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  Public Programming Best Practices Resource Guide  

In 2009, the AJS launched the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project (LHJSP), a collaboration between the Legacy Heritage Fund and the Association for Jewish Studies.  This new initiative aims to promote sustained Jewish studies programming in small to mid-sized cities, foster relationships between scholars and the wider communities in which they work, encourage innovative and accessible teaching by AJS members, and highlight the nexus of Jewish studies and the study of world civilizations and cultures.  Support for the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project is generously provided by the Legacy Heritage Fund Limited.

In conjunction with LHJSP, the AJS has developed the following on-line Public Programming Best Practices Resource Guide.  This guide was culled from extensive conversations between Natasha Perlis, LHJSP Project Manager, and several public programmers at both academic and cultural institutions. 

Resource Guide
I. Mission
II. How to Make Scholarship Accessible?
III. Audience Targeting
IV. Marketing and Outreach
V. Community Partnerships and Co-sponsors
VI. Event Planning Logistics
VII. Public Program Evaluation
VIII. Useful Links

I. Mission

Before developing a public program series, it is essential to think about the purpose of your programs. What is the objective of your program series? How does it further the mission of your Jewish studies program, as well as of your institution? How do you define a successful event? What do you want to accomplish? Set specific goals and outcomes for your programs—this will make evaluation and programmatic modifications afterwards easier and more effective. Beware of the “one-off” performance or lecture; instead, think about how the series can be a long-term investment for your program and institution.

For inspiration, and to get a better sense of what is already being offered in your community, look at event listings and materials from other academic and cultural institutions in your area. The tone, language, and design of these announcements can inform your own programming content and outreach style, as well as help you create original programming that will not duplicate what is already being offered locally. In addition, identify Jewish studies programs and organizations across the nation that are producing the kind of public programming that you aspire to run.

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II. How to Make Scholarship Accessible?

How do you make a program accessible while at the same time retaining its academic integrity? Conveying ideas to the public is an art and there is no easy formula. Attendees may have preconceived notions that university-sponsored events will be too academic or inaccessible. As a programmer, you can create a bridge which narrows the gap between community and academy, but you must remember that the communication and benefits go both ways. Scholars often find speaking to general audiences enriching. They learn from making connections with multigenerational, non-academic attendees and get new perspectives on their own work.

  • Be open to creating new models for public program formats, beyond traditional lectures. Consider other types of cultural programming e.g., film screenings, dance performances, plays, concerts, field trips, walking tours, etc.
  • Try not to invite anyone to lecture who you have not heard speak publicly. Do not assume that an accomplished scholar is a good speaker, as not all academics are best-suited to present to a non-specialist audience. If you have any doubts about the speaker’s ability to give a good presentation, be in touch with your colleagues to get their opinions. Similarly, never book a film or performance that you have not seen in its entirety.
  • The topic should not be too narrow or specialized unless the presenter is talking about something very compelling—focus on breadth rather than depth.
  • Talks should err on the shorter side (i.e. no more than 45 minutes) and have time built in for a Q&A session afterwards.
  • Encourage presentations that are spoken, not just read. Urge speakers to incorporate visual material—this makes the content more accessible.
  • Try not to depend on advanced reading for an event. If a text is critical, you may hand out a one-pager at the event.
  • Programs may be more dynamic if you use multiple speakers. For instance, a well-moderated panel or roundtable discussion may be more appealing than a single presenter.

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III. Audience Targeting

As you begin designing your events, take the time to define your target audience. For whom are you doing the program? Who is your existing audience? Who is your community? Which are other definable groups, not yet connected, you may want to target?

Recognize that typically, there are three circles of audiences: students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty and staff, and the broader public beyond campus walls. Also, within the general public, there are multiple constituencies to keep in mind. While some large events may have a wide draw, you cannot expect everything to appeal to everyone.

  • To take full advantage of guest presenters, consider offering two-part programs. Ask your visiting presenter to do a closed, “by invitation” presentation which is geared towards the academic community and then a more general program for the public. Be aware of this distinction, and how to conceive your program to draw both groups.
  • Bridging the town/gown gap can be very complex. Be well-informed about what the current issues are between the larger community and your institution before you start your outreach.
  • There are two kinds of audiences—the kind that is “built-in” (already has an interest in subject matter) and the kind that come because something else draws them in e.g., speaker name recognition, venue, social opportunities, etc.
  • Identify underserved communities and how they may be brought in.
  • Interfaith themes and partnerships can have great benefits, but be sure to weave in space for dialogue. It is also critical to have a savvy moderator when dealing with a potentially contentious issue.
  • In many areas, public program audiences are often retired community members. Is there a “snowbird” population in your community that you can tap into? Also, think about bringing programs to your retired population at synagogues, community centers, and homes for the elderly.
  • It may be a challenge to get people in their 20s or 30s in the door. Programming at venues they already frequent e.g., cafes, cultural organizations, museums, etc., may be an effective way have this group participate.
  • Potential audience members are not just those who can physically attend an event—consider ways to involve audiences virtually (creating podcasts, webinars, webcasts, etc).

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IV. Marketing and Outreach

How you do you get people to attend your programs? Sometimes you can lead a very aggressive marketing campaign and still only ten people show up for an event—it takes a lot of effort, persistence, and creativity just to get people in the door. Create a multifaceted marketing campaign, which incorporates traditional forms of outreach (e.g., press releases, postcards, print ads), as well as new media/technology.

Marketing Tools:

  • Word of mouth is critical and, perhaps, most effective
  • Website
  • E-mail blast
  • Listervs
  • Press release
  • Newsletter
  • Emailed institutional event announcements
  • Printed school/department calendar
  • Local blogs
  • Ads in local general/Jewish papers and journals and community center/synagogue newsletters and calendars
  • Postering/flyering (be conscious of whether or not your campus has a green/“no postering” policy)
  • Facebook ads/pages
  • Twitter
  • Local media outlets—PSAs and announcements on local radio stations
  • Announce at houses of worship and community centers

Word of Mouth:
Many programmers believe that outreach via word of mouth may be the most effective way to attract potential audience members to an event.

  • Ask colleagues and friends to attend and get commitments from your faculty. Contact professors from other fields and urge them to bring their colleagues, students, and friends. Do not be hesitant to stress the importance of an event and their attendance and do not be shy about repeated requests.
  • Encourage presenters to spread the word. Ask them to put event information on their websites or blogs, send e-mail blasts to their contact lists, share mailing lists, etc.
  • It can be a challenge to get students to come to events. Faculty should encourage undergraduate and graduate students to attend. Consider tying the program theme into syllabi or offering extra credit for attendance.
  • Ask local community leaders to attend and announce your event to their constituents—be persistent in asking them to get the word out.

Printed Marketing Materials/Graphic Designers:
Printed materials reflect the quality of an event and the hosting institution. A well-designed invitation can serve as a visual draw and add legitimacy to a program.

  • If at all possible, have marketing materials produced by graphic designers. Some designers may be willing to work pro bono or offer reduced rates. Also, look into local arts schools or programs. Graphic design students may want to design materials pro bono or at a low fee so they may further develop their portfolio.
  • Just knowing Pagemaker, Quark, or Indesign does not mean a person is an ideal match for designing your program’s materials. Be sure to interview potential designers and to carefully look at their portfolios.
  • Since a designer may have limited knowledge of Jewish culture, you should seek out someone who asks questions and runs ideas past you.
  • Printed marketing materials (i.e., invites, postcards, posters, etc.) serve as a permanent record of what you have accomplished, and remain long after an event. From the standpoint of fundraising, they are as important as the event itself in that they serve as documentation for grant-reporting and give ongoing and future supporters a sense of your accomplishments. Make sure to get plenty of extra copies.
  • Produce a poster if you are presenting a concert or other cultural performance. Posters are an important visual marker for the public. Many cafés and other local businesses will let you hang posters in their windows or on their community event boards.
  • On your marketing materials, include event title, date, time, venue, institution name/brand, contact information, RSVP instructions, directions (with public transportation information, if applicable), and appropriate donor/sponsor credit line and logos on all event announcements. Let people know if space is limited.

Take advantage of the technology available to you.

  • Make the most out of your investment and expand your virtual audience. Your audience need not be limited to who walks through your doors; consider recording and streaming events on-line.
  • Give upcoming programs a strong presence on your website.
  • Keep a running documentation of “past events/programs” on your website, as well as upcoming program information. Your website will give visitors a sense of what you have accomplished over time. This is especially true if you post materials on your site that one can browse through for both future and past events.

Additional Marketing/Outreach Tips:

  • Branding is critical. Have an institution and program brand visible on all marketing materials and at all events.
  • Do not spend too much of your program budget on print/online advertising. The effectiveness of print and online advertising is often hard to quantify and it is hard to know what actually gets people in the door. Several smaller ads in a newspaper or print publication can be more effective than a single large ad.
  • Create press releases with text that can be quoted directly, along with high-resolution images.
  • Be in touch with your Student Life office for assistance in promoting your events.
  • Give your program an attention-getting title (but not overdone); stay away from titles that are too narrow and specific.
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V. Community Partnerships and Co-sponsors

Create partnerships with various constituents, both inside and outside of your immediate academic community: this will help diversify your audience. Before reaching out to potential partners, ask yourself what you want to get out of a partnership. Who are your ideal partners? How would they impact the program? What are the short and long-term goals of partnering? Understand what the partnership means for all parties before officially collaborating and clarify how the partnership advances the interest of both institutions. Working with the right partners during the inception period of your programming will allow you to create stakeholders in the project and can lead to mutually beneficial, long-term relationships.

Potential community partners:

  • public library
  • museum(s) and art galleries
  • Jewish community organizations, i.e. JCC, JCRC, Federation, etc.
  • Synagogues, churches, mosques
  • other community-based/arts organizations
  • local humanities councils
  • performing arts venues
  • cafes
  • historical societies
  • other local businesses
  • local schools (high schools, other colleges/universities, etc.)
  • influential community members/individuals

Benefits you may get from a partnership:

  • Presenters
  • Publicity
  • Marketing
  • Audience
  • Funding
  • Planning expertise
  • Volunteers
  • Venue
  • Refreshments
  • Name recognition
  • Equipment/AV
  • Design/printing services
  • Technology
  • Mailing lists for current and future events
  • Sponsorship allows you to share the big costs with other institutions or departments. In particular, use a co-sponsor for cultural performances, which tend to be more costly to produce.
  • Community partnerships take a lot of work. Get clarity on the division of labor at the beginning as you divvy up responsibilities. For instance, who will make the opening remarks? Be clear about the hierarchy and use appropriate language to reflect it. Name organizational partnerships as “sponsorships” or “co-sponsorships.” Additional language may include: “In cooperation with...,” “with support of and in cooperation with...,” “organized by…, or “co-sponsored by...”.
  • Seek out commonalities with other departments or schools on campus. Consider partnering with other departments (History, Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Anthropology, etc.), campus organizations/clubs, or nearby schools.
  • Bring in local community members whom you respect to get their input and buy-in e.g., alumni or enthusiasts of the institution, lay intellectuals, community leaders, etc.
  • Think about building an advisory board of lay leaders. This group can inform what is needed off-campus, give perspective, and draw in diverse audiences. If you get these people involved early on in the planning process, they will come and bring their peers, because they feel invested.
  • Students, both undergraduate and graduate, can also be a helpful resource on an advisory board. They can give a sense of what topics their peers may be interested in.
  • Do not reinvent the wheel. Contact other organizations who are trying to, or are already, successfully producing similar or compatible programming and see if you can collaborate.
  • Be conscious of partnering with an advocacy institution. Some people will not go to a program if they get any sense of advocacy—left, right, or other.
  • Programming by committee has its challenges. Make sure it is clear who is leading the project and making decisions about the program—be weary of having “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
  • Decide whether a mailing list will be shared between partners afterwards.
  • Consider corporate sponsorship. Corporate sponsorship can provide many things, including in-kind donations.

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VI. Event Planning/Logistics
Below are various aspects of planning a program. It is always wise to begin the logistical planning as early as possible.

Create a project timeline, an event checklist, and an ongoing “to do” list from the inception of your program. You can adjust deliverables and deadlines as the project evolves. (See examples of event planning timelines.)

  • When scheduling events, always consult academic, religious, and community calendars to avoid conflicting events (e.g., sporting events—both local and national, presidential inaugurations, holidays, etc.)
  • Take into account how the seasons may affect your program. For instance, people tend to stay home in inclement weather. In the winter months, schedule films or offer programs which call on local talent—something that can be more easily cancelled and that does not depend on travel by presenters. You can also plan events in a city center during the winter so people can take public transportation, if applicable.
  • Keep in mind whether your region has a specific visitor or tourist season, which could significantly increase or decrease attendance.
  • Avoid scheduling events on Mondays to give yourself at least one weekday after a weekend to do final preparation.
  • Schedule enough lead time. Many venues fill their calendars at least a year ahead. Start planning for the upcoming academic year the January beforehand, at the latest.
  • Determine which offices at your institution should be involved with your event e.g., Conference and Event Services, Student Life, Office of Communications, Office of Public Safety, etc.
  • As soon as a date is set for your events, place dates on your Institution’s master calendar.

A space that complements your programming is essential for success.

  • Do not rent a venue sight unseen.
  • Know how accessible the space is, if it meets ADA requirements, and if it is up to code, etc. Also, be aware of the venue’s legal occupancy limits.
  • Determine if any licenses, permits, or insurance is needed to host your event.
  • Reserve venues early on and find out if it is required to rent equipment.
  • Carefully review all contracts and be clear about who is responsible for what.
  • Determine whether it is appropriate to use a Jewish community space (i.e., synagogue, JCC, JCRC, Hillel, etc.) for specific events.

A speaker can determine the success or failure of a program. Be clear with your speakers in regards to the parameters of the event and what is expected.

  • Never present a formal invite until after you have conceptualized your program.
  • From the onset, be clear with presenters about what specific expenses are covered and what are not (e.g., honoraria, speaking fees, per diems, lodging, meals, transportation, etc.).
  • Familiarize yourself with all of the appropriate paperwork that needs to be filled out, i.e. visas, tax forms, and contracts.
  • Send letters to presenters regarding all requirements and paperwork, e.g., CV, bio, dietary restrictions, travel logistics, lodging, AV needs, tax and visa forms, presentation titles and synopses. Provide a letter or contract detailing what you have agreed upon. One month before the program, follow-up to confirm that forms have been completed. Also provide welcome kits and full itineraries just prior to their arrival.
  • Develop relationships of respect and trust with presenters and treat them like honored guests. Consider hosting dinner the evening prior to your event. A visitor who is well taken care of will be more likely to want to return in the future.
  • When presenters are on campus, take advantage of the resource you have on your hands. In addition to participating in the event, ask guest lecturers to speak in classes, to the press, and to meet other faculty.
  • Aim to have out-of-town participants fly in the night prior to your event, in case there are delays or cancellations.
  • Have speaker payment available immediately following event. Process reimbursements as soon as event is complete.

Budget Planning:
Write out a realistic budget covering all aspects of your project, and use the budget as a guide as you plan your program. If you have little or no experience with budget planning, go to your Finance Office for guidance.

Refreshments at an event can play an important role in community building—the best conversations often happen over food. Food is also an extra incentive for attendance. Although food can be a drain on expenses, it is ideal to offer something.

  • Be as generous as possible. At the least, offer coffee, cookies, and fruit.
  • Depending on your audience’s dietary needs, offer kosher when possible (keep in mind that kosher catering can be more expensive).
  • Be sure to know the University/venue’s policies in regards to catering/food on-site.

Day of event:
Everyone has his or her own checklists for event logistics, but the following are a few recommendations.

  • Confirm plans with vendors and venue (week/day before event).
  • Run an AV/sound check a few hours prior to your event.
  • Arrive at least two hours early to manage vendors, set up, volunteers, and presenters.
  • Have sign-in forms and a guest-list set up at a registration table.
  • Have a camera to record each event. If you are videotaping or recording the event, make sure to get approval from the participants beforehand.
  • Have water available for all speakers.
  • When applicable, have name tags and placards printed and on site.
  • Have copies of any surveys you may be handing out, and of any signage that needs to be put up.
  • If needed, have a printed copy of introductions and thanks.
  • Reserve back rows of seats for late comers and to get the audience closer towards the front to make the space feel fuller.
  • Reserve several front row seats for supporters/VIPs.
  • Thank everyone involved with the program. Be sure to give verbal acknowledgment of funders and co-sponsors.
  • Collect attendance information and have attendees fill out surveys.

When things go wrong/Troubleshooting:
Remember that you are not responsible for those things that are not in your hands e.g., weather, illness, and family emergencies. As you plan your event, try to anticipate worse case scenarios and expect to think on your feet.

  • If there is potential for controversy, be sure to build in room for dialogue and have an effective moderator. Sometimes you cannot predict if someone’s politics or topic will upset the audience.
  • Have back up plans for: speakers not showing up or AV failure.
  • Think through how to manage a bad talk or a talk that goes over people’s heads.

Program Evaluation/Assessment:
In addition to getting attendance numbers and audience demographic information, it is important to try to measure something which may feel immeasurable: impact. How did this program make peoples lives better? What did they learn? Would they return for another university-produced event?

  • Require pre-registration. This helps you prepare for how many people will attend and gives you some basic demographic information.
  • Have a sign-in at the door, which includes attendees’ names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.
  • As the coordinator, attend all programs. Walk the space during the program and note the audiences’ expressions and body language.
  • Build in time for informal conversation between the attendees and the speakers afterwards.
  • Listen to the conversations afterwards and talk with attendees to collect anecdotal feedback.
  • It can be a challenge getting audience members to fill out surveys, but this information will be crucial for future program planning and fundraising. You may want to have attendees fill out surveys on-line. Some websites let you create your own survey, these include; Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo. If possible, offer some sort of incentive for filling out forms e.g., one-day free admission to your school’s museum or a coupon from a bookstore.

Click here for our Program Evaluation Best Practices guide.

Post Event Follow-Up/Evaluation:
Prompt follow-up shortly after each event is critical.

  • Hold a "lessons learned" meeting immediately after each event—ideally within a couple of days of the program.
  • Make changes to future programs based on survey feedback and your "lessons learned" session.
  • Send out thank you notes to all presenters, co-sponsors, staff, and volunteers.
  • Process all invoices for payment.

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VIII. Useful Links

Brandeis University
Comprehensive Guide/Conference and Events Services
Event Planning Checklist

Texas Commission on the Arts
Tools for Results Tool Kit
Programs and Exhibitions: The Basics
Internal Program Evaluation Template
Program Documentation

Five Pointers for a Successful and Enjoyable Program

Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the Arts, Culture and Community
by Donna Walker-Kuhne

University of Texas at Dallas
Event Planning Guide
Pre-planning Checklist
Tips and Tricks—Things I Wish I’d Known
Cancellation Guide

West Virginia University
Suggested Event Planning Timeline

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