Event planning is like fishing

How do you plan an event that attracts everyone you want?

Some years ago when I was working at a newspaper in a different community, volunteerism was a huge part of my life. It wasn’t unusual for me to volunteer four or five evenings a week, plus weekend stuff.

I was involved in Rotary Club, chamber of commerce, historical society, 4-H Multi-Club, men’s league curling, citizen of the year committee, special events and more.

Combining all of these jobs with a 40 hour work week, plus friends and family meant a pretty hectic schedule. But spending so much time in different organizations taught me much about efficiency, simply making the most of the time that is available.

Volunteerism is very popular in Alberta, but throughout my career I’ve seen a lot of what I call “organized volunteerism,” such as service clubs, youth groups etc. suffering from lack of membership. Regrettably, I’ve seen quite a number of groups fold.

Helping organize events, I noticed many didn’t attract the number of participants we would’ve liked. Usually these were lengthy events scheduled for a Friday or Saturday evening. Asking a few people later why they couldn’t attend, they stated it would’ve required cancelling their weekend to attend; plus, people with families have kids, so they’d have to pay for a babysitter. For weekday events in winter months, many stated they didn’t want to drive home at 10 p.m. on icy roads. Fair enough.

Something else I’ve observed since then, and in other communities I’ve worked in, is that most of the volunteer work is done by the same small group of people. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; for some people, volunteerism doesn’t fit into their life for whatever reason. However, I’m of the opinion that if a bit of forethought and strategy is put into these groups and events, turnout could be better, volunteer burnout reduced and attract the maximum number of people to events.

A few years ago a friend of mine who was the FCSS manager of the community we shared had a conundrum. She was organizing a volunteer week event but the attendance was dropping and the few response sheets she got back from the community said that people didn’t have time to attend the event (same thing I’d heard years before). The volunteer week event was a semi-formal evening event, usually on a Saturday night, no jeans, you had to sort of dress up. The event had a program, the school bands performed and it took several hours. If you attended, it would require your entire evening. It turned out some of the response forms noted this fact; guests stated attending the event would require cancelling their weekend plans, which they were not prepared to do.

Now, I’m not sure where my friend got the idea, but she decided to switch the volunteer banquet to a volunteer lunch held on a weekday over the lunch hour, and she recruited enough sponsors to offer a free barbecue and some door prizes. She explained to me that, during a weekday, everyone (for the most part) was around town, and could attend without affecting their weekend schedule. Seniors have an easier time attending a daytime event, those who work were all, for the most part, available, and even schoolkids could attend because it was lunch break. Score.

The volunteer appreciation event became one of the most popular and anticipated events in town. It eventually outgrew the community centre and had to be held in the arena. Other groups even asked if they could partner with the event for their awards presentations etc.

The best part of it?

It was simply enjoyable to spend a few hours with the community, with no tax disagreements, bylaw arguments or politics.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.

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