by industry. And I was really surprised to meet so many other event leaders. Yeah. And, really, like from the, there were a lot of collegiate organizations there that were using Cvent for their like, alumni events.

I thought that was great to get to connect with them. So anyway, again, shameless plug. I'm sad that I'm not going to be able to join you tomorrow. But, best of luck with the conference. I think it's really so well done.

Elizabeth: That's so great to hear and you're talking to the, one of the huge conference planners and then I manage a lot of our programming for the nonprofit industry. We're trying to go even deeper with specific sessions, and we've got two in-person meetups, but I'll put a plug for those listening.

Our whole customer marketing team has completely revamped our Cvent community experience, which is our online user platform. There's all sorts of quick one pagers and tips and tricks on how to do things, and there's an association and nonprofit user group that you can join. And it's essentially an industry forum to bounce ideas off of, to figure out how to do specific use cases or workarounds. And it's been really fun posting industry specific content there as part of the discussion. So anybody listening can join.

Rachel: Yeah. And we can link to these, for our listeners online. So you can get a little bit more information. But before we do that, Tyler, any closing remarks, advice, or anything else you want to share with our listeners in regard to nonprofit events, the industry, UNICEF in general. Just one final statement from you.

Tyler: Thank you so much for, for inviting me, again, so grateful to be included. I think, if I've sparked your interest about UNICEF USA. A plug that I'll give is that, last year my team worked on a short film. It's a short documentary film called ‘If you have’, it was one of the many projects that we did during this kind of void of live events, in 2020 and 2021.

And, we had the opportunity to work with Academy Award winning director Ben Proudfoot. So the film is online. It's you can find it at, ifyouhavefilm.org. I think a really fascinating 30-minute dive into UNICEF's work. For those that aren't as familiar with UNICEF's work, it really does a good job at capturing the intimacy and the emotional connection that UNICEF brings, and the value that UNICEF brings to so many lives. So check it out if you have time. and, and I think we can include the link maybe, or, okay.

Rachel: Yeah. We can put it, we can put it on our podcast page for our listeners.

Tyler: Okay, cool. Amazing.

Rachel: Awesome. Tyler, I'm going to have to check out this film because this sounds really amazing and the fact that you became an Academy Award winner. That's what I'm going to call it in my mind because you probably deserve it. 

I'm going to have to check it out and so should our listeners. But I just want to say thank you to Elizabeth, and Tyler. Thanks for joining our podcast today. It's been a real treat, having a real life superhero on the podcast. So thank you for joining.

Tyler: Thank you so much, Rachel. It's so good to see you.

Rachel: Yeah, it's good to see you too. Major props. Thanks for all you do for the children in need around the world. You're my hero. And to our other superheroes listening. Thanks for joining us. If you have any additional things you'd like to share with us or questions, send us a DM on LinkedIn or a note greatevents@cvent.com.

Thanks for tuning in to Great Events. See you next time.