Lessons learned honoring First Lady Nancy Reagan

Honoring First Lady Nancy Reagan - photo credit Reis Birdwhistell

Lessons Learned honoring First Lady Nancy Reagan – photo credit Reis Birdwhistell

I had the news on in the background while I was reading. My pups Kiwi and Keno were asleep on the sofa.

Then I heard a news report about First Lady Nancy Reagan’s links to Atlanta. Ms. Reagan was honored at a PRIDE (National Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education) conference.

I sat straight up and yelled “Wow, that was my event!”

The conference had programs for young people and adults. Highlights included workshops with internationally recognized drug abuse experts, community leaders and law enforcement officers. Celebrity participants included wives of world leaders and well-known actors committed to Nancy Reagan’s ‘Just Say No project.’

Included within the 2-day conference was a fundraising luncheon featuring Mrs. Reagan hosted by then Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta. How fortunate I was to learn how to manage the luncheon from Ms. Be Haas, a founding partner, Haas, Cox, Alexander.

I want to share event management lessons learned from honoring First Lady Nancy Reagan:

Event management is like a high wire act without a net!

Plan ahead:

  1. Start with robust brainstormingBring your board members, volunteers and new voices to the table.
  2. Set clear objectivesYou’ll know what is important during the event and you’ll be prepared to gauge your effectiveness.
  3. Create a timeline A comprehensive timeline will guide you from start to finish!

Promote, promote, promote. Although there are a lot more channels to use to create buzz, the fundamentals of matching your choices with your target audience preferences and goals still stands. Now you want to create a Digital Ripple to promote your event.

Brand Your event – Special event branding creates an experience and/or memory that participants will not forget. And, done properly, the event will carry the brand promise of an organization and add to the public knowledge of its mission, vision and values.

Don’t forget to evaluate your event – Evaluation is critical to your success.

Protocol is of utmost importance! – The lessons I learned working with First Lady Nancy Reagan and the wives of world leaders continue to position my success when managing special events.

Most importantly, I always learn as much as I can about an honoree or guest speaker, from their favorite foods to their favorite color.

I discovered Nancy Regean’s favorite color was red.

Can you see the red streaks in my hair?!

Do you have any event management tips you’d like to share?

As always would love to hear from you!

Online Giving is Key to Successful Fundraising


I’m not going to inundate you with too many statistics – only a few!

 Here are some key findings from The 2012 Charitable Giving Report. This is just an overview of the report with an emphasis on online giving trends. To review the complete report, click here.

  • Overall giving continued its slow recovery and grew approximately 2% in 2012.
  • Online giving grew by about 11% in 2012 compared to 2011.
  • Online fundraising was 7% of all giving in 2012, an increase from 2011.
  • Small nonprofits had the greatest increase in overall fundraising in 2012 while medium-sized organizations led online.
  • Nonprofits have embraced the reality that social media is required to optimize fundraising and engagement opportunities. The average donation made through social media networks has continued to grow — $38 in 2010 to $59 in 2012, a 55% increase.

This means that it is important for your organization to maximize your online giving. Although most of these suggestions are simple and you might say, “Well, duh,” I suggest you create a checklist and see if you’re making online giving appealing and easy.

  • Our website is visually interesting
  • We have easy to find contact information on the homepage
  • We keep relevant content updated
  • Our Donate Now button is prominent and easy to find
  • We provide a link to our donation page in all our materials
  • We have an easy to understand donation URL that we add to our phone message
  • We track our donors so we can monitor which pages are getting the most hits and which sources are sending the greatest number of visitors to our donation page.
  • We keep the number of clicks necessary to make a donation to a minimum.
  • We test the donation  form to ensure that it is easy to follow and doesn’t take too long to complete
  • We provide a contact name and number/email on the donation form
  • We have an auto-reply set up that thanks our donors for their gift
  • We provide personalized fundraising pages for our events & Friends & Family campaigns
  • Our donation page works well on mobile devices
  • We make sure we stay in touch with all our donors and share what a difference their donation makes

Why not invite a few board members, volunteers and clients to be Donors for a Day. Then invite everyone to a brainstorming session to discuss their experiences.

I promise you’ll learn a lot about your online giving. And, who knows, you might get some donations along the way!

There are a number of blog posts and resources on online giving. You might want to check out:

  1. Network for Good’s 10 Fundraising Mantras for 2013 
  2. The Benefits of Online Giving
  3. 3 Advantages to Online Fund Raising

If you have any suggestions to add to the checklist I’d love to hear from you.



A tribute to a great event chair

Event co-Chairs celebrate Eizenstat Lecture with President Clinton

I was saddened to learn that Marshall Solomon had died. Our paths crossed when he chaired two Eizenstat Family Memorial Lectures.

To say that Marshall was the consummate event chair is an understatement.

I learned a lot from working with Marshall, especially on the lecture featuring President Bill Clinton. As the event consultant I came to rely on Marshall’s sage advice and willingness to keep the committee and ultimately the event on point.

In honor of Marshall I share some of the lessons I learned:

  • A committed event Chair is key to success.
  • Work with the Chair to hold a brainstorming session when you begin the planning.
  • A personal invitation from the event chair to serve on and/or chair a committee goes a long way.
  • A Chair cannot oversee the event- at- large if not updated in ‘real time’.
  • If you make a mistake be sure your Chair is informed so he/she can be part of the solution.
  • Know what personal mark the Chair wants to make and help him/her achieve it.
  • The Chair means having to make big decisions. Respect the decision.
  • Never forget that being Chair is a volunteer position & most have other responsibilities to family & work.
  • The only compensation is acknowledgement of a job well done and a thank you.
  • You can’t recognize and thank your event Chair enough.
  • No matter how organized and experienced the Chair and committee Chairs are, something will go wrong. So be prepared to deal with it.
  • An event Chair with an understanding of budgets and the backbone to keep the event on-budget is worth his/her weight in gold.
  • An event is a team effort. An event Chair is the quarterback and cheerleader.

Marshall and I had different interests. But, when it came to working together on an event we had a single focus.

Thank you Marshall.


Are you converting your event donors to program donors?

Your nonprofit just completed a successful event. Whether it was a black-tie dinner or fun run, you now have a great opportunity to engage the participants and acquire new donors and/or sponsors.

Create a conversion campaign. Add post-event action steps into your event planning. Here are some simple, but powerful ideas:

  • Post-event surveys
  • Invitations to sign up for e-newsletter
  • Updates on programs
  • Announcements of volunteer opportunities at future events and programs
  • Invitation to hold a third party event (see earlier post The Lure of Independent Fundraising Events)
  • Other ways to stay in touch
  • Add information about your programs and the people you touch in your auto-responder
  • Use Social Media to encourage and sustain conversations
  • Add information to your website and e-newsletter on what you are doing as a result of the fundraising event.
  • Schedule ways to stay in contact
  • Hold a brain storming session with your leadership to identify prospects.
  • Develop an email conversion strategy to educate and encourage a lasting relationship.

You need to be realistic. You need to analyze the reasons people came to your event. Then tailor your outreach to your prospects:

  • Were they asked by a friend? If so, you might be able to engage them to hold an independent fundraising event.
  • Do they support your mission? Invitations to on-site visits and lectures with leading authorities in your field will be appealing.
  • Are family members touched by the issues you tackle? In this case a compelling  appeal focused on a specific program that will help ensure quality of life might lead to a new donation.

Regardless of the pathway, be sure to say thank you and stay in touch. In today’s world, you can launch a conversion campaign through your electronic fundraising provider. Speak with your website designer to ensure that your landing page is up-to-date and makes it easy to contact you and make a donation.

Do you have any examples of successful conversion programs? Need any help?

Please contact me at deborah@creative-si.com



AJFF 2012 soars above the ‘social media noise’

Let’s face it – the more important  social media becomes to marketing special events, the more difficult it is to be heard above the ‘social media noise.’

The AJFF 2012 is scheduled to start for February 8th. Incredible that more than 21,000 tickets sold in the first two weeks of sales!

How is the film festival getting above the noise? A focused year-round marketing plan topped with strong social media is key.

AJFF communication strategies consist of a blend of online buzz with compelling content for social media websites and consistent outreach to secure coverage in the news.

To ensure that the AJFF team reached its communications objectives to cultivate diverse audiences, increase awareness and enhance coverage, the marketing committee held brainstorming sessions and developed a social media content calendar.

AJFF 2012 Facebook page is visually compelling. I’m one of the more than 1500 people who have liked the page. Each day I get engaging posts with tickler descriptions of different films including video-clip trailers and reminders to purchase tickets.

AJFF website is geared to provide information on films, location of theatres and ticket sales. The online media center contains press releases and press kits – everything bloggers, reporters and twitter influentials need. Contact information is visible. Email queries and phone calls are answered promptly.

In an earlier post Promoting a Film Festival in 3 weeks! I describe marketing tools to use to increase the buzz and ticket sales for a film festival.

If you would like a copy of my film festival PR template, please contact me at deborah@creative-si.com.

Special thanks to Brad Pilcher and Shayne Walsey, AJFF communication co-chairs and Kendel White from Weber Shandwick for their hard work to make AJFF 2012 a communications success.

Now, if you will excuse me I need to finish ordering my tickets for the festival before they’re sold out!

Looking back – moving forward

As 2012 begins, it is the perfect time to look back to move forward.

What worked? What didn’t? What could have been even better?

Be sure and invite board members as well as staff to look back to 2011 with you so you can productively move forward.

Make the session upbeat. Celebrate your successes and learn from your challenges.

I’ll help you start with a few opening questions. These are based on lessons I learned over the past year – and beyond.

Did you –

  1. Create/update your strategic marketing plan? Did you really use it?
  2. Base all your marketing communications messages on your mission? Or did you go off message?
  3. Cull/update your database? Identify from whom you had not heard?
  4. Reach out to donors and volunteers and thank them – and then thank them again?
  5. Stay the course and build on your successes, or were you swayed to deviate from your project plans? If so, did it work?
  6. Capitalize on your branded special events or try something new? Were you as successful?
  7. Build-in evaluations throughout the year? Create benchmarks to ensure quality?
  8. Ensure that you know your audiences and that your audiences know you?
  9. Invite new voices to participate in your brainstorming?
  10. Launch a social media campaign? How did it work, how can it grow?

Please stay in touch. Let me know what’s on your mind and how I can help you launch a very successful 2012!

You can always reach me at deborah@creative-si.com or visit our Facebook page .

Building Your Special Event around an Awards Program

2010 DeKalb Public Safety Champion Awards

“Who is your Pubic Safety Champion?”

The DeKalb Police Alliance was trying to find a way to increase awareness and funding through their upcoming special event. They knew they needed that something special to tell their story and brand their event.

The 2010 DeKalb Public Safety Champion Awards filled the bill! The awards competition became the story, increasing interest in the organization and the upcoming Police Officers Ball. And, it became the linchpin that pulled together all the elements of the event.

The awards honored men and women in public safety and the community who went above and beyond the call of duty to keep everyone safe. An eye-catching nomination form highlighting the Champion Award statuette was key to all promotional activities, including presentations, press releases, social media initiatives and articles. An on-line nomination form gained the most nominations. All people and organizations nominated were recognized as Champion Honorees; the winners were recognized and saluted at the event.

Here are some hints on how you can create an awards program to better tell your story:

  1. Brainstorm – Invite board members and stakeholders to the table. Explore what type of awards program works best with your mission. With the police alliance it made sense to honor people committed to public safety. Look in your arena for best fits.
  2. Make sure you have buy-in from your board– This is key to your success.
  3. Check the Calendar – make sure no other organization is having a similar awards program around the same time as yours.
  4. Be creative and consistent with your messaging and graphic design – Be sure that you take full advantage of the program’s potential by weaving powerful messages and graphics throughout your event.
  5. Find an awards sponsor – Write your proposal to show the awards program benefits to sponsors.
  6. Publicize, publicize, publicize – Create a dynamic program using traditional and social media. Benchmark your successes and analyze responses to see what segment of your market you’re missing.
  7. Use the event wrap-up to position next year’s award program. Start building anticipation. Invite this year’s winners to reach out into their communities to nominate.

Your awards program will unearth many meaningful stories and help ensure your success. If you want guidelines for event management and sponsorships, please contact me directly – deborah@creative-si.com.

Brainstorming – Your Key to Creative Solutions

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” Albert Einstein

Creative Thinking

What a dynamic session! I had the privilege of teaching another event management course for the Georgia Center for Nonprofit’s Nonprofit University.

I always encourage people to start the planning phase of all marketing communications initiatives with a brainstorming session. It is very useful when planning a new or updating an established special event.

Brainstorming creates a freewheeling environment in which everyone is encouraged to participate. There are no “wrong” or “bad” ideas.

Make sure participants have fun brainstorming. Encourage them to come up with as many ideas as possible, from the solidly practical to whimsical. Welcome creativity!

Here are some suggestions for holding a great brainstorming session. These are from Notes For Nonprofits :

  1. Set a Goal – This helps keep everyone on track
  2. Be Strategic – Invite people with diverging opinions. Be sure and create a mix of  big picture thinkers.
  3. Post an Agenda – Brainstorming doesn’t necessarily mean a free for all. Creating an outline will keep you on task and help you focus on specific sections.
  4. Start the session off with leading questions.
  5. Encourage everyone to speak.
  6. Determine data collection. I like to provide a flip chart so everyone can see all the responses.
  7. Set a time limit. I suggest you break the session into 1/2 hour segments. If not, the session tends to become dry.

Brainstorming to add to your next special event? Once the goal is set, hold your brainstorming session. Betsy Wiersma and Karl Strolberg suggest using four open-ended questions to add WOW to your event:

  • What will surprise our guests?
  • What will they talk about after the event?
  • What will leave a lasting impression?
  • What will be extra special or unique?

Have you had any successes brainstorming? I would love to hear from you!