Keeping it Relevant

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of twenty-somethings. As I shared with them, I referenced a song I thought would surely bring a laugh and drive home a point I was trying to make. The only problem? They had never heard of the song before. In that moment, I knew the example I had given was not relevant to them. What I thought was a universal song ended up being something only my generation could appreciate.

Relevance. It affects us in many facets of our lives, but it plays a crucial role when it comes to event planning. If your event is no longer relevant, it will not survive.

Adaptation to the current trends, needs, and desires of those you are trying to reach is of utmost importance as you plan new events and restructure existing ones. So, how can you keep your event relevant in an ever-changing world? Here are a few tips:

  • Know your audience. Become an expert in the field of people you are trying to reach. What drives them? What catches their attention? What will make them say “yes” to an invitation to your event? If you aren’t a part of that particular group of people, enlist those who are to provide feedback, suggestions, and knowledge.
  • Know your purpose. Is the goal of your event to share about a particular topic or trend? Ask yourself, “Is this still something people want to learn more about?” If what you are offering is no longer needed, then your event is no longer relevant. How can you change it? How can you adapt to the current culture?
  • Know your location. Can your location adequately provide for the needs of the attendees you hope to reach? Here are a few things to consider: Does your event location have Wi-Fi appropriate for the number of guests attending? Is the location of your event such that people can easily travel by car or conveniently travel from a nearby airport? Do your guests have special dietary needs that will need to be accommodated? Does your location provide the technology you need to ensure a successful event?
  • Know yourself. Are you holding on to traditions of the past? Do you catch yourself answering questions with “because we’ve always done it this way?” If you aren’t willing to make changes, your event can suffer. Realize changing your attitude towards refreshing and revamping your event can be the difference in it thriving or not surviving.

Change can be hard, especially if your event has a longstanding history and traditions in place. However, in order to compete with others and keep your event on the forefront of peoples’ minds, you have to be willing to adapt to changing cultures and trends.

Fundraising Ideas

Our last post highlighted how to put the “fun” in fundraising. If you’re in the midst of planning for summer camps and retreats, you’ve probably already run into deposit deadlines and planned for budgeting needs. For those looking for ways to supplement the money needed to carry out your event (either by helping attendees pay discounted fees or helping offset your own costs), here are a few fundraising ideas you can implement.

I reached out to friends across the world for fundraising ideas that are working for their ministries, schools, nonprofits, and other organizations. Here are some of their proven and successful ideas:

  • Our church does a Food Auction each year. People make dishes that are ready to be warmed/cooked. Our pastor serves as the auctioneer. – Kira, Maine
  • We sell t-shirts to help offset costs. Who doesn’t love a new tee?! – Tobey, Wales
  • We have several local restaurants that will work with us to do plate sales. We sell tickets to church members and members of the community. The restaurant makes the food, and we help package it in to-go plates. Ticket-holders pull up to the curb, drive-thru-style, present their tickets, and we give them their plates. This is by far our most lucrative fundraiser! – Amber, Texas
  • This spring our youth and children are doing a dinner theater where we charge for tickets. – Kara, Arkansas
  • ‪We do a sweetheart banquet in February. We don’t sell tickets. It’s donation only. – Ashley, Tennessee
  • ‪I have worked with local restaurants to make coupon books where each location can determine their coupons (free drink with entrée, half priced appetizer with entrée, etc.). The only cost to do this is the cost to print, and you can sell the books at whatever price you choose. The better the coupons, the more you can charge. – Bo, Tennessee
  • We make the most money for our local band selling coupon books. An annual 5k is also a great way to make money, especially if you can get prizes donated. – Shelly, North Carolina
  • We work with local restaurants that donate a portion of their proceeds one night to our organization. – Sandy, Illinois
  • Our organization sells wreaths at Christmas. We also host a fundraising dinner and a clay shoot. – Amy, North Carolina

‪These are just a few ideas from people who have walked in your shoes. Feel free to take these ideas and make them your own. See how your organization can come together to raise money in new and innovative ways!

 

Putting the “Fun” in Fundraising

When I was young I was a Girl Scout who excelled in selling cookies. I wish I could say it was because of my excellent sales abilities and charisma, but in actuality, I was a preacher’s daughter, and everyone at my church felt obligated to buy from me.

Fundraising. The word brings with it a variety of responses – from “no, not another person asking me for money” to “let’s see how much we can raise for this cause.” When done well, fundraisers can be a great way to help supplement costs of camps and retreats, by either offsetting attendee’s costs (thus providing the opportunity for more to attend) or helping to balance actual event costs. Whatever the reason for your fundraising efforts, here are some things to keep in mind as you try to put the “fun” in fundraising:

  • Know your audience. Most people will not be able to afford a $100 plated benefit dinner. Others who can may not want to come to a chili cook-off. Cater your fundraising effort to the people from which you are trying to receive money.
  • The goal is to raise money. Planning and executing a fundraiser typically costs money. Make sure you balance the costs incurred with the goal of raising money. See what you can get donated rather than purchase.
  • You don’t have to plan a meal. There are plenty of other ideas you can use rather than having a fundraising dinner. Sell coupon books, auction off donated items, or sell a service.
  • Make sure you have support for your cause. Do those you are asking to give money support your cause? This is key. If you have buy-in from others, there will be a greater willingness to donate money. During your fundraiser, highlight your cause. Use stories as much as possible. You want people to give because they believe in what you are doing, not out of a sense of obligation.
  • Follow through with what you say you will do. If you plan a car wash, make sure you actually wash the cars. If you plan for people to do lawn care or other chores around a location, make sure these things are done … and done well. If you advertise a three-course dinner with entertainment, serve a three-course dinner with entertainment.
  • Realize some people want to donate with nothing in return. Take these donations and say a hearty thank-you!
  • Utilize those who will benefit from your fundraiser if possible. If you are raising money to help send teenagers to summer camp, use them in your fundraiser. If you have a meal, use teenagers as your wait staff. If you are planning a women’s retreat fundraiser, ask women who will attend to be a part of the fundraiser. This will increase buy-in from those who are attending.

Fundraising is often a necessary evil, but it doesn’t have to be! Seek fun, outside-of-the-box ways to raise money for your camp or retreat. Stay tuned for our next post on fundraising ideas from event planners, children’s ministers, youth staff, and others just like you!

 

Choosing Event Curriculum

A few years ago we featured a post on curriculum you could purchase to use at your retreat. While some churches and organizations may be blessed with writers and time to prepare their own curriculum, there are also plenty of options available for those who do not.

Keith Feather, Regional Church Partner of North Carolina and Virginia with LifeWay Christian Resources, provided me with an updated list of current options available that would be great for implementing into a weekend retreat.

Note: Most of these studies are designed for small group studies. However, the teachings could easily translate over into small group sessions and large group sessions during a weekend retreat. You may not use all of the material, but this could be a jumpstart for further study when returning from your retreat.

General Spiritual Retreats:

  • These curriculum lines are ongoing but could be used for a weekend retreat:
    • Explore the Bible:  Studies for groups who want to focus on one particular book of the Bible and study verses in their full context.
    • The Gospel Project:  Studies for groups who want to examine how the story of Jesus and His gospel is woven into all of Scripture.
    • Bible Studies for Life:  Studies for groups who are curious about how Biblical truth intersects with everyday life.
    • At smallgroup.comyou can create customized lessons based on your topic or specific passage of scripture. There are series available and some include streaming video.
    • YOUis a curriculum line specifically written for the urban and multicultural church.

Marriage/Parenting:

  • Seven Rings of Marriage is an eight-session study that helps guide couples through various stages of marriage, specifically using “rings” as a point of reference.
  • The Art of Marriage is a six-session study looking at making a masterpiece out of your marriage.
  • The 5 Love Languages is a study based on the best-selling book by the same title. This revised edition provides a short, two-session setting for weekend retreats in addition to a longer session study.
  • Christ Centered Parenting is a six-session study focused on equipping parents to address topics facing children of all ages.

Women/Girls:

  • Woven is a five-session Bible study for teen girls focusing on unity and addressing the importance of harmony within a student group and Christian believers of all ages.
  • Finding I Amby Lisa Terkheurst is a six-session study with video sessions exploring the I AM statements in the Gospel of John.
  • Missional Motherhood is a six-session study for women who desire to understand God’s greater purpose for them in their roles as mothers.
  • Open Your Bible is a seven-session study designed to give you a deeper understanding and desire for God’s Word.

Men:

  • Kingdom Man: In this study, Tony Evans challenges men to understand their position under God, as well as their position over what God has given them.
  • 33 Series: This DVD-based series is designed to equip men to pursue authentic manhood as modeled by Jesus in the 33 years He lived on earth. There are six studies within this series.
  • Manhood Restored: This series centers on gospel-centered manhood and includes video downloads and study guides.

Other Ideas:  

These lists are by no means exhaustive, but they will hopefully help you in your search for your retreat curriculum. There are many options available that can easily be altered to fit your retreat schedule and needs.  Many of these studies have online samples you can preview before purchasing.

A big thanks to Keith Feather for sharing such a wide range of Bible study options LifeWay Stores offer both in-store and online (lifeway.com).

 

 

 

A Checklist for Your Team

Your event will only be as successful as the team you have on hand to execute your plans. So, how do you make sure you have all your bases covered when it comes to having people in place? Use this checklist as a guide for assigning volunteers and team members to different tasks during your event. (And, as a side note, make sure you have the right people doing the right job. Just because a person wants to be at the registration table doesn’t mean you have to put them there if they will be of greater service in the hospitality room. Challenge the members of your team to embrace their roles and make them the best possible areas. Give them feedback on why you think they are the best choice for the area where you place them.)

  • Set-Up: This involves setting up the registration area, meeting rooms, lobbies, display areas, and any changes that take place during the event. Members of this team need to be organized, efficient, flexible, and able to take directions well.
  • Registration: This involves greeting attendees upon their arrival and getting them checked in and ready for the event. Members of this team need to be efficient, able to handle unforeseen circumstances, organized, and have a friendly and welcoming disposition.
  • Audio/Visual & Stage: This involves everything in your large group meeting area – lights, stage design, and sound. These team members need to be creative and knowledgeable in these areas, as well as have a desire for things to be done well and efficiently.
  • Hospitality: This involves green rooms for your platform guests, as well as making sure other special guests are taken care of. These team members need to have a servant-minded attitude and be willing to go the extra mile when given requests.
  • Catering: This includes making sure caterings are set up and torn down, as well as making sure there is sufficient food and beverage for guests. These team members need to be servant-minded, efficient and work well under pressure.
  • Guest Services: This includes a variety of different tasks, including welcoming guests upon arrival, directing guests to different locations, and being available to answer questions when they arise. These team members need to be friendly and have a deep understanding of the event, its schedule, and the venue itself.
  • Merchandise: If you will have merchandise available for sale at your event, there needs to be a team dedicated to setting up and selling products, as well as keeping track of money and inventory. These individuals need to be efficient, good with money, and able to work in a fast-paced environment.
  • Tear-Down: Often overlooked and sometimes forgotten, this is one of the most important parts of your team. As an event planner, you do not want to be left alone to clean up your conference. These team members need a positive attitude, be willing to follow instructions, have a sense of urgency, and understand the importance of taking care of supplies/equipment. (A little muscle will help, as well.)

Setting up the right team of paid workers and volunteers is crucial to your event running smoothly. It is important for each of these areas to have a lead (a “go-to” person for the others on that team) and for that lead to report directly to the event planner. Having the right people in place is a great way to alleviate some of the stress the event planner may have.

 

An Event in December? It is Possible!

The Christmas season is upon us. Work parties, family gatherings, church services, Christmas lights, decorating trees, wrapping presents, and the list goes on and on. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, this question may seem strange – why might December be the perfect time to host an event? When this question was first posed to me, my initial thought was, “I can think of 101 reasons not to hold an event during December.” Yet, after thinking about it further, for some types of events, December may just be a great time to meet. Here are a few advantages:

  • Great Prices: Conference centers are typically a little slower during the month of December. By booking throughout the first part of December (I’d recommend avoiding the latter part of the month because of holiday commitments for guests), prices may be very negotiable.
  • Flexible Dates: Melissa Inman, Director of Marketing and Sales at Ridgecrest Conference Center, says, “Hotels with minimum night stay requirements may be flexible before Christmas. They may allow you to hold one night events or even a day meeting when otherwise they would typically require multiple night stays.”
  • Platform Speaker Availability: December is a much slower time for conferences. Depending on their audience, many platform speakers find their busiest seasons either in the spring, summer, or fall months. You may be able to book a larger name during the first few weeks of December based on the slower conference season.
  • Cheaper Airline Prices: According to smartertravel.com, “The best days to fly are low-season, shoulder-season, or non-holiday travel dates; this will vary based on your destination, largely because of weather.” By booking an event in early December, it is likely reduced airfare could be available.
  • Decorations: Most hotels and conference centers decorate for Christmas. Therefore, your need for additional decorations may be much less. If, in fact, you do need to decorate, trees and garland adorned with Christmas lights are great options.
  • Themed Catering Options: Because it’s the holiday season, you almost have built-in catering ideas. You can host a traditional holiday meal and incorporate holiday-themed treats, as well. For example, hot chocolate bars, peppermint-flavored desserts, sugar cookies, and gingerbread men are just a few ideas to include.
  • Holiday Themed Entertainment: Invite a group of Christmas carolers dressed in Victorian costumes to serenade your guests throughout a meal or at check-in. Incorporate a man dressed as Santa Claus to pass out take-home gifts. Hire someone to lead your group in a night of Christmas music.
  • Negotiable Upgrades/Amenities: Because this is often a slower time for conference centers and other event venues, negotiate upgrades and amenities that you might not be able to afford otherwise. Don’t be afraid to ask for more than you think you can receive, especially during a time when salespeople may be looking to fill spaces.

December is, in fact, a very busy month. However, with proper planning and a great marketing strategy, you may be able to host an incredible event for less. And, if you can get attendees to register with plenty of time to spare, this can be on their calendars before the rush of the holiday season begins.

 

Pre-Event Communication: More Than Just an Email

One of my favorite things to do each day is to check the mail. There is always a glimmer of hope that someone might have taken the time to write me a quick note. Typically, it’s just bills. Every once in a while, though, I get that sweet handwritten surprise. My husband doesn’t see the point in sending a letter when you could just as easily type an email. On the other hand, I will spend ten minutes looking for an email address to avoid calling someone, while my husband would just as soon make the call immediately. Bottom line: we all like to communicate in different ways.

This difference should find its way into our event planning. Because different people communicate in different ways, you should incorporate various means of correspondence with event attendees prior to an event. Here are a few ways you can utilize these types of communication. I would recommend using a minimum of three, but realize it would be great to try your hand at all of them.

  • Email is one of the simplest communication tools. You can easily send mass emails through programs such as MailChimp. Consider sending an email each month prior to your event with important information, event updates, and highlights of keynote speakers, worship leaders, and breakout sessions.
  • Phone calls. In an age of smartphones at our fingertips, we are often never more than a phone call away. Depending on the size of your conference, it may not be feasible to personally call each attendee, but if you can, consider calling and letting your attendees know you are excited they are coming and ask if they have any questions.
  • Text messages. In your registration process, ask for permission to send text messages pertaining to the conference. If a guest agrees, place his/her number on a mass texting list to use to send pertinent event information or last-minute updates. Mass texting services are available through a variety of companies at different price points. Do your research to find the one best for you.
  • Handwritten notes. Simple, handwritten notes letting your attendees know you are excited they are coming to the event adds a very personal touch to your event communication. Even a formal note or card with a handwritten line at the bottom carries a certain level of intimacy rather than just a form letter with a stamped signature. If you don’t have time to write a personal message, consider having the retreat leadership team personally sign each note.
  • Social media. Regardless of the size of your event, you need to be on social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all great tools to communicate event details to your attendees, as well as create buzz for others considering attending your event. This is a simple way to begin networking, allow event attendees to correspond with each other, and incorporate special extras like contests and giveaways.

Communication with your event attendees will take time. Engage a team of volunteers to help with this task. Recruit volunteers who love to make phone calls (yes, they do exist) or write notes to aide you in your event correspondence.

How you communicate prior to your event has the potential to move your event from good to great. There is a thin line between over-communication and under-communication. Too much and your attendees will get annoyed. Too little and your event may lose momentum. Work diligently to find the right balance; your attendees will appreciate the ways you reach out to keep them updated and excited about the upcoming event.

 

Nine Lessons I Learned at Thanksgiving

About eight years ago I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner in my home. I was newly married, living across the country from the ones who had prepared all of my previous Thanksgiving meals. What I thought would be a smaller gathering of friends who lived too far to travel home ended up being a delightful time with 33 of our closest friends. Needless to say, I learned a lot that first Thanksgiving dinner I prepared. As Thanksgiving is nearing and I’m planning another meal with family and friends, I’m reminded of the lessons I learned, many of which can apply to a variety of event planning scenarios.

Here are nine lessons I learned while hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner:

  • It’s natural to be nervous before an event you plan. No matter how big or small, the feelings of “what if” can inundate your mind. While a level of nervousness can be expected, remember to allow yourself the opportunity to have fun. After all, this is your party, too.
  • Some people notice the details; others do not. Pay attention to the details. From tying a fall-colored ribbon around a candle holder to setting the table with care, take time to incorporate special touches when you can. This will make a big impact on those who share in your desire for perfection.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification. If you don’t understand something or aren’t sure it will work, ask someone. I think I called my mom no less than ten times while preparing that Thanksgiving meal.
  • Be smart in the choices you make. If you don’t own a dishwasher, paper products might be the best option unless you want to spend your afternoon washing dishes rather than fellowshipping with friends. Think ahead as you plan.
  • You can make a space work. I never thought we could fit 35 people around tables in my home, plus have space for food. You know what? It was cramped, but it was intimate and fun. While you won’t be able to fit 100 people into a room designed for 25, there are creative ways to utilize the space you have.
  • Don’t forget the kids! Will there be children at your event? Set up a kids table with kid-friendly activities. Spend a little extra on goodies the children can take home. Parents will appreciate the thoughtfulness.
  • Let people help. Often people want to help, but they don’t know what is needed. Sometimes simply asking a question such as, “Could you bring the ice?” allows people to feel included and valued. If others offer, let them help if it is conducive to your planning. The end result might not be the exact thing you had expected, but, including others will take the pressure off of you. If it’s something that is a “make or break” for you, consider asking someone you know will do it the way you want it done. For the other, less important things, ask for help.
  • Know your strengths and weaknesses. That first Thanksgiving in my home, I had a huge fear about preparing the turkey. There was a chef who lived two doors down coming to our meal. I asked him to do it, and he gladly agreed. What was weighing heavily on me was easily passed off to someone much more qualified. When it comes to events, utilize the strengths of others in places where you might fall a little short. For example, if you are completely afraid of speaking in public, ask someone who is comfortable in the spotlight.
  • There is always, always, always something to be thankful for. Don’t forget that. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of planning and making it happen, remember the purpose of the time—thanksgiving, family, friendship, fellowship. It might just change your perspective as you try to figure out how you’re going to cook five different dishes at five different temperatures and keep them warm enough to serve.

Happy Thanksgiving, from our team to yours. May your day be filled with lots of laughter, family, friendship, fellowship, good food, and most of all, gratitude.

 

 

Stores are Ready for Christmas: Are You?

The Halloween decorations are put away, and though Thanksgiving is the next holiday up for celebration, many stores have already hung their stockings, decorated their trees, and tied their red and green bows in preparation for Christmas. I saw the first Christmas decorations out at the beginning of October. That’s approximately 86 days before Christmas.

Even though Christmas is still weeks away, have you been tasked with planning your office, school, family, or small group’s Christmas party? If so, it might be a good idea to start thinking about activities and ideas for a memorable party. I polled my Facebook friends recently and asked for some of their favorite things to incorporate into a Christmas party. Here are some of the best ideas they had:

  • Pick Up Candy Canes: This is a version of Pick Up Sticks, only you place your hands behind your back and can only use your mouth to pick up candy canes scattered on a table. Whoever gets the most candy canes in a cup wins.
  • Saran Wrap Gift Ball: Wrap all types of gifts (can be serious or gag gifts) in Saran Wrap, creating a ball. Place the best gift in the middle and wrap. Place another present on top of that and wrap, followed by another gift then wrap. Continue until you have a large ball. One person begins unwrapping the ball and can keep any gift he/she unwraps. While the person is unwrapping, another person is rolling dice. As soon as they roll a certain number, it becomes their turn to unwrap. Continue until all gifts are unwrapped.
  • Fish Bowl: Everyone writes down Christmas words/movies/songs on slips of paper and places them in a bowl. Form two teams. In the first round, you can say anything to get your team to guess the word. After 30 seconds, switch teams. Play until all words are used. Place them back in the bowl for the second round, where you can only say one word to get your team to guess the word. For the third round, you can only act out the words on the papers to get your team to guess.
  • Guess the Song: Using kid-friendly instruments (think kazoo, triangle, recorder, tambourine, bicycle bell), play a Christmas song and have people guess what song is being played. For an added element of fun, wrap the various instruments. The person chosen to play the song must first choose and unwrap the instrument he/she will use.
  • Christmas Book Exchange: Instead of the typical ornament exchange, bring a wrapped Christmas book to exchange with others.
  • Gingerbread Houses: Decorate gingerbread houses with given supplies. Have awards including best house, most likely to fall in a snowstorm, most likely to withstand an avalanche, and so on.

Christmas parties don’t have to be stressful, and with a little pre-planning, you can ensure a fun, stress-free time. And, considering candy is half-price from Halloween, you could probably stock up on a few prizes and giveaways for your Christmas event!

 

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Meetings

I recently attended my first virtual meeting, a three-hour training session for an upcoming project. Here are my top two takeaways from that virtual experience. First, I can’t think of anything more awkward than looking at your own face next to the faces of others on a screen for an extended period of time. Second, I love the aspect of not having to travel a great distance to get to that training.

As with any meeting, whether onsite or online, there are both positives and negatives that go along with the setup. When looking at virtual meetings, specifically, here are a few advantages:

  • No travel costs. The virtual meeting I was a part of recently is typically an onsite meeting I attend involving extended car travel, hotel stays, and meals. What typically costs them thousands was “virtually” eliminated.
  • You can cover more information in a condensed time frame. It’s inevitable – when people are together, they talk. From casual conversation and personal dialogue to brainstorming sessions and extended discussion, the time frame of an onsite meeting will be longer than a virtual meeting. When people gather for a virtual meeting, the small talk is typically at a minimum, as attendees seem to be focused and ready to work.
  • It’s simple. Software companies such as GoToMeeting and Zoom have made virtual meetings an easy reality. Setting up an online meeting isn’t complicated, and companies such as these offer excellent support.
  • It’s comfortable. Virtual meetings can take place anywhere, anytime! From the comfort of your own home or office, you can attend a meeting in a familiar atmosphere.

In addition to these benefits, though, there are a few disadvantages:

  • Less personal connection. The one thing I missed about the virtual meeting I recently attended was the connections I made with other attendees in years past. While personal relationships aren’t always necessary between those attending meetings, for some types of groups, these greatly benefit the outcome.
  • Technology doesn’t always cooperate. Internet connections fail. Computers have glitches. It’s a risk you have to take when relying on technology to carry your meeting.

Some meetings can be handled virtually. Others cannot. I think a mixture of the two can be a great way to save money, increase efficiency, and place value on your attendee’s time.

From an event planner’s perspective, virtual meetings can be a great way to gather a team of leaders who may live throughout the country to regularly meet for progress updates. While an onsite, in-person planning session can be a great way to jumpstart planning for an event and build relationships among your team, follow up meetings can easily be arranged virtually.