Having spent 15 years as a CEO in the music industry – I was not a stranger to running events.  This was different however – working with a group of volunteers as opposed to employees.

Background to the Event

The event was a fund-raiser for our not for profit organization called CSAN – short for the Canadian Southern African Network.

We have 3 pillars that underpin our Mission:

  • To Connect people – those with Southern African roots and our Canadian friends
  • To Have Fun and perhaps most importantly …
  • To Give Back.

The event itself was called  A Southern African Celebration held on June 21, 2012

[summer solstice] for just over 300 people at the Evergreen Brickworks.

Our evening overall was a success, based on the positive feedback we received and the fact that we raised a little over $30,000 for 2 charities – Zim Art and Mariposa in the Schools

With the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight here are some of lessons learned along the way – that may be useful to you if you are planning an event working with volunteers.

7 Lessons Learned

1.     Getting true commitment and “buy-in”

It’s essential to make sure you get “buy-in” and a true commitment from all the team members who are going to be involved in the event.  As a team – we agreed to move forward with our event in about September 2011

When the rubber hit the road in April, 2012,  when the planning had been done and it was now time to start selling tickets – it became clear that some members of the team had not fully  “bought-into” the event

This resulted in sluggish ticket sales  and a great deal of stress,  as some members had to pick-up the slack,  to make sure we had the numbers to cover costs,  let alone make money for the 2 charities to whom we had committed

2.  Remember – “The devil is in the details”

Here are number of things that caught us by surprise:

  • The contract with Evergreen Brickworks where we held the event was very clear in respect to the big picture costs we were paying for. So once I knew the primary cost of the rental of the space – I chose to ignore the details.
  •  Had the contract been explained to me or had I thought to have questioned more rigorously some of the clauses open to interpretation in the beginning, we maybe could have avoided some of the unpleasantness between ourselves and  Brickworks whose inflexible, almost bureaucratic approach on their part,  put a lot of negative energy in the final week of the event.
  • Live and silent auctions can be a real “bear”. You need to think through every little detail and have a group of volunteers who know exactly what you want them to do. As an example – we were not absolutely clear when the silent auction was “officially closed”  and no more bids would be accepted .This resulted in people still bidding after the cut-off time had been announced. This caused considerable aggravation and disappointment for some who would have bid again or thought that theirs was the last bid. Our system to accept payment was also under-manned and a little disorganized causing long delays for people picking-up what they had “bought” on a day when we had record high temperatures.

3.     Don’t under-estimate the job to “sell” tickets

It’s not a surprising fact – but some people on your fund raising team may be very uncomfortable in their “selling role”.

The following will help minimize the problem:

  • Start by asking each person involved to make a list of potential guests.
  • Get commitments for the number of tickets to be sold by each person on the team.
  • Set a group “target” number – you need this for cost planning of course.
  • Track that number of tickets sold  and circulate the results on a weekly basis
  • Ask those selling to be the first to buy their own tickets.
  • Help the doubters get comfortable and “believe-in” what the event entails – the charities you are supporting and most importantly the reasonableness of your ticket price[ in our case $175 per person].
  • Role-play “the pitch” – either by phone or face to face.
  • Share success stories and best practices as you begin selling.
  • Selling tickets for a fund raiser is a transactional sale with a very short sell cycle. Aim for a one call or maximum 2 call close, by getting the prospects Visa card immediately you have agreement to come to the event.
  • Encourage those coming to make up a party or at least give you the names of others you can call.
  • Don’t be shy to reach-out to all those who provide you with services – your insurance agent, financial planner etc

4.     You can’t start the planning process too early

You should have most of your details such as – theme, messaging,  venue, price per ticket, budgets [including the money you are hoping to raise for your charity] food, entertainment, target donors for the auction plus any “sponsorships” – determined 6  months prior to the event, so that all the effort in the final 6 months can be focused on execution and selling.

5.     Apply Murphy’s Law

Try and anticipate everything that can go wrong and what you would do if that happened.

We were at a venue that had a roof and no air conditioning and was otherwise exposed to the elements on sides. We had not planned for the hottest day of the year on record or massive rain storm! This meant most people arrived late creating unforeseen complications in respect to when we could start things, not to mention scrambling to move the decorated tables out of the rain.

We managed to adapt – but again it was very nerve racking, some of which we may have avoided had we had done a little more “what if “scenario planning.

6.     Let them know you love them – even before you run the event

We all know what an amazing job Barak Obama did in raising millions of dollars for his first election campaign.

Even as smart as he is – he is being criticized today for not having “shown the love” to donors after the election – making it harder to go back to the well again this time.

Recognize your donors and supporters every step of the way to help build momentum.

Equally important – after its all over – thank them again for supporting the event  and sharing with them the money raised that they were a part of.

 7.     Conduct a post-mortem after the event

While the event is still fresh in everyone’s mind conduct a post-mortem to determine

  • What worked well and
  • What could have been done better?

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