Yay! Our very first event.
It was to be the inaugural event for our nonprofit. It was noncompetitive hike in the park: three courses, easy, medium and kinda challenging. We had secured the park, the permits and the date, now it was time to di the event planing deliver the whole shooting match.
The beautiful big meadow at the base of the trails would hold our stage for speakers and entertainment, tables for food and drink, tables with silent auction items and a collection of massage tables and massage therapists in the corner. A wide wooden footbridge over a dry shallow creek bed connected the parking lot to the meadow.
Treats for the Guests
My assignment was to acquire more donations for the silent auction and round up more people to do massage, face paint, entertaining stuff: this should be fun. Since this was my first really big volunteer job, I was going to be partnered with a woman who had done this before; she called and asked me to come to her house.
Ooops, Change in Plans
When I got there, it was pandemonium, stuff all over the place and a big truck out front.
‘Hi Cindy,’ she said, ‘my husband got a huge promotion and we are moving to New York this week. It’s kind of nuts here as you can see, so the bad news is you have to take over my volunteer responsibilities.
“Sorry, you are on your own.’’ I had never even considered stuff like this, much less have a clue how to go about handling it all.
Great, fantastic. Her jobs sounded nasty and no fun: ordering all the portapotties, figuring out where to put them, parking and security. Does not sound like fun. Portapotties, really?
Formulas for Portapotties?
Ok, onward. It turns out there are formulas for figuring out how many of what kind to order: how many men versus women, how long is the event, how much water and beverages you will be providing, what is the projected temperature for that day and so on. Those numbers would then tell us what we needed to bring into the park.
The silver lining: like most women, I have had the rather unpleasant experience of having to go, only to walk up to a big long line to get to the restroom. This would be my chance to see to it that didn’t happen. After some creative math and help from the Portapotty people, we made sure there were more portapotties and sinks to wash hands than our calculations suggested and still met the budget.
Worked out great, and as with many things that only get comments when they go wrong, we had no complaints or problems at all. Wow!
Dude, Where’s My Car
Parking, another bane of my existence. We were expecting about 1000 hikers and guests (hoping actually), that would be a lot of cars. There were no designated spots, it would be a free for all. Seeing my stupefied face, a park ranger suggested I call the sheriff’s office and ask if a couple of cadets could come over and help out. They did and were great. Cars were lined up, with enough room to get out, and I think they liked telling people where to go.
We ended up with about 800 attendees; once they got everyone situated they came to the meadow to check in, hike, eat, etc.
My other responsibility was security, which I honestly took pretty lightly. We were at a national park, it was daylight and my whole nonprofit group was there as well. I did keep an eye on things and deputized a couple of kids to watch over the items for sale in the meadow. ( this was long before the need for so much more security was necessary).
Was going smoothly, until……a couple came up to me, telling me their car had been broken into, and the guy’s wallet was gone. Shit, now what?
My handy dandy cadets! They came out and patrolled around, and made themselves very visible. No one else had a problem with their cars, so it must have worked. And it did make us look more organized than we ( I) was. There were no other incidents or thefts, thank goodness.
Ahhh, alrighty then. People were peeing, cars were moving in and out smoothly. When I walked out to take a look at the parking lot, I noticed a big group of people with red shirts on. Getting closer, they were group of underpaid employees and they wanted to come it to get signatures on a petition for better wages and benefits for them.
The leader was really aggressive, ‘this is a public park and you can’t legally keep us out.’
Which was true. I am normally very supportive of these kinds of things, but not today. There were at least 30 of them; I was outnumbered. Since it was a weekend, there was no ranger on duty that day and this was pre cell phone era to call the sheriff.
They advanced toward the entrance, backing me up towards the bridge into our event. Frankly, I was scared.
To be honest, I didn’t want them eating our food, drinking our drinks, getting massages. We busted our butts to make this thing happen for us. Food was calculated the same way portapotties were, we did not have enough for 30 more people that that didn’t pay an entrance fee, donate or provide sponsorship. They were right to campaign for their cause, but no way was I going let them attempt to hijack ours.
Be belligerent would neither help me or the situation- what to do? Then it came to me; yes, indeed the park was public, but our event was not. So they could stay on the parking lot side of the bridge, but could not come into the meadow. They were free to ask our guests, as they were leaving, to sign their petition. The lead guy said OK and they stood at the front of the parking lot so anyone going towards their care had to deal with them.
Not optimal, but workable. Actually, they only stayed for an hour or so then just left. I do hope they got some signatures for coming all the way out, would be a shame for all that effort and travel to be a total bust.
So, what’s the point?
While I would have much rather gone out to ask for donations of goods and gift certificates, the realization came to me that I really ended up with the best job of all.
I learned that what I thought were priorities were in fact, not. What I thought were simply necessary evils were, in fact, not evil at all, in fact they were the opposite.
Our hike ended up being an event where there was
- no standing the in line for the restroom,
- here was enough room to park the car and actually get out it, and
- had some semblance of oversight for our visitors and guests.
Bathroom, car, and safety are all things we care deeply about and problems with any of them can ruin someone’s day. Yeah, maybe not so sexy as a gift certificate to the spa, but they do addresses few really essential human needs.
The lesson was and is, the details. Pay attention to the not exciting or pretty part of your event, not doing so will end up being a lot less pretty for everyone.
Make sure the non-event elements are thought through from the perception of your guest. Be sure there are enough guys at the valet stand for all the cars, make sure signage to the restrooms are easy to find and follow. Security is a much bigger issue these days than then- and no less crucial. Think about what could go wrong, and have a plan.
Initially, the thought of dealing with portapotties made me gag; the realization that having the things that everyone has to deal with all the time go smoothly can make (or break, if they don’t) is absolutely key for a successful fundraising event.
Being comfortable and feeling that the organizers have gone out of their way to assure a good experience for the guests is as important as your mission and goals.
Make sure your event delivers this is critical, even if it can seem stinky.
Happy, well-cared for guests come back!
Need help tackling essential tasks that are new to you? Do call, there is help. 310 828 6979
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