In less than three weeks, my son will be born, and I’ll be a father for the first time. I am very nervous about being a father. Terrified, really. But not nearly as terrified as I am of our annual dinner, which is coming up shortly after the baby is born.
Annual events are some of the most terrifying things we nonprofit people deal with. According to statistics I’ve Googled and/or made up, they are responsible for 77% of nervous breakdowns experienced by nonprofit staff and board members (Endless useless meetings and co-workers who leave their dishes in the sink for days make up the other 5% and 18%, respectively).
I started talking to other ED’s, and while all of them agree that special events are scary—with a couple of ED’s hyperventilating at the words “special events” and had to breathe into a paper bag while the rest of us chant “general operating, general operating” over and over to calm them down—some say that having a baby is scarier.
So, let us examine this as objectively as we can in order to determine which is scarier, having a baby, or planning an annual fundraising event. We will base our analysis on several dimensions: Fragility, Dependency, Time, Ickiness, Effort, Community Perception, and Cuteness.
Fragility: Babies are fragile, being all tiny and stuff. They are helpless, especially in the beginning, during their larval conical-head stage. Annual events are also fragile, held in check usually by one event planner with an increasingly twitchy eye who at any moment might strangle the rest of the planning committee, causing the whole thing to implode. Still, no one says, “It’s as easy as taking candy from a hyper-caffeinated special event planner.” In terms of scariness, the edge goes to babies on this dimension.
Dependency: Babies depend on us for everything. Meanwhile, we depend on the annual dinner for unrestricted funds, usually to plug up major gaps in the budget. Still, if for some reason my wife and I are not here, we have a good network of relatives to ensure our baby is well taken care of. If the annual dinner does not go well, though, we may have to lay off staff, cut down on health insurance, and use one-ply toilet paper. Annual event clearly wins this one.
Time: Annual events take six months to a year to plan, with an additional six months to acknowledge all the donors and do the accounting and recover from the fist-fights and nervous breakdowns. Babies take 18 years to raise to adulthood, and then an additional 7 to 10 years for them to “find themselves” and become independent. Babies win this one.
Ickiness: Babies tend to throw up and do worse things to you. You have to change their diapers. No one at an annual event throws up on anyone, except that one dinner in 2009, when an Executive Director had way too much pinot noir after not eating much food because there was nothing vegan. Edge: babies.
Effort: Babies take up all of a couple’s energy, with the constant feeding, bathing, entertaining, teaching, guarding from danger. They keep parents up at night. Annual events take up a whole bunch of people’s energy, with courting sponsors, table captains, volunteers, arranging decorations, making a moving video, organizing a program, arranging tables strategically, auctions, silent auctions, raffles, registration, dealing with registration issues, dealing with crappy audio, cleaning up, thanking people, accounting. It keeps a whole bunch of people up at night. Edge: annual event.
Community perception: People are evolutionarily programmed to like babies. People with babies receive residual good will. Annual events can bring good will to an organization, but if a whole bunch of things go wrong, or maybe one thing, such as the ED’s slurring during his speech and ranting about wombats, because of a couple glasses of wine, they can screw an organization’s image and destroy relationships and lead to the board’s imposing an unfair two-drink limit on staff. Edge: annual events.
All right, so that’s 3 for babies, 3 for annual events. It’s a tie, and the final dimension is Cuteness. While there are some donors who are adorable (especially if they raise their paddle at the right level and have that sparkle in their eye), the general consensus is that babies are cuter. If babies are cute, it means they are not scary, so annual events wins this dimension in terms of scariness.
Based on my thorough scientific analysis, it is conclusive: Babies are terrifying, but at least they’re cuddly, which is more than we can say for annual events. However, the combination of having a baby at the same time as an annual event is the most terrifying of all possible realities, so if anyone needs me, I’ll be under my cubicle desk in the fetal position with a case of pinot noir until May or June.