The Table Is Set

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year.  Most people are in good spirits, invitations to holiday events arrive at a steady pace and, most important of all, I can plan special holiday dinners for my family and friends.

I have spent the past few days looking at my favorite design magazines, and on-line resources as well, for elegant ways to dress up my holiday table.  As my dinner parties are intimate, I will use the rules for setting an informal dinner table as my guide.  However, there are some really spectacular formal table settings that I would love to try in the future.

For today’s post, I have decided to share some of the ideas I am considering.  As always, I would love to hear from you.  When you have a moment, I encourage you to share your holiday table ideas.  If you enjoy well-planned events as much as I do, I know the possibilities are endless.

Happy Planning!


Obtaining Clarity Around Your Vision


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

It is no secret that we, as event planners, find parties and gatherings to be exciting.  This is one of the main reasons why we work such long hours; frequently allowing event-related plans to permeate our weekends and holidays.  We have seen how excited guests are at the chance to come together and celebrate an organization they truly believe in.

When working with organization leaders who are new to this field, we must be mindful for they have so much new information to process as they continue to manage their day-to-day operations.  Before you can confidently say to your client “Let’s Begin” you will have spent countless hours setting an attainable goal.

Several questions will come up at the outset.  However with perseverance and cooperation, from leaders and stakeholders, your next steps will be clear.  Here is one idea to start the conversation.


Our organization is looking to raise funds for our mission and program.  Our annual gala, with a fundraising goal of $xxx is critical to our success.  Through this event (and event-related outreach efforts), we will look to engage our existing donor base, and recruit new donors.


  • Our organization would like to raise $xx from xx number of individuals and xx number of corporate sponsors.
  • We would like to see xx% or our top organizational donors attend the event.
  • We would also like to see last year’s event donors increase their giving by xx% this year.
  • Lastly, we would like to see xx% of the guests commit to an additional gift the day (or night) of the event.

With a clearly defined goal, you can guide your organization forward with confidence and purpose.  There will be many challenges along the way, but there is nothing more rewarding than moving past challenges with demonstrated successes.  Remember, this is why we do what we do!

Lastly, we love success stories and would appreciate hearing from you.  Please take a moment and let us know what you think.

Happy Planning.


4 Strategies For Transitioning To Fundraising Events


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Organizations host events for several different reasons.  Some will focus primarily on friend-raising, while other will focus on fundraising.  What I have come to realize is that sooner or later most organizations will need to make the transition from an awareness building event (friend-raiser) to an income generating event (fundraiser). Can this be done?  Absolutely?  However it will require great focus and a shift in attitude to be successful.

Here are 4 strategies that I have used, along with many others, to help guide this process.

1. Begin with a well-designed fundraising appeal.

Very often organizations spend a great deal of time on the logistics and mechanics of an event (which is important) but overlook the fundraising appeal.  Here are some ways to change this dynamic:

  • Work with leaders and stakeholders to describe what the organization does to benefit the public.
  • Develop talking points so donors will understand how supporting this event will benefit the organization.
  • Encourage leaders to practice how to ask for financial support from individuals and corporations.
  • Help create a specific “ask.”  Work with the organization to develop an outcome that will be hard to say no to.

2. Remember that each donor is different so you must have different ways for them to engage them.  Be sure to allow time for research and tailor your appeal accordingly.

This tailored approach is often referred to as segmenting your donor base.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Donors come from many locations, have many interests and will engage differently around what resonates with them.  Some may gravitate toward an educational initiative, while others would appreciate hands-on service. 
  • Always consider the donors’ past history of support.  This includes the size of their gift, upward trends and time of the year they tend to give.
  • Make sure that your organization’s appeal is broad enough to keep donors interested and engaged long-term.

3. Create a dynamic communications plan around the event.

Before the event takes place, there are many touch points you can use to engage your donors.  Here are some components to add to your organization’s existing communications plan:

  • Online communications and appeals.
  • Written appeals in the form of letters, invitations and case studies.
  • In-person one-on-one meetings.
  • Personal phone calls from organization’s leadership, stakeholders or volunteers making the case for the event and why their support is vital.

4. Help your organization transition from an “attendance-based culture” to a fundraising culture.

  • Please remember that this step will require the most time and effort.
  • Some organizations pull back when it comes to focusing on money.
  • This resistance may be due to their comfort with a narrative they have embraced over time, such as “we had a great turnout and the support that we need will eventually show up.” Does this sound familiar?
  • If the answer is yes, and the organization is truly making a difference and changing lives everyday, why not bring them to the next level?
  • Coaching leaders and stakeholders to ask for the support they need, will allow the organization to produce even more measurable results.

Of course there are many ways to plan events and we read about them daily.  However with an increased need for funding, well-conceived fundraising events are even more important to an organizations mission and programs.  There are many resources to guide you through this process.  I often refer to the dynamic team at Network for Good for additional insights. The points listed here are grounded in my professional experience and have been openly discussed by many fundraising specialists.

I would love to hear about your experiences.  If you have a moment, drop us a line and tell us about your success stories.

Happy Planning!


Planning Is Key


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

At some point in your career, a client (or organization’s leader) might say to you “I been thinking about our upcoming event and I have everything figured out.  By the way, I will only need your involvement with the event’s logistics.”

Depending upon your workload, you might be tempted to view this as a huge blessing.  However, if you are in the business of producing successful fundraising events, you will instinctively know that logistics are one important piece of a very large puzzle.  Based on my past experiences, I can assure you things are always more complex than they appear.

This may sound like Event Planning 101, but before you can confidently say “Let’s Begin”, I strongly recommend that you spend some time working with your client (organization’s leaders or stakeholders), to determine their definition of success.  Achieving clarity around the vision and goals is essential to planning and executing a successful event.

Need some ideas on how to direct this process?  Here are some questions you might want to ask.

  1. What is the purpose of this event?  Why is it important to your organization?
  2. Who is your target audience?  What do you know about them?  Where do they gather?  What event spaces appeal to them?
  3. Once you understand where your audience gathers, what is the best venue for the event you are planning?
  4. After you have engaged your audience, what do you want from them?  What is the call to action?  What would you like for them to do?
  5. Are you confident this event is the best way to engage them?
  6. Will this event serve as a compliment to your organization’s existing programs?

What you learn during this “fact-finding stage” will equip you to guide your client (or organization) through the process of setting attainable and measurable goals.  Here is one example for your consideration.


To raise much-needed financial support from existing donors.
Remember, you do not want to stop at this point!
The next step, and perhaps most important, is to encourage existing donors to recruit their business colleagues, friends and family to participate.

Lastly, their participation can be measured in a couple of ways including:

  1. Purchasing a ticket or table required to attend the event.
  2. Responding to event-related outreach efforts, such as making a contribution, if they chose not to attend the event.

Hopefully, over time, your organization will have new donors to add to its list.  Remember, so much needs to happen before you can confidently say “let’s begin.”  Asking the right questions, and probing for answers, is the key to a successful event.

In future posts, I will share some of the metrics that you can use to evaluate your event’s success.

Until next time, happy planning!


4 Tips for Special Event Planners

shutterstock_178292735Dear Friends and Colleagues:

There will be times when you must constantly navigate deadlines and timelines, especially when planning several events at once.  You may feel as if you are always thinking, or as if you are always on! Goodness knows, I can certainly relate.

Last year, there was a 5-month period where I planned two open-house receptions after my job relocated, a fundraiser and reception for 250, a memorial service for a former leader with more than 200 colleagues and dignitaries, and a signature fundraiser for 700 supporters.

When planning multiple events, I become so mired in the details that I forget to enjoy the results.  We all know how it feels to be under constant pressure to produce successful events, yet when we deliver, we move to the next one as though we are on auto-pilot.

Despite a proven track-record, do you as though you could use more support?  If so, how do you manage?  If you are employed, does your environment allow you to address these feelings without judgement?  If you are an entrepreneur, have you created systems to provide support?  If your answer to either question is no, please know that you are not alone.

Here is some good news.  At any given moment, we can build support systems and acquire resources along the way.  Here are 4 tips that I thought you would find helpful.

1. Connect with a professional network.
Ideally, this is a place where you can seek advice for those more challenging moments.  For some a membership fee is required, others might be free.  Don’t think of this as just a venting session, for a good network allows you to share advice and your success stories.  Here are a few organizations for your consideration.  Resources are always growing, and I encourage you to always add to your list.

  • Association of Fundraising Professionals (for non-profit professionals)
  • Bizbash
  • Cvent’s Online Event Management Resources
  • Event Planners Association
  • International Special Events Society

2. Create your own “go-to” team.
Ideally, this is a special group of friends and colleagues who respect what you are trying to achieve, understand your challenges, and can offer moral support.

3. Connect with a mentor.
Ideally, this is a senior industry professional who can help you think through challenges and come up with solutions.  He/she can also guide you on ways to build upon your successes and learn from past mistakes.

4. Create your own personal mission statement.  
A mentor suggested that I develop a mission statement to encourage me during my challenging moments.  I came up with GRACE.

  • G – Be gracious at all times.
  • R – Be respectful to everyone.
  • A – Accomplishments are important.  Be mindful of what I have achieved.
  • C – Be a consummate professional in all my interactions with others.
  • E – Bring excitement, ease, and elegance, to every event.

My Final Question.
How do I emerge from each situation with grace and dignity?

This is what gives me pause. To be totally honest, I do not always have the answer to each challenge, but I have noticed that during the process, I am able to ground myself in the confidence needed to complete the task.

From the depths of what I am challenged with, I reconnect with what I strive to be – a gracious woman, committed to doing the best job possible.

Have a great day!


3 Important Questions To Ask When Planning An Event


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

When speaking with my fellow special event planners, we frequently comment on how this profession has grown.

One decade ago, events were fairly predictable.  At certain points during the calendar year, plans for an organization’s traditional event season would begin. Conversations would focus on upcoming board meetings, annual convention(s) or trade show(s), employee appreciation events and business meetings.  In-house event planning teams, and the consultants engaged to provide assistance, would move at a fast pace to keep up with the various projects.

Today the landscape has expanded to include events that are more complex and require greater planning, such as: corporate galas and non-profit fundraising dinners, naming opportunities, client and donor cultivation events, product launches and travel incentive programs.  For some professionals, the additional activity can be most exciting.  However, for professionals who do not have the resources to lighten the workload, the additional tasks can be most stressful.

Yet, in the midst of this excitement, every event planner must obtain the answers to 3 very important questions.  

1. What are your organization’s event objectives?

  • In other words, why are you hosting this event?
  • Are you looking to raise awareness for your organization and brand?
  • Are you looking to raise much-needed funds for your organization’s mission and programs?
  • Are you looking to engage new donors and reconnect with former donors?
  • Are you comfortable with your immediate and short-term goals?
  • Are you clear on what success and failure looks like for your organization at this point in our history?

2. Can your organization afford to host this event?

  • Do you have the money required to achieve the results that you want?
  • Will your budget allow you to reflect the image you are trying to project?
  • Would you consider enlisting sponsors for your event?
  • If so, have you formed any strategic alliances that we can approach?

3. What is your vision for this event?

  • Have you given thought to the different elements of the event?
  • What items are on your “must-have” list?
  • Do you have a specific location in mind?
  • What mood are you trying to create?
  • What feelings are you trying to capture?

We will explore these questions more fully in future posts.  As you begin to contemplate your next event, I wanted to start the discussion with these 3 key questions.  If taken seriously, the answers will inform your business discussions for weeks to come.

Sending you good wishes.



Event Planning: The Ultimate Guide to Successful Meetings, Corporate Events, Fundraising Galas, Conferences and Conventions, Incentives and Other Special Events by Judy Allen.



Why This Topic?

Red Maple Leaf Design, ©Stephanie Badini
Red Maple Leaf Design, ©Stephanie Badini

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I invite you to join me on a journey into the world of special events.  When I am not planning events, I am writing — or contemplating what to write — so I thought why not create a vehicle that anyone can have access to?

I am so excited to share my experiences with you in this medium.  If you have ever been curious to learn what special events planners really do for a living, you have come to the right place.  I often hear “oh, you plan parties?”  “That’s not a real job”.

If your background happens to be in the event planning world, I know that you will agree that what our guests see is one important part of a very big picture.  Planning events, particularly fundraising events, is extremely demanding and quite painstaking.

As with every profession there are days when I feel as if I am sitting on top of the world. However, that feeling comes at the end of the process, not during the planning and execution stages.  Throughout my 20+ years in this business, I have come to regard my profession as one of the most comprehensive executive training programs I have ever participated in.  

Interesting in learning more about the event strategies required for success?  If the answer is yes, I invite you to join me for an overview of what to expect.  I will also share candid anecdotes so that novices and seasoned professionals can take comfort in knowing that someone out there really does get it, knows what really goes on behind the scenes and appreciates the sacrifices that are made.  It is not all glitz and glam.  But, as we all know, a true investment cannot be measured with a paycheck.  However once the feeling of exhaustion has waned — and if everything went as planned — the memories you are left with are priceless.

I look forward to sharing my updates with you.

With kind regards,