Event Planning Guide

There are many important and sometimes forgotten elements involved in planning events. This guide consolidates many of the University guidelines surrounding campus events. Additionally, below is a checklist that includes the most important steps needed to effectively organize an event on campus.

Event Planning Checklist

  1. Decide what you want to accomplish.
    • How will you connect your event’s purpose back to your organization’s mission?
  2. Set smart, clear, and reachable goals for your event.
  3. Identify your Audience
    • Determine your target audience and identify what you want your audience to get out of the experience
    • Determine the size and scope of your target audience, and decide whether utilizing a card scanner to track attendance would be beneficial. While card scanners can be used for any size event, they are especially helpful for events involving large audiences.
  4. Create a plan of action
  5. Set a budget and seek out funding assistance
    • Refer to the Finances Page of the Resource and Policy Guide for more information.
    • It may also be of interest to collaborate with other Registered Student Organizations as well as University Departments who have similar goals as your organization.
  6. Delegation and Follow Through
    • Do not try to do everything yourself! Leadership is about how well you lead others, so involve others in the tasks that need to be accomplished for the program to be successful. When someone is assigned a task by you, follow up with them and make sure they understand what needs to be completed. Also, set dates for follow-up communication and meetings.
    • You may even want to consider writing out an outline for your members in order to clarify what you want.

It is important to consider during your event planning process how your event will be inclusive and accessible to students.  It should be goal that each event your organization plans, the leaders and members critically examine it’s accessiblity and inclusion.  To start check out the Event Accessibility Worksheet from McBurney Disability Resource Center. See additional information for RSOs under Risk Management and Event Access.

Marketing serves the dual purpose of spreading the word about your organization and its activities and involving your members in working for the good of the group. Effective marketing requires that you think about WHO is most likely to be interested in what your organization offers and how you are going to reach them. There is no one formula; each organization will need to develop its own best methods to publicize different types of events.

Develop a Marketing Plan

Developing a successful marketing plan for an event takes time, planning, and at least a small budget. You need to allow yourself sufficient time to publicize the event. A good tool to utilize is a “backward planning calendar,” meaning you work backward from the date of your event to develop deadlines for various marketing strategies.
Consider the following:

  • Budget: realistically calculate how much money you can spend on marketing your event
  • Audience: discuss who you want to reach and how you can reach them
  • Information: make sure your advertising contains all the important information (who can attend, what the event is about, where, when, why you are holding the event, and if there is a fee or registration process)
  • Resources: what resources are available to you and/or your organization
  • Location: choose high traffic areas and give thought to placing things in different and unusual places. Be creative! Make sure to take note as to what areas need approval so that your advertising is not just taken down
  • Schedule: the best time to begin advertising for your event is 2-3 weeks beforehand

For more details, please see the On-Campus Marketing Resources within the Benefits page of this Resource and Policy Guide.

There are several important aspects to keep in mind when considering the location of your event. The following information will help you to find the appropriate venue for your event, taking into consideration accommodations such as food and necessary equipment.

  1. In order to reserve space (both indoor and outdoor) and AV equipment, refer to the Resource and Policy Guide’s section on Reserving Space
  2. Make sure to check for building charges, hours, and food service policies. Some buildings do not allow any food, others only allow food from specific/campus vendors, and others allow you to bring in food from outside vendors.  Be sure to check these policies before reserving space.
  3. Make sure to get a confirmation number for any reservation and double-check the date, time, location and any requests you have made for the space.
  4. Refer to the Campus Map to access the list of all the Building Managers on campus to receive more information on specific buildings on campus.  To view the building manager information, click on the ‘Facility Abstract’ link next to the appropriate building.
  5. Be sure to check to see if your event falls on the weekend – there are often special rules such as different security requirements and rules of operation  for weekend events that are important to be aware of prior to your event (i.e. on Halloween Weekend).

When considering entertainment for an event it is important to consider all that this will entail.

If you are planning a program that includes a performer or speaker that will be paid for their performance, it is important that certain steps are understood and considered to ensure that the organization gets what they are paying for, so to speak!

If you are planning a program that includes a video, music, or streaming, it is important to also consider copyright laws.

  1. Research a list of speakers or entertainment options
    • For motivational speakers located in Wisconsin, check out GigMasters.
    • For speakers aimed towards higher education, check out Campuspeak.
    • For local music performers, check out GigMasters.
    • For free streaming access to documentary film content, discussion guides, and promo posters (through UW Libraries), check out Docuseek2 Resources
  2. Make a list of what you want and need from the speaker. Be as specific as possible!
    • Examples:
      • Background or theme of your event
      • Outline the purpose of your event
      • Is there a specific topic you would like the speaker to discuss?
      • What do you want your audience to get out of it?
  3. Contact speakers who match your wants and needs
    • When speaking with them, make sure to ask questions such as:
      • What is their availability?
      • How much do they cost?
      • What would they bring to campus by speaking at your event?
      • Do they need any special accommodations?
  4. Negotiate a contract. Be sure to refer to the Contracts Section under the Policies page of this Resource & Policy Guide and check out the Risk Management website.
    • Be sure you consider funding for all the things necessary to bring the speaker to campus.  This includes such things as length of performance, transportation, hotels, meals, and other performance needs (such as sound equipment etc.).
    • Contracts must be completed 4-6 weeks before the day of your event. If you are interested in paying your speaker/entertainment the day OF the event, be sure to have this contract filled out at LEAST 6 weeks prior to your event.

While RSOs are welcome to use on campus space for their events.  There is also space off campus that can be explored.  The following links are to area locations that Student Organizations and University Departments have partnered with to host events or retreats. Please contact the locations directly to inquire about availability, cost, and amenities.

Site Name Location Distance from Campus
 UW Arboretum  Madison, WI  4 miles (10 minutes)
 Olbrich Botanical Gardens  Madison, WI  4 miles (10 minutes)
 Aldo Leopold Nature Center  Madison, WI  7 miles (15 minutes)
 Holy Wisdom Monastery  Middleton, WI  8 miles (15 minutes)
 Hoofbeat Ridge Camps  Mazomanie, WI  25 miles (40 mins)
 Bethel Horizons  Dodgeville, WI  44 miles (1 hour)
 Easter Seals Camps  Wisconsin Dells, WI  55 miles (1 hour)
 Upham Woods Outdoor Learning Center  Wisconsin Dells, WI  58 miles (1 hour)
 Green Lake Conference Center  Green Lake, WI  68 miles (1.5 hours)

As a registered student organization, you may at some time wish to plan and take an organizational trip to another country.  If this is the case for your organization, here are some resources to help you plan and execute a successful trip abroad.

Planning to Travel Abroad

Before traveling abroad, there are many questions to answer and tasks to complete.  Careful planning is the only way to mitigate the risks that may be involved with travel to an unfamiliar place in an unlike culture.  The responsibility to prepare adequately on behalf of your organization is one that must be taken seriously.  Below is a list of considerations and resources that will help you prepare as your organization begins planning a trip abroad.

Follow all advice and guidelines in the U.S. Department of State (DoS) or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel statements and do not travel to any country that is under a current travel warning.  A travel warning from either agency indicates a heightened level of risk that is mitigated only by extremely careful planning and structure that is usually out of balance with an RSO’s mission or resources.  There are many destinations that are not under a current travel warning in which similar service-oriented learning outcomes can be achieved.

UW-Madison defines a “travel warning” as locations that are under a DoS Level 3 or Level 4 advisory and/or a CDC Notice Warning Level 3; and those locations additionally identified by the provost, upon recommendation by the UITC, as representing significant health or safety risks for the university’s travelers.

According to the international travel policy, students who wish to travel to any “travel warning” location under university-affiliation must receive a specific waiver to do so.

Since specific regions within a country can have an advisory level that varies from the overall country level, it will be crucial that travelers focus on specific locations where the travel will take place, and not solely on the destination country as a whole. Any travel through an area with an advisory level of 3 or 4 will require a waiver, regardless of overall country level.

DoS travel warnings and alerts can be found here: https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html

View a color coded map of current travel advisory levels here: https://travelmaps.state.gov/TSGMap/

CDC travel warnings can be found here:  https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices

Some Questions to Ask – Before Planning Begins:

Consider the following questions seriously prior to making a decision about your trip, its purpose, your destination and itinerary.

  • How does this trip contribute to your organization’s mission?
  • What are the general goals for this trip and what are the objectives for the specific experiences and activities?
  • Do you truly need to travel abroad to accomplish these goals?  Are there comparable opportunities in the United States that might introduce lower risks at lower cost to you and your organization’s members?
  • Are the potential activities appropriate to your organization’s purpose?
  • Does the trip or its activities introduce risks that are out of balance with your organization’s mission as a student organization at UW-Madison?

Use the UW-Madison International Safety and Security Director’s (ISSD) “International Safety and Security Self-Assessment” to guide your initial planning for travel.  This document will help you identify and understand potential risks introduced by your trip and its activities.  If you discover that your plans may incur risks that previously were not considered or are out of balance with your purpose, then work with other students and your advisor to re-plan the trip’s activities and itinerary or choose another destination or region where similar outcomes can be met.

The ISSD’s “International Safety and Security Self-Assessment” can be found here, on the UW-Madison international safety and security website, along with many other helpful planning resources for your trip abroad—including tips for safer travel and actions you can take to help secure your electronic devices and financial data while traveling internationally:  http://internationaltravel.wisc.edu/resources-faq/

Also visit the links tab on the ISSD’s website to find valuable information presented on other sites including public agencies:  http://internationaltravel.wisc.edu/links/

Tasks to complete before traveling:

  • Develop a daily itinerary for the trip
  • Develop a budget that adequately allows for overruns and unexpected costs
  • Secure support for your trip through grants, national organization support, fundraisers and personal funds
  • Check the DoS and CDC sites for travel warnings (see above)
  • Enroll in CISI Insurancehttp://www.bussvc.wisc.edu/risk_mgt/international%20health%20insurance.html
  • Prepare an orientation on international travel and specifics of the trip for all members who are traveling (see discussion and resources below)
  • Ensure all participants have needed documentation for international travel (passports with six-months of validity left beyond the dates of the trip and entry visas if required)
  • Collect emergency contact and health information for all participants and make copies to take with you and to leave with a contact person who is not traveling (remember that health information is privacy protected information and should be treated as such – it can only be provided on a voluntary basis and should be returned to each traveler or destroyed when its utility is complete; e.g., the group has returned from the trip)
  • Create a “what-to-pack” list including suggested amount of money to bring
  • Ensure participants have needed immunizations (see the UHS portion of the orientation that is referenced below)
  • Determine several accessible methods of communicating with your advisor, families and others in case of need or emergency
  • Fill out the Jeanne Clery Act CSA Travel Registry form

Topics to Cover in the Orientation:

There is a generalized safety and security orientation presentation, also posted on the ISSD’s website under the resources tab (see the link above) that can be used to help you tailor an orientation that is specific to your destination, your trip and its purpose.  You are highly encouraged to access this orientation and ensure that you cover its content with your travelers in some manner.  The orientation slides also include information from the University Health Services (UHS) Travel Clinic about planning and maintaining healthful practices while abroad.  Contact the UW-Madison ISSD if you would like to discuss your planned program and potential safety and security considerations – contact information is on the international travel website: http://internationaltravel.wisc.edu/

Safety and security information about the country/region you are traveling to—including cultural considerations and current events that may impact your activities—can be found on the DoS webpage for the destination country.  Enter the name of your destination country into the “learn about your destination” box found at the top right-hand corner of the DoS warnings and alert page and be sure that each traveler reads the material completely, opening each subject-tab to access all of the content:  https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html

The DoS webpage for student travel abroad also has a great deal of helpful planning information: https://travel.state.gov/content/studentsabroad/en.html

In addition to actions encouraged by the ISSD’s safety and security orientation, all travelers should discuss and be aware of the following important elements of planning your program:

  • Goals and outcomes from the trip
  • Itinerary including dates and locations
  • Travel details, to included transportation to and from the airport at the destination
  • List of needed Immunizations (these may be found on the CDC site, at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list
  • As planning progresses, travelers should make an appointment with the UW-Madison University Health Services’ Travel Clinic to discuss health needs and ensure that all needed immunizations are updated: https://kb.wisc.edu/page.php?id=10960
  • List of needed required documentation for travel (Passport, VISA, etc) – again, every traveler’s passport should have six months of validity left following travel dates
  • Discuss your “what-to-pack” list and address both practical and cultural considerations
  • Consideration for prescription drugs that might be needed during the trip (Are needed prescription drugs legal in transit and in destination countries? Are the prescription drugs available for refill during the trip if they are lost or needed? Can needed amounts be taken into the destination country? Once you have enrolled in CISI, they can help you address these questions with knowledgeable updated information.)
  • Discuss how to handle money abroad – especially consider the available access to accounts and the use of major credit cards; and how you will secure your money
  • How is gender addressed in the destination country’s culture? Will this impact desired learning outcomes and the purpose of travel?
  • Does the destination support LGBTIQ travelers in public law and cultural tolerance? The ISSD resources tab offers information and links on this subject
  • All travelers who are U.S. citizens should enroll in DoS Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) – which sends travelers real-time updates from the local U.S. embassy or consulate directly to their e-mail or cell phone in case there is an event which requires guidance for U.S. citizens: https://step.state.gov/step/ (Students who are citizens of foreign countries should look for similar registration programs that may be available through their foreign ministry or embassy and consulate system.)

While Traveling Abroad:

  • Follow your itinerary! If you deviate for any reason, ensure that someone at home, ideally your sponsoring organization and advisor, are aware of the change and how it impacts your resources and overall schedule!
  • Follow any guidance or direction that is sent to you by the U.S. embassy via your STEP registration
  • Ensure that the health and emergency contact information remains secure but accessible for all travelers
  • Always try to remain in groups of two or more in public—avoid going anywhere alone
  • Remain in communication with your hosts, your families and also with your advisor or sponsoring organization at UW-Madison – check your wisc.edu account as often as possible in case someone is trying to contact you from the university
  • Consider each daily activity with deliberate consideration for potential risk—address and mitigate these risks despite inconvenience or individual or group desire to fulfill a particular activity

After You Return from Abroad:

  • Identify “lessons learned” from your trip’s planning and execution; discuss these with your organization and document them for members who might plan to travel abroad in the future on the same or similar program; share this information your advisor
  • Encourage participants to reflect on their experience and understand how it may have influenced their understanding of unlike cultures.

Assessment and evaluation are two key parts of event planning that are often times overlooked. These aspects typically occur at the end of or after the event has taken place, though advanced planning is necessary.

From the Outside Looking In

An essential part of evaluation is receiving feedback from those who attended your event.

  • What did they like?
  • What did they think could be improved?
  • Did they feel your event was effective? Why or why not?
  • Was the intended purpose of your event accomplished? Why or why not?
  • Overall suggestions/comments/questions


Often times it is helpful to ask such questions in a survey that can be provided to every individual who attended your event. A good survey is one that includes questions that each person will interpret in the same way.

Below are some tips to writing useful surveys:

  • Keep it short
  • Use simple words
  • Assure a common understanding
  • Start with interesting questions
  • Don’t write leading questions
  • Avoid double negatives
  • Balance rating scales
  • Don’t make the list of choices too long
  •  Avoid difficult recall questions
  • Put your questions in a logical order
  • Test out your survey before sending it out
  • Name your survey
  • Include an introduction

Two common forms include written and web-based surveys. Make sure to take the time to determine which format would fit best in conjunction with your event. Below is a list of pros and cons for both formats.

Written Surveys

  • Reach a larger geographical area
  • Great for sensitive issues
  • Anonymous
  • No clarification (unless given directly following event)
  • Hard to get a response from participants (unless given directly following event)
  • Can be more difficult or time consuming to analyze the data

Web-Based Surveys

 Pros  Cons
  • Low/Free Cost
  • Can require that certain questions get answered
  • Data is automatically entered into a database
  • Can be anonymous
  • Need an electronic device in the moment or access to one later
  • Participant may be unable to use the browser
  • No clarification
  • Hard to get a response from participants if not directly following the event/in the moment

Card Scanning

One additional recommendation is to utilize card scanners at your event. Card scanners provide you with a list of event attendees and email addresses, which makes sending out and collecting surveys easier.

WIN Forms

The “Forms” tab on your organizational Wisconsin Involvement Network (WIN) page can assist you in collecting data and information and storing it in a standard location for your organization. For more information about how to create and distribute forms, visit the Help Center for the Wisconsin Involvement Network.

From the Inside Looking Out

Another important part of assessment includes debriefing the event with the members of your student organization. Some things to consider when doing this include:

  • Assigning a member or members of the planning team to take notes in order to accurately record the details prior to, during, and after the event.
  • Discussing the event with members in order to account for numerous perspectives and opinions (taking notes during this discussion can also be beneficial).
  • Saving notes about the event and creating a transition binder in order to keep future student leaders informed on the details of previous year’s events and what can be improved upon.