FOR MEDICAL INSTITUTIONS and foundation boards, events play an important part in maintaining high visibility while generating funds. But putting on a successful event takes more time and skill than most people realize. Event management companies can help with everything from security to managing talent. Here are some questions to help you decide whether hiring a professional event planner is the right prescription for your organization.

  1. Does your internal staff have the expertise and time to manage a major event? Can your staff handle the challenge without it interfering with their daily responsibilities? Does your staff have the creativity needed for a successful event? Sometimes creativity can be demonstrated in how you massage a budget. For example, you can use mid-priced instead of high-end linens or floral arrangements and still create a lovely effect. Would your staff know what to compromise on without impacting the event's success?

  2. Can your staff get the best vendors at the best prices? Surveys show that it's what is on the tabletop — food and décor — that leaves the greatest impression. Most vendors will give cost breaks — if they know you. An experienced event company should have the ability to negotiate prices with vendors.

  3. Has your staff had experience with big-name entertainment? When negotiating with talent, there is only one set of rules — theirs! Some agents won't even take your call if they don't know you. Once the artist is secured, hiring a reputable production company is a must. Would your staff know how to secure Tony Bennett as well as obtain the right sound and lighting for his performance?

  4. Has your staff had experience dealing with security issues? Put a public figure in a public space and you have security issues that may require coordination with numerous city departments. Even getting your CEO from the car to the front door involves planning. Every event requires detailed routing maps to move people from place to place. You also need to be aware of the timing and details of delivery, setup, and teardown.

  5. Do you have a budget to outsource? The nature of a nonprofit budget is that it must offset expenses with a projected profit. If the cost of producing the event may prevent you from reaching your financial goals, then you shouldn't outsource. A reputable events firm can eyeball your budget and will level with you.

  6. What qualities should I look for in an event planner? Industry-specific experience and an insight into the culture of your audience are very important. The company you hire should have managed events similar in size and scope to yours. If there are a lot of corporate chiefs with a stake in the event, an event planner can serve as an objective third party and a single point of contact for deadlines, quality issues, and resolving problems.

  7. How far in advance should you hire an event management company? For a major opening with multiple events, it may be a year or more. For an annual event under 500 people, it should be about four to six months. You lose buying power with suppliers if you fail to secure their services early.

Jodi Wolf is president of Paulette Wolf Events & Entertainment, a Chicago-based event management company. Clients include Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Friends of Prentice, Advocate Healthcare, Resurrection Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Evanston Northwestern Hospital. For more information, call (773) 475-4300, or visit