Tag Archives: special events

“Green Eggs and Strategic Plans” and other nonprofit children’s books

teddy-bear-792191_640Hi everyone, I am happy to announce that my wife and I are expecting another baby, due in March. I know, you’d think we would have learned our lesson the first time. I am excited and, honestly, a little terrified. Having a newborn and a toddler at the same time, that must be as challenging as, I don’t know, planning two annual fundraising events simultaneously.

Anyway, in honor of this soon-to-arrive baby, I wrote more children’s books about nonprofits. I want to build up a nice collection of books about nonprofits, so I can read them to the kids so they can understand what Daddy does and why one of his eyes twitches so much. And maybe they might start thinking early about pursuing careers in our sector. I mean, I’m not going to pressure them or anything, but a little encouragement can’t hurt. Continue reading

Standardized answers to the Sustainability Question

beach-690125_960_720Hi everyone, last week the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a piece I wrote on the Sustainability Myth. Warning: The piece is for paid subscribers, but it was adapted from this post—“Can we all just admit there is no such thing as nonprofit sustainability?”—which you should check out, since it talks about teeth tattoos, which is an earned-income strategy I am working on in order to increase my organization’s “sustainability.” Tattoos on one’s canines and incisors will be the next big thing in society, trust me, and my organization is going to ride that wave.

Recently I wrote a grant proposal for $30,000, and of course, at the end, there it was, the Sustainability Question. “How will you sustain your program when support from the XYZ foundation runs out?” I took a deep breath. And by “taking a deep breath,” I meant chugging a mini bottle of vodka I keep in my laptop bag. Then I looked at pictures of cute baby animals. That always helps me to calm down. Continue reading

9 tips to ensure your event is vegan-friendly

salad-791891_960_720Today, I want to talk about a pervasive issue, one that has seen very little daylight, yet it affects a significant number of nonprofit professionals each year: Crappy, crappy vegan food at nonprofit functions.

Now, this post today is not trying to convert anyone to veganism, which is a diet free of all animal products, even though peer-reviewed studies show that people who switch to a balanced plant-based diet become on average 38% better looking to members of both sexes and are much more likely to win the lottery. Continue reading

“On the Threshold of Awesome”: An ED’s speech to his staff before the annual event

Source: alanarnette.com

My team, this week will be our organization’s annual fundraising event. These three words have struck fear into the hearts of even the bravest of us since the beginning of time.

The intensity of the past fortnight must be acknowledged. I see it on your weary faces, gaunt from lack of sleep, haunted by endless tasks, by worst-case scenarios, and by the merciless passage of the hours. I see it on your hands, marked by papercuts from sponsorship packets and development committee meeting agendas. I hear it on your voices, made frail by hours of phone calls to vendors, guests, volunteers, and the Liquor License Board.

No one would think less of you for admitting that you feel some trepidation now, at this moment, three days before the culmination of all our hard work for the past seven months. I, too, am nervous, and during my own slumberless nights, I confess that I sometimes envision running off into the wilderness to live as a hermit, surviving with small woodland creatures I’ve befriended who help me gather berries and mushrooms. I would have a pet chipmunk named Mr. Squeaken, and Mr. Squeaken and I would live a simple existence in the forest, away from speeches and auctions and check-out lines.

It is OK and normal for all of us to feel nervousness and even fear at this time. For the things in life that are most worth doing will usually be the hardest. We as human beings all feel fear at various points in our lives. But did fear stop Sir Edmund Hillary? Did fear stop Lewis and Clark? Did fear stop the Wright Brothers? No! They ALL had to plan at least one annual fundraising event, and they did fine. Yes, Sir Edmund Hillary also had challenges with the registration line. And we all know Lewis and Clark’s “Hot Soup Dash” resulted in minor injuries to many guests, and thus everyone now does “Dessert Dash” instead. Despite these challenges, their events were successful.

I know then, from history, that our event will be OK. In fact, it will be awesome. It will be awesome because the work we do to lift up families and communities is important and this event is toward furthering this goal. It will be awesome because our supporters are some of the most generous and understanding and good-looking people ever and they will forgive minor mistakes. It will be awesome because it has been getting more and more awesome every year since we started doing this.

As importantly, it will be awesome because we are us. Look around you. Are these not some of the most brilliant and talented people you have ever worked with? Is this not the most dedicated Development Director and Development Committee and board members ever? Sure, we are slightly disheveled after moving large pieces of decoration and picking up 40 vases and whatnot, and the stubbed toes and carpal tunnel don’t help. And James, you should see a doctor about your twitching eye. But we are a team, an amazing team, and if anyone can pull this off, it will be us.

The next three days will be more intense than ever. Last-minute registrations will come in, and we will be spending hours figuring out which table is placed where. Some people will cancel. Some sponsors won’t be able to fill their seats and we will rush to fill them. Critical volunteers may come down with the stomach virus and not be able to help. There will always be a case of stomach virus at this time. Desperate calls will be made. There may be some crying in the fetal position, but I will try to control myself. The office will be packed with crap. Many of us will stay late preparing logistics while listening to 90’s hip-hop. During these next three days, we must be patient with and supportive of one another, even of those coworkers who keep playing Dave Mathews Band’s “Proudest Monkey” over and over again, arguably one of the dumbest songs ever written, for God’s sake!

But it will all be worth it. Our students and families and community depend on our programs. We will have an incredible event, an event for the history books, an event that we will tell our grandkids about. Long after we are all gone and time has erased our footprints and other traces of our lives, people will still be talking about this day. And they will say, “Those folks at that organization, they did good. I’m glad my grandparents raised their paddle.” Then they will hop on their hover board and fly off to the moon or something.

So have heart. We now stand on the threshold of awesome, and this week we will cross it. We will do so because we are us, and we always get stuff done. You may feel stress and trepidation now, but remember the inspiring words of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He said, “The only thing we have to fear…is probably audiovisual glitches. That $#!% will seriously mess up your event.”

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Having a baby vs. planning an annual event, which is scarier?

(This is not my baby. This is a cute Google Image baby.)

(This is not my baby. This is a cute Google Image baby.)

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.