WHEN THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD DOESN’T LEAD TO OZ
As a professional event planner, when I decided to throw a charity event earlier this year I never thought I’d be writing a blog about how far off the mark I got things, but here I am …
I’ve been sitting with this feeling for over a week now, and no matter what I tell myself, I just can’t shake it.
So today I decided that I’d share my experience and what I learned with everyone who may have been there, or who stood by and watched, or even for those of you who may be thinking about doing something similar.
In the beginning, I had this incredible vision of a glamourous affair that would be the talk of the town and would be an opportunity to really let my creative side loose.
It would be a visual feast of unexpected design details, a room with a real wow-factor to excite and engage our guests. We would have 150 guests, they would laugh, and dine, dance and drink and GIVE! We would raise $20,000.00 for RizeUp and change the lives of women and children we will never meet. It would be the first step towards our annual charity event that will have a significant and lasting positive impact on the Gold Coast community.
It was going to be so much FUN!
The reality was a little different.
3 weeks out we had only sold 6 tickets. Yes, that wasn’t a typo, 6.
Everyone around me said I should cancel: it was too hard, we were too busy, I was over-committing myself, we couldn’t do it.
But, I love a challenge, and my drive (ok maybe my ego) loves to prove I can do something when I’m told I can’t.
So I pushed on. No sponsors, no ticket sales.
I lost so much sleep. I stayed up until the wee hours to personally email hundreds of clients past and present asking if they could buy a ticket, donate a prize, or share the event on their social media.
I reached out to domestic violence organisations, the council, PR companies, radio stations, long lost friends on Facebook, blogger Constance Hall and local government.
We gained some momentum, but it was too little too late.
I kept going though…worrying when I should have been asleep, waking up grumpy, being impatient with my child, pre-occupied at work and ignoring my husband.
It was too late to turn back now, and the thought of Tara Brown’s death spurred me on and on. She was turned away from a safe house because there was no room for her and I could stop that from happening to someone else.
I knew that the Hilton was going to commit to donating 100 room nights to RizeUp for emergency accommodation, and this event needed to happen if only for that reason.
I made an off the cuff comment to a member of my networking group (group of legends BTW, you should come) about how hard it had been and he jumped into action. The group sponsored the event, and so did two individual members. I couldn’t believe it! I was so humbled, I’m still humbled they would choose to help when no one else would.
We covered some of the hotel costs here, which meant that more money from tickets sales could go to the charity, and I started to feel a little more positive. We ended up with 92 guests attending the evening, and I was just PUMPED that my hours and hours of fretting and stewing had amounted to something.
We set up all day. It was a family affair (read: free labour) and everyone was there. My two brothers-in-law did all the heavy lifting and two of our gorgeous stylists did the tables. I found it hard to concentrate, I was nervous. More nervous than I usually am before events because this was my thing. I invited people there, and there were expectations. This wasn’t just an event to benefit RizeUp, it was a showcase of what I could do.
And as the sun set and the finishing touches were put on the room, I realized that this really was not my best work.
The tables were ok, the flowers amazing (thanks Moss n Stone for all that you did) but the room missed the mark.
It was so frustrating because this is what I do best! I make average rooms look amazing. And here I am, standing in a ballroom that looks half finished. I realised that I had been so caught up with all of the other areas of the event, that the thing I’m best at (styling) was left wanting.
Then guests started to arrive, and the nerves kicked into higher gear. I realized that the MC hadn’t arrived at the agreed time, and made a few frantic phone calls. No answer. I’ll try Facebook. Nothing.
20 minutes until doors opened and we hadn’t sound checked, no sign of her and no returned calls.
Better find a replacement …
Thank God for one of my besties who put his hand up! I threw the script at him and told him to go over it.
Then doors opened and guests filed into the room.
I anxiously trailed behind, realizing that the event I had been dreaming about for nearly a year was actually happening.
And from there on, the reality of the event on the night was almost nothing like the vision I’d been working so hard to create.
The room was underwhelming.
Our ring-in MC did an amazing job, but he had only 15 minutes to prepare so it didn’t flow as one of our events usually would.
The silent auction was successful, but not great.
I looked around the room at all of the people who had come to support the event, and just felt like I had disappointed every single one of them.
Now, a week on, I still can’t reconcile the event I hoped for with the event I got.
The positives are that we were able to donate $9,500.00 to RizeUp Australia (inserthappy dance here), and there are 100 room nights now available at Hilton Surfers Paradise for women who need to leave a violent home in a hurry.
For those two reasons, I am so glad the event went ahead.
On the other fronts, here’s what I learnt:
The vision needs to be based on value
A huge lightbulb moment I had was that this event really wasn’t any different to so many others held on the Gold Coast throughout the year.
A big room, styled, drinks being served, food being eaten, music being played, people dressed up and mingling, a silent auction.
Nice enough sure, a worthy cause, yes, but exciting? inspiring? intriguing? magnetic? Um, no.
Which makes everything else that much more difficult because it’s not special or unique or truly desirable to attend this particular event.
It takes money
All events need a budget, and charity events are no exception. If we had a major sponsor on board we could have delivered a truly seamless and memorable event worthy of our reputation.
We had to BEG for sponsorship, and the little we were pledged was withdrawn as the event drew closer (until the Cooly Networking Group rode in on white horses that is…).
It takes time
Marketing a charity event is more than half the work – and it really should be done by a pro. Find a PR partner who are passionate about the cause and can give the event as much exposure as possible.
Ego is a hard task-master right? I probably should have let this go, postponed it until we could get the right people on board and do it right.
Instead, I pushed on and planned the event, styled the event, promoted the event, invited people to the event, found sponsors for the event, gathered donations for the silent auction and coordinated everyone involved….all while running our business at the busiest time of year.
It’s bigger than one person
Charity Events need a committee!
You really need a GREAT reason that people are passionate about to want to be involved. You need access to a HUGE database of contacts because events are date specific and people may well have other commitments.
Originally, we partnered with a company who promised they would fill the room with guests, only to receive a message on my phone about 6 weeks out saying they couldn’t invite any friends, they couldn’t come, but best of luck with it all!
According to my mate Albert Einstein “Failure is success in progress”, so I now see that this is part of the progression for me to move on to create jaw-dropping…fairytale…have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed events that will truly make an impact, and enrich people’s lives…so much so that they look forward to attending another one.
Stay tuned for that =)
An enormous thank you to all of you who supported me in creating this event.
Thank you to these business’ who supported our event through provision of services on the night:
- Moss n Stone Floral Design
- Blossom Tree Company
- Eye Candy Project
- AV Ideas
- Event Marquees
- Paper Divas
- ZippidyDoo Balloons
- Backdrops Fantastic
- Euphoria Booth
- Aerial Angels
- Sugar & Spice Events
- Jaen Collective
- Saffron Jensen Photography
- Free the Genie
Thank you to these business’ who donated prizes for our silent auction:
- Baked Wedding Cakes
- Birddog Marketing
- Burleigh Accounting
- Burleigh Mobile Mechanic
- Blossom Tree Co
- Cameo Business Consulting
- CraveIt Electronics
- Devon Pixies Tea House
- Euphoria Booth
- Exhale Boutique Accommodation
- Evergreen Garden Venue
- Gold Coast Suns
- Hilton Surfers Paradise
- Innovative Financial Solutions
- Industrial Décor Australia
- Kelly Lane Homewares
- Lavender Common Scents Cleaning
- Marriot Surfers Paradise
- Regal Retreats
- Oskars on Burleigh
- Park Lane Jewellery
- Sheraton Mirage Resort
- Sirromet Winery
- Tim Sherriff Photography