Event Planning DIY Checklist

So you have been put in charge for a big event and you now have no clue where to even begin. Well, lucky for you, I am here to help you get started. Here is a step-by-step how-to guide on planning an event so that you do not need to spend your budget on an event planner or consultant.

Before taking the first step, you need to determine just what kind of event it is you are planning. Here are a few questions you need to ask before getting started:

  • Is this a wedding?
  • Is this a fundraiser? If it is, is it for a specific non-profit?
  • Is this a banquet?
  • Is this a public event or a private affair?
  • How many guests am I hoping/planning to have?
  • Is this going to be outside or inside? What is my venue?
  • Am I offering entertainment? If so, what kind?
  • What is the budget? Are you spending your own money, or is an organization setting the budget? How much control over the budget do you have?

  • Event Planning Step 1

    Finding a venue. This can be an overwhelming task sometimes. You need to determine your number of guests before you choose a venue. Some wonderful venues will allow an undetermined number of people, and others have a limit on capacity. Most often, the venue will take a large portion of your budget—unless you do it at a private residence that allows you to host your event for free (score!!). If you are doing an event outside, it is a good idea to rent a couple tents and canopies. Part of your choice in venue will depend on what you are providing as far as entertainment; i.e. a dance floor might be needed which can also be rented for outdoor events.

    Event Planning Step 2

    Most events have food of some kind. This is a good place to start, as it will be a large part of your budget. You need to determine whether or not it is going to be buffet-style, sit down service, hors d’oeuvers served by a catering staff or volunteers, or whatever you decide. Research local catering services to see which one fits your budget giving you the best food for the best deal. Ask around town to see what various businesses use or other people prefer. Personal recommendations are always a good place to start when it comes to choosing food. Your food choices can either make or break your event. Also think about what you will serve for beverages. Some catering places will provide bar service while others do not, and you will need to investigate other options.

    Event Planning Step 3

    Next, it is good to decide on your décor. You may actually choose this to be your first or second step if you choose to go with a theme. If you do choose a theme, having the food and venue fit into the theme is always a plus. Thematic events are a fun and good way to make an event memorable. Depending on how casual or fancy you want your event to be, there are numerous themes for any degree of fancy. Some themes include:

  • Broadway Bound
  • Hawaii/Beach
  • Great Gatsby/Speakeasy
  • Any Decade
  • Rummage Romp
  • Old Hollywood
  • Venetian
  • Patriotic
  • Sports
  • Fiesta
  • Casino
  • International Celebration
  • Sock Hop
  • Winter wonderland
  • Mardi Gras
  • Royalty
  • Famous Couples
  • Toon Time

  • There is no end to the creativity you can use when thinking of a theme. If you choose to not do a specific theme, it is still a good idea to choose a color palette for your decorations. The magic is in the details of a good event. A color combination can make a big impact on your guests. When looking for decorations, here is a list of possible items to consider:

  • Centerpieces — even these are small, they can make a lasting impression.
  • Table settings — this includes linens, small accents on the table such as confetti or a small take home token, menus and name cards. This can also include chair covers and accents if you choose to go that route.
  • Room accents — this could include large and small items such as balloons, flower arrangements strategically placed, ceiling drapery, backdrops, garlands, pillars, and large items that may fit with your theme and double as a photo booth such as a jukebox or a vintage car.
  • Attire — asking your guests to come dressed accordingly will automatically add flare and flavor to the theme… the only exception to this may be a wedding.
  • Event Planning Step 4

    Entertainment is usually expected at an event. It can be as simple as a DJ and dancing. Hiring a band to perform or to provide the music for dinner and dancing can be a great idea. If you choose this option, it can be a little harder to find what you are looking for, but completely worth it. Sometimes, hiring a dance instructor to give a half hour to 45 minute dance lesson before the dancing starts is a fun way to get more people onto the dance floor. If you choose this option, ask around for recommendations. Finding an instructor who is personable and fun will help make those reluctant guest more willing to get up and dance.

    Other forms of entertainment may be small dance performances, special musicians, a specific singer, or games. If you have a theme, finding entertainment that goes along with it is always a fun addition. An example of this would be: Great Gatsby Party—a 1920s Charleston dance lesson and jazz band for dancing. If you are having a casino theme, then offer casino style games. If there is a Hawaiian theme, perhaps hire a Polynesian dance troupe to perform. If you are planning a banquet of some kind, be sure that you have speakers lined up. If it is an awards banquet, the awards need to be ordered as well.

    Event Planning Step 5

    Invitations can eat up a budget if you get them professionally done. If you have the time, there are so many options you have for making your own. Craft stores have made this pretty easy. However, if you have it in your budget to get them done for you, by all means go for it. Again, if you have a theme, choose an invitation that will match the theme. If you don’t have a theme, be sure that the invitations have the color palette you are using—it just adds class to the overall feel of the event.

    Event Planning Step 6

    Create a timeline and calendar to follow for the event. This may seem tedious, but there are always little things that come up at the last minute and having a calendar to follow will help alleviate some of those woes. On this timeline, be sure to give your helpers/ vendors enough notice and time to prepare what they need to prepare. Things that should go on the calendar include, but are not limited to:

  • Booking the venue
  • Booking the entertainment
  • Booking the caterer/ food providers
  • Purchasing the décor
  • Arranging and prepping the décor
  • When decorating will begin
  • Sending out invitations
  • Booking the florist if you will have flowers at the event
  • Booking tables and chairs if needed
  • Booking tents and canopies if needed
  • The delivery of all items
  • Checking in on vendors’ progress/ expectations
  • If you are having an auction at your event, be sure to have a deadline for collecting and preparing all auction items.
  • There should be a deadline of giving the final number of guests to the caterer (usually determined by the caterer).
  • Deadline for having your volunteers and holding a volunteer meeting lined up if you need volunteers to run the event.

  • Now, let’s talk about the varying kinds of events and things you may need to consider adding to your "to-do list".

    If you are planning a wedding, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning it:

  • Do you need to do a seating chart?
  • Are you in charge of getting the dress fittings scheduled? The tuxes?
  • Don’t forget the cake!
  • Other items for décor may be flower arrangements for the ceremony venue if it is different from the reception venue
  • A guestbook or other item for guests to sign will be needed—check pinterest for fun ideas on this topic.
  • If the bride and groom plan on showing a slide show of their relationship, be sure you have all of the AV equipment you need to do this.
  • Party favors have become an expected tradition at most weddings; don’t forget them!
  • If you are preparing for a destination wedding… save yourself a lot of headaches and hire a planner at the destination!

  • Event Planning Organization

    If you are putting together a fundraiser for a specific organization, you may have a better pool of volunteers to delegate responsibilities to. If this is the case, be sure to set up regular meetings with your volunteers to be sure there is progress being made. As the event gets closer, more meetings will be needed. For fundraisers, other things need to be considered. Some of these things include:

  • How many aspects of the event can be donated? Many businesses are willing to support your event by donating items or by giving large discounts on their services. If this is the case, they usually expect or appreciate a little marketing acknowledgement. That said, posters with sponsor/donor logos are a good to have for promoting the event and promoting your sponsors and donors.
  • A graphic artist and printer are usually needed for the posters
  • If you plan on obtaining sponsors, it is good practice to have a packet that outlines the levels of sponsorships. The more money they give towards the event, the more perks they receive; for example: If a sponsor chooses to do a $2,000 sponsorship, they may receive 4 free tickets to the event, an extra bottle of wine, and 50 extra raffle tickets (if there is raffle).
  • A few volunteers can be helpful in obtaining auction items from local businesses
  • Be sure to keep a good record of auction items/baskets so that you can send proper thank you cards and donation receipts for tax purposes.
  • ave someone be responsible for assembling the baskets and/or items so that the presentation of them is appealing.
  • Put together a slide show of the organization or the purpose for the fundraiser that can be shown during dinner.
  • Be sure to include sponsor logos/ donor names
  • Be sure you have all the AV equipment needed
  • If you plan on having extra games that can earn extra money at the event, be sure you collect prizes for them.
  • If you are providing each table with bottles of wine, many times you can get the wine donated by either a distribution company or by an individual who believes in your cause.
  • At the event, there will need to be a system in place for checking in attendees and a checkout system for those that bid on auction items and spend money
  • Side note: The more alcohol you make available early in the evening, the more money will be spent on auctions and games. It’s unfortunate, but true.
  • These are just guidelines to event planning, but they should give you a starting point to feel more confident with planning a major event. If you have volunteers, be sure to thank them relentlessly. Happy volunteers make your event a much better success. Feeding your volunteers is always a good thing to do too. Best of luck, and happy planning!

    Published: August 1, 2016

    By: Phillip Gilliam