An event committee can be a valuable asset to any organization’s fundraising efforts, but we all know they can also be a management nightmare!

A.J. Steinberg recently joined us for a webinar in which she showed how you can learn to love your event committees and lead them to success with simple strategies and tips.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:

Full Transcript

Steven:All right, A.J., is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?


Steven:Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone on the East Coast, and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, Simple Strategies for Managing Event Committees. My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. This is our first webinar of the new year. I’m so happy to see all of you. I hope you all had a great year end with maybe some fundraising events and campaigns and all that good stuff, Giving Tuesday. I’m very glad to have you all here.

Before we begin officially, I just want to go over a couple of housekeeping items. I want to let you know that we are recording this presentation, and I’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon just in case you didn’t get those earlier.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to use the chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end, just as much time as we can, so don’t be shy about sending in any questions or comments. A.J. and I will see those throughout the presentation, and we’ll try to get to as many as we can before 2:00 Eastern.

You can follow along with us today on Twitter. We’d love to see your tweets during the hour. If you’re into that kind of thing, if you’re a Twitter person, you can use the hashtag #Bloomerang. Our username is @BloomerangTech. You’ll see A.J.’s handle here coming up in just a second as well.

Just one final note on the technical side. These webinars are usually only as good as your own internet connection. If you have any trouble listening via your computer, you can also listen to the audio through a landline or cellphone or any kind of phone. If you don’t mind doing that and if you have any trouble with the audio, that’s usually a little bit better than the computer audio. You can find a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour ago.

With that, I am super excited to introduce our first guest of 2017. A.J. Steinberg is joining us. A.J. was recommended to us by a number of people, so we got her on the schedule. I’m really excited to have you here, A.J. How is it going today?

A.J.:It’s just going wonderful. It’s nice and rainy for a change here in Los Angeles. Hi, everybody. Whether it be snow or sun, I’m so glad to be here and to be talking to you today about managing your event committees.

For those you who don’t know me, I’m A.J. Steinberg. I’ve been a professional nonprofit event planner for over 20 years. I have my own company based in Malibu, California, which is a nice place to be. I have done big, huge events for people like Jane Goodall and Cystic Fibrosis and Children’s Hospital, but I’ve worked with a lot of small and medium-sized nonprofits as well. I get questions all the time about event committees, so this is a perfect time to move on and start the year off by getting your event committees pulled together and learning how to effectively manage them. Here are some really simple ways for you to do that.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the Queen Bee Theory. My company is named Queen Bee Fundraising, and that is not because I am a queen bee or a diva but because I have the Queen Bee Theory about event management. We’ll talk about that.

We’ll talk about how to identify and recruit those committee members that are so important. We’re going to talk about how to effectively lead these committee people that you have pulled together. We’re going to talk about how to really find the assets that they can bring to your event as a whole, and then I’ll talk to you a little bit about troubleshooting. As we know, any time you get a group of a dozen or so people together, there are going to be one or two issues that can arise from it.

Also, in this webinar, you get some bonus material. The things that you’ll get today are a committee task outline, and you’re going to get a sample meeting agenda that you can customize for your own use. Then you’ll also get the slides for this Simple Strategies for Managing Event Committees presentation.

Plus, what I’ve done is I’ve made it available for you to have a 20-minute committee brainstorming phone call with me. I find that every time I do one of those wonderful webinars, lots of times, individual organizations and people have personal questions about their specific committees or events, and I want to really be able to help you focus on that. Feel free. There’s a PDF with a link on it that’s in your bonus handouts. Feel free to schedule a phone call with me, and I look forward to hearing about your event and your committees personally through that.

Just to start out here, these are magnets that I bought at a store about 20 years ago when I was a volunteer. I was not a professional. I was a volunteer, and it made me laugh because it is so true. There are two ways you can look at event committees. You can say, “Join another committee? I’d love to.” Or you could say, “Oh, please, never again. Stop me.”

Today, we’re going to find ways to really make not just you love working with your committee, but really find ways to engage your committee members and look at it from their perspective and make it so they enjoy the experience, and they want to help you again and again and again.

To start out with our committees . . . why is this not changing to the slide? Let’s see. Sorry, everybody. There we go. Here we go. We’re going to talk about committees in general. When you have a committee, there are two ways to look at them. You can love them, or you can hate them. Why would we hate committees? Well, there’s a lot of reasons, but the main ones are, first of all, it takes you a lot of time and effort to find your committee members. Let’s face it, they don’t just stand there and raise their hands. To get a really effective, hard-working committee together, you have to put a little brainwork into it. It’s worth it, but you do have to do that.

There are also lots of personalities and opinions to deal with. You know that it’s a lot easier to just have two people give you their opinion than a dozen, so you have to deal with that. Often, we know it’s easier just to do it yourself. It’s like when my son was learning to tie his shoe. I had no patience. I would just tie it for him, and he never learned how to tie his shoe for the longest time, unfortunately. It just seems easier to do it yourself when you’re busy and don’t have time to slow down and really answer questions.

That being said, why do we love event committees? Well, first of all, we love event committees because they help us do the heavy lifting. They help us make the phone calls. They help us to actually do the solicitations for auction items. They help us to sell seed some things. They help us solicit everything. That’s why we love them.

They do the heavy lifting. They set it up for you. They do the solicitation for donations and sponsorships, and they sell tickets and bring in new supporters. When you have a really well-working, effective committee, they are assets to you because they bring their strengths and their social and business contacts to your event, which is why we love them.

Before we can even talk about the assets about your committee, we have to talk about how to pull together a committee that works. I’m sure a lot of you have had committees, and you have the same four people on the committee every single time. It’s not just you. All over the world, I talk to nonprofits, and they say, “You know, we have the same seven people who volunteer for everything.”

Well, that’s great for those seven people, but you really want to expand your volunteer engagement, especially with your event committee, because every time you bring a new person in, they are bringing in a whole new world of social and business contacts for you, and that really expands your outreach.

Let’s talk about the Queen Bee Theory first and about how to build a healthy event committee from the start. We talked about the Queen Bee Theory. Look at it this way: your event committee is the beehive for your event. The beehive, all it does is make honey, which is money for you. If you look at the beehive, what are the three aspects of a beehive?

You have the queen bee. The queen bee is the influencer. Without the queen bee, there is no hive. Your queen bees will be your event chairs. While we talk through this entire hour, remember, when I say “queen bee,” that doesn’t necessarily mean a woman. In the world of nonprofit events and especially committees, 95% of the time, it is a woman, so I say “she,” but certainly feel free, whether it be a queen bee or a committee member, just throw in the gender that is appropriate for your event. Queen bees are influencers. They bring the worker bees. Because they’re at the top of your committee, their name will bring their friends to come and join the committee because they like to work with them.

A worker bee is important. The queen bee at the top, she’s sitting around on her thorax. She’s waving her antennae in the air. She doesn’t really do the heavy lifting for you. It’s those worker bees. The worker bees are your committee members, and they are brought in mainly by your queen bee, and they’ll work hard. Why? First of all, they’re usually energetic and like to do well, and they like to please the queen bee, the influencer, and that’s just the socialization of a committee.

Lastly, we have the drone bee. The drone bee seems like dead wood, but it’s not. The drone bee doesn’t do any work, but it’s important for fertilization, meaning helping to make you money. In our event committee, who is the drone bee? It’s not a committee person. It’s actually your board of directors. If you think about it, sure, they actually can do a lot to bring some monetization to your event, but truthfully, we know those drone bees, meaning board members, don’t really do too much work.

One thing about it is you do need all three types of bees for a healthy, well-functioning committee.

You have to start out by getting the queen bee. That’s the first thing you want to do. Queen bees have a certain personality traits. They should be influencers, meaning people like them. They have strong social, commercial. They should have strong personalities. You do not want somebody who is soft-spoken and easy to push around at the head of your committee. You need someone with vision and strength to follow through and focus.

They should be organized and responsible. They need to show up at those meetings. They need to help you with the agendas, and they should be well-connected socially and in business.

Why do I say that? Well, I say well-connected in business and socially because their social and business connections will be brought into your event as potential donors, potential sponsors, and guests who buy tickets. That queen bee, that chairperson, is going to be a make-or-break element in your event planning.

Where do you find your queen bees? I get that question a lot. Well, they’re most likely under your nose. If you just take a moment and look at past committees, you’ll see people who are very energized and engaged. They are usually going to make great queen bees. Spouses of board members are wonderful queen bees because they already have a connection that’s genuine to your organization. Also, look at donors who have made significant contributions, because they also could be great queen bees.

Now that you’ve got an idea of who you want to be a queen bee, you’ve got to recruit them, but you’ve got to do it right. As I always say, you only have one chance to make a first impression, but you really only have one chance to really make a great case to this queen bee potential to be the chairperson of your event.

First, start with a phone call. Don’t just email them and say, “Hey, do you want to be a queen bee? Do you want to be my chairperson?” You need to put in a phone call and just get a feel for if their life is at the place where they have the time to commit to working with you on your committee. Get a feel if they’re interested, and ask their opinion. Let them know what’s happening.

People like to have their opinion asked, and that’s something to remember throughout the committee. Genuinely, by asking people’s opinion, you engage them, and there’s a much higher success rate of engaging people when they feel that they are heard and listened to and their opinion counts.

The next thing you want to do is you want to meet this potential chairperson in person. Have a coffee or a lunch. Meet them. Tell them where you stand with your event. Get their ideas, and that is when you will ask them if they will chair your committee. Don’t just jump in and say, “Hey, do you want to chair my committee?” Lead them to it. They need to have a little bit of emotional attachment to the event, and by asking their opinion, that will help to have them emotionally attached.

Don’t oversell, and don’t scare them, and if they say no, don’t take that as a no, necessarily. That could very well be just, “Hmm, I’m thinking about it.” If they say no, don’t worry about it. Later on down the line, they may say yes.

Then you want to follow up with a phone call to thank them. Show your appreciation for their time. Let them know that you appreciate them coming on board as your chairperson, and you’ll be putting together a meeting to discuss who they want to bring on as their committee, other people. Queen bees like to be surrounded by their friends. They like to work with their friends.

One thing I want to stop right now and tell you is that I always say queen bees, as you’ve noticed. I don’t say queen bee. I say queen bees. I’m a big fan of having two people chairing a committee rather than one, and this is for several reasons.

One reason is, first of all, my favorite reason is you are doubling your reach. You are doubling the people who are at the top with their name on your letterhead who will be bringing in their social circles and their business contacts. That’s why I love having two queen bees as you’re expanding by twice your potential of the assets from these people.

Plus, it helps with the heavy lifting. It’s less intimidating to say you’re one of two chairs on this. You have each other’s back. It’s a lot less work in the perception of it from the chairperson’s idea. Also, if one person gets sick, you still have somebody who’s standing there who knows what’s going on. That’s why I have two queen bees, usually.

Now that we have the queen bees, let’s talk about the committee members. First of all, you want to let the queen bees choose them. I know that you have your favorites to work with, and they can still be on that committee, but the queen bees like to work with their friends. Let them bring those other people who are their friends on to the committee. Why? Because those people are new to your world. They are now potential supporters of your organization.

Plus, each new person who’s brought in brings their mailing list, brings their social contacts and business contacts. You are expanding your reach by so much. If you think of it, if you have 12 people on your committee – and I suggest 10 to 12 – you have 10 to 12 times more people than you had at the beginning. Every time you get a new person on, they are going to be sending out invitations. They’re reaching out to sponsors and donors. Think about the potential of that.

The queen bees, you actually phoned, but with the worker bees, you’ll contact them via email because it’s a much more laid back kind of a process. Let the queen bee, your chairperson, let them call their friends and ask them personally. You’ll get a much higher chance of the people coming on the committee to say yes if they’re contacted by their friend. You will contact the people that you’re bringing on who are already volunteers.

Lastly, you want to follow up with real information. You’ll send out an email to all your new committee members, to your worker bees, thanking them for coming on line. You’ll give them a timeline to show that they clearly understand the process that will be coming up for the event planning. Also, I like to give them a roster of who else is on the committee with contact information, so they can see in advance who they’ll be working with.

All right, now that we’ve got our wonderful hive put together, our committee, let’s talk about effectively leading them. These three words – organization, communication, and appreciation – I live by these words as an event planner. I have them in a frame next to my computer, and I look at them every day. These are the three most important things to effective committee leadership and to event planning, in my humble opinion.

First, let’s talk about organization. You are going to give your committee what they need at the start. That’s being organized. All that means is give them timelines and a committee task outline at the start, at the very first meeting, if not before.

Give them an auction wish list. I just did this with a client that I’m working with right now and have had such a great response from it. At the first committee meeting, when they’re sitting down, there’s a wish list for auction items right there, and it’s awesome because people don’t have to say, “Well, what can I get?” You say, “Hey, these are the things we need.” You are leading them towards the things you need.

The donation request letter. If there’s a donation request letter asking for donation items, have that ready at the first meeting so that people can, on that day one, go out and solicit items for you. Why waste a month until you pull it together? Have it done in advance.

You’re also going to have an auction intake sheet, so when they get the auction items promised, they have a sheet where they can fill out the information and get it to the person in charge of the silent auction. You should also give them a thank you letter they can send out themselves, which saves you time.

I’m going to give you a little trick here. A lot of times, people hate silent auctions, but they know they need them for their event. One great way to get a leg up on your silent auction or your regular auction is when you have a committee meeting, let the committee know that you’d like each committee member to bring in two auction items. Two items, that’s nothing. You could do that in your sleep.

Well, that’s awesome because if everybody on that committee brings in at least 2 great auction items, you’ve already got 24 auction items right there at the very beginning. Anything after that is so much easier to bring in, and a lot of your committee members will bring in more. That gives you the peace of mind to know, “Hey, everybody’s got skin in the game. Everyone’s helping, and we don’t have to scramble so much.”

After organization, we’re going to talk about communication. You never want to assume your committee knows everything that’s going to be happening. That happens a lot. People say, “Oh, they know there’s a meeting coming up,” or, “They know there’s a deadline,” or, “They know what they’re supposed to do.”

This is a busy world we live in, and these are volunteers for you. We just need to help them to stay focused, because some of these volunteers work or are parents, and they may be on two or three other committees. We want to make sure that we communicate well our needs and give them guidance.

The first thing you’re going to do is email and text reminders about meetings and important deadlines. Don’t assume that people remember the meeting is coming up. You want to remind them, and people appreciate that.

Next is using agendas for all meetings. Effective leadership means you’re in control, and you have an agenda and a plan for that meeting. You’re not just sitting around looking at each other and going, “Well, what do we talk about next?” An agenda is important to communicate all of your needs to your committee. In your handouts, there’s a sample agenda that you can customize for your own event meetings.

Next, you want to follow up meetings and walk-throughs with recap emails. We always do follow-ups because there are committee members who can’t make every meeting or walk-through. When you send a follow-up email that recaps what happened, first of all, it brings people up to date who weren’t able to make those meetings or walk-throughs, but it also acts as an action list to remind people what they’re supposed to be doing that was discussed at the meeting. That’s why we always send follow-up recaps, and I do it through email. Why? Because I can always resend it easily and trace it. Email is easy because you can always go back and just press send if somebody didn’t get it.

Lastly, do let people know any changes in meetings or the event game plan. Send an email to let people know of changes. If a walk-through is canceled, please send an email. Don’t just assume that other people are going to tell them. That’s just respectful.

The next thing is appreciation. We had organization, communication, and now appreciation. Just like in any fundraising that we do, you can never show your appreciation enough. The first thing you want to do is show your appreciation by respecting the committee’s time. These people are spending valuable time volunteering to help you out. Don’t be late to committee meetings. Don’t come unprepared. Respecting the committee’s time is super important.

Also, show your appreciation by thanking the group as well as thanking individuals. We all know that it’s easy to say, “I want to thank Suzy Smith for bringing in that great donation for an auction item. It was amazing.” Sure, but make sure you also thank that group just for being there, just for helping you out. Lots of times, people forget about it because we’re so busy just trying to manage things, but that group is giving you such value by being there and helping you out.

Next, show your appreciation by being clear about their efforts being important to your organization and the mission. Let them know that, “Gosh, you know, if you weren’t here doing this, we wouldn’t be able to fund this program, because this event is so important.” Make sure you let them know in concrete terms what their time is doing to help your organization further its mission.

Lastly, thank them before, during, and after the event. Thank them before by thanking them during committee meetings and in emails. Thank them during the event. Have them stand up and say their names. Let them take a bow. These people have done a really amazing job for you, and you want to make sure that committee feels appreciated.

Lastly, thank them after the event, an email at the least. A letter is great. A phone call is even better. I always try to do a recap meeting or luncheon after so that we can go over our notes and just pat ourselves on the back, so we have that too. That’s the appreciation.

Now that we know all those three – how to really be an effective leader with organization, communication, and appreciation – how do we lead these darn meetings? There are 12 people. They’re busy. They’re showing up. What do we do?

First of all, you want to be in control. This is your time to really shine by being in control and not letting these meetings just go on and on. I’m sure that if I asked and had people raise their hands and I said, “How many people have sat in a meeting and just wanted to stick a fork in the side of your head and say, ‘Oh, this is going on and on and on, and we’re not getting anything accomplished’?” Yeah, that happens to all of us, which is why I’ve put this together this way to lead a meeting effectively.

First of all, as we talked about before, use an agenda. The most important thing of any meeting is to show up with a set agenda and to have that agenda consistent through each and every meeting that you do.

Here’s a little thing that I do at the very beginning at our first meeting. I set every single meeting from that day all the way to the event in advance so that everybody on the committee can pencil in those dates in advance and show up to the meetings. Then they see that agenda that I’ve created, and that agenda is the same every meeting from then on in.

As you’ll see when you see your sample agenda, there are highlighted topics. Those topics stay the same. You don’t ever have to touch those. The only thing you’re changing is the bullet points under each topic. It becomes a real routine for the committee to see, and it makes for a much more smooth-running meeting.

The next thing you want to do is let the committee chair lead the meeting. I know it’s easy for us, because we know so much more than sometimes these chairs do, to want to put our two cents in or be a leader. Let the committee chair lead, because that’s what you have brought them on to do. It would be very disrespectful to step over them or make them feel like they’re just figureheads. Let them really do their work.

The next thing is you do want to step in when a conversation veers off course. We know that when you get 12 people and different personalities that it’s never like everybody sitting glued with their ears forward listening to the committee chairs talking or whoever is talking. People get distracted, and when conversation veers off course, whether they’re off topic or people are just talking to themselves, you should step in and just refocus it. Focus, focus, focus, bring it back in so that you stay with the agenda, and you don’t veer off that agenda.

Lastly, you want to make sure that you’re going to use the right words when the wrong ideas are being considered. What do I mean by that? The wrong ideas need the right words. I am telling you we have all sat in these meetings where horrible ideas – horrible ideas – are passed by, and then you spend a half hour where everybody is griping about the idea. Somebody likes it, and then somebody’s feelings get hurt. When you hear an idea that is brought up that is so patently terrible that it needs to be cut off right then, this is your tactic. Remember this tactic. You want to praise, delay and distract.

Praise, here’s a silly idea. Somebody says, “I know. For our event, let’s have the theme be a pajama party, and everybody show up in their pajamas.” Now, you know that this is a black-tie event, and you know that’s a terrible idea. The minute that pajama party comes out of their mouth, the first thing you’re going to do is praise the idea. You’re going to say, “That’s an interesting idea.” You want to praise it. Why? Because people don’t like to be embarrassed in front of the committee, and they don’t like their ideas shot down, and they may have thought it was a good idea. You want to praise them to let them know you hear that idea.

The next thing you want to do is delay any more conversation on that idea by saying, “Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. Let me take that back and discuss it with the board and see if that falls within our bylaws or see if that falls within the ideas of what they wanted for this event.” You’re delaying it so you don’t have to talk about it anymore and that decision on if it’s a good idea or bad is not laying in your lap at that minute.

The next thing you want to do, quite honestly, is distract the group from that idea completely. You’re going to say, “It’s an interesting idea, Suzy, about that pajama party idea. I’m going to run that by the board when I get back to see if that falls within our bylaws. In the meantime, we, right now, are talking about overall thematic ideas, so let’s move on to some other ideas that others may have.”

As you can see, nobody’s feelings are hurt, and yet you’re able to deflect a 10-minute conversation and hurting people’s feelings as it is. Praise, delay, and distract. It works every time.

Effective committee leadership, you’ve got to stay in control. They are looking to you for leadership. That is the most important thing. You’re not there to sell your event, because the people are already on there. You’re not really selling your organization, because the people are already brought on. What you’re there to do is stay in control and be a leader.

Now we have this tremendously awesome, rock-star committee you’ve brought on, and now you’re leading them like a total champ. Now the secret is finding out what this group of 10 to 12 people is going to bring to your event, these wonderful assets. Everybody who is sitting at that table at your committee meeting, they’re not just people. They’re assets. They are assets in what they bring to the event as human beings and assets in what they bring in terms of outreach for sponsorships and donations.

First of all, remember that these people sitting there have talents and expertise. You may have somebody who’s a graphic artist. Great. Let them design your invitations for you. You may have somebody who’s a whiz with social media. Wonderful. Let them be in charge of the marketing and the social media for your event.

Find out what assets these people have and what expertise they have and then assign them tasks that are in line with their talents. I can’t tell you how many times there are people who are complete extroverts who are given the task of filling out forms and doing spreadsheets, and they’re just sitting in front of a computer when they’d be much better used going out to the community and soliciting donations and sponsorships. Really match the assets to the talents.

The next is they bring in donations and sponsorships. They are an asset because of, once again, their outreach with their social circles and their business circles.

Lastly, they’re going to bring you their contacts to your mailing list. They’re assets that way. You are going to greatly expand your event’s mailing list and potential guest list.

I want to say when a mailing list is brought to you for an event, you need to make sure with the committee members and the chairs, especially, if that list is exclusive just for this event. You do not want to alienate some really great people who are doing a lot of great work for you by taking their mailing list and merging it into your general mailing list. Sometimes that’s fine, but I know, especially with very high-end social groups, I work with some guilds here in Los Angeles that are just million-dollar guilds, and they do not want their mailing lists ever used for anything but their events. You need to make sure. It’s not worth alienating this group of really great people who are assets to you.

You need to help them. Lots of times, people are sitting at that table at your committee meeting, and they don’t know what they have that’s an asset to you. You need to help them. You need to bring a wish list to that first meeting, and that’s for donations for your auction.

This wish list will include things like condominiums if you have a condominium. Say, “Hey, who has a condominium that they can do a weekend for?” or, “Hey, who belongs to a golf club and can do a foursome of golf?” or, “Hey, who’s got an in with the fire department, because it would be great to get a ride on a fire truck and dinner with the fire crew?”

There are all sorts of assets that are hiding in that committee, and when you bring the wish list and discuss it at the first meeting, when people hear other people chiming in about what they can bring and donate, it gets everybody excited, and that makes them think, “I can bring that too,” or, “That reminds me, I belong to a tennis club. I can do a luncheon and round robin.” That spurs them on. You’re helping them to recognize what they can bring to the table. You want to brainstorm about that at the first meeting.

Most importantly, and this doesn’t happen all the time with nonprofits, but you want to help that committee with their outreach and follow-up. Remember, these committee members are busy. They work, and they’re parents, and they have other committees they’re on. If you hear a great idea and some great assets that are being brought up at a meeting, you know what? Follow up with a phone call or an email to that committee member and say, “Hey, remember when you talked about knowing the fire captain? If you give me their name, I will follow up for you. I’ll say, ‘Suzy Smith told me to call,’ and then you follow up.”

If there are some great ideas and assets out there, I don’t think you want to leave it to chance that the person is going to be good at following up. Why don’t you take it in your own hands and help? That is also taking some of the work off of that committee member, and they appreciate that.

This is one of my favorite little tricks. You have to remember that the people sitting on your committee are not professional fundraisers. That is often one of the first things that’s forgotten when you sit down with these committees and have so many things to remember. You really have to remember that these people are not professionals, and they have never been taught anything about best practices in fundraising. You have.

The one line that I find really helps committee members to feel much more comfortable going out, soliciting donations, and asking for sponsorships is by telling them they’re not asking for money. They’re offering an opportunity. Let’s just repeat that, because that’s worth repeating. The people have to remember they’re not asking for money, but they’re offering an opportunity to participate in something meaningful. I tell you when you say that line, especially at the first meeting and maybe even repeat it several meetings in, if you remind them they’re not asking for money, they get so much more relaxed about moving forward with solicitations. You have to give them the right mindset to ask.

Now that we have this great committee, and you’re leading it well, and we figured out all the assets that they have, and it’s moving along smoothly, sometimes it just has little issues that do pop up. I want to talk to you today a little bit about managing some of the problems and personal issues that do pop up when you have a committee.

The first thing we want to watch out for are certain personality types. Once again, just think about it. We all know these four people. They all show up at some point or another in our event committees.

The first is the Chatterbox. They talk about anything to anyone at any time, and it’s almost never appropriate to what we’re discussing on the agenda. You need to watch out for that person. The Chatterbox will talk. My favorite is they like to talk about what they’re going to wear. That’s a favorite thing, what they’re going to wear six months before the event.

With the Chatterbox, I find that if the chairperson is leading the meeting and the Chatterbox is talking to people on the side and being distracting, oftentimes, at the next meeting, I’ll sit next to them. Nothing shuts down a Chatterbox faster than having the leader, meaning the teacher or you, sit next to them. It’s sort of like high school. If you have a Chatterbox, do consider sitting down next to them during the meeting so that they’re less likely to talk.

The next is Debby Downer. Unfortunately, they do have issues, and their issues are real. There are illnesses. There’s divorce. There are money problems. Unfortunately, they do bring it to the meetings, and they talk about it, and they are just a downer, and it’s really hard.

I find that the same thing that worked for bad ideas, which is the praise, delay, and distract, sort of works for Debby Downers. If someone is talking and saying, “Oh, I can’t really sell tickets because I’m getting divorced, and we’re going broke, and we’re in bankruptcy,” instead of praise, use the word empathize. If they say it, you empathize. You say, “Oh, my gosh. That must be so difficult for your whole family.” Then you delay, and you say, “I’d like to hear more about that afterwards and see if there’s anything I can do for you.” Then you distract and say, “In the meantime, we’re focusing on selling tickets, so let’s move on to that.” Instead of praise, delay, and distract, you’re doing empathize, delay, and distract for Debby Downers.

Then you have the Mean Girls. Unfortunately, high school still continues on, and there are usually more than one. There’s a couple of them, and they sit together, and every time some of the other committee members they don’t like as much say something, they roll their eyes and do that Mean Girls kind of staring up at the ceiling and sighing big, heavy sighs. That’s no good. It’s bad for morale.

Unfortunately, Mean Girls oftentimes are influencers and can have a lot of social contacts. I do the same thing with Mean Girls I do for Chatterboxes. I sit right next to them, and nothing cuts them down quicker than having me glance over at them.

Then we have the Selfie. There’s a person who is so self-involved that’s all she wants to talk about. Any time you talk about tickets, she talks about what she wants. She wants the flowers. You say, “Here’s our décor,” and she goes, “Well, I want to do hydrangeas, and I’m just going to do them.” There’s always a person who’s selfish and just wants it her way. There’s really nothing you can do about a Selfie except be aware and maybe talk to them quietly on the side. That’s it.

I have a question here from Gerri Anne. Hi, Gerri Anne. She asked about having an event for a statewide organization. For online or email discussions, I really think, Gerri Anne, that you can do a GoToMeeting where everybody can be in the set together and do the chatting and things. I think that working on a committee far away, as long as everybody is . . . I’ve gotten questions here. I’m sorry. Gerri Anne, basically, as long as there is a clear leader and then a moderator, which is your point – the chairperson is the leader, and the moderator is you, who is sitting on the side – if you have that, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting together or you’re sitting at a GoToMeeting or some kind of phone discussion.

I’ve done Skypes with them, which is very effective because you can see people. You really have to. As long as you stay with an agenda and have somebody leading it and then the moderator steps in when the Mean Girls or the Chatterboxes go in, you’re going to be good.

I have a lot of questions here. I am going to plow through this very last one. I’ve only got three more slides, and then all those questions are going to come to. Hold tight. I’m going to finish this because I know you want to know how to troubleshoot some of these things, and then we’re going to answer all those questions afterwards.

Next, the guidelines for managing committee problems. These are some situations you do want to watch out for, and I have, over the past 20 years, sat through all of these more than once. I wish that I could tell you that they never happen, but they do, so let’s just talk about how to deal with them.

The first is the Bad Mouth. There’s a person who talks negatively about your event or your committee or even your organization. That’s bad. You do not want somebody taking all the joy out of your committee or making bad karma about your event. You do not want that.

In all of these situations – one, two, three, four, five – in all five situations, I want you to know that you need to deal with these separately and not in front of the committee. Even if somebody is talking negatively at the event committee about the event or saying, “We can’t sell tickets,” or, “This is really stupid,” or people are saying bad things, once again, for that one, you want to praise and say, “Thanks for bringing that up.” Then delay, saying, “I’ll talk to my board about it.” Then distract and move on.

You do not want people badmouthing, and you are not going to talk about it at the committee meeting. You’re going to pull that person aside afterwards or make an appointment to talk to them on the phone or, better, in person. You’re going to take that Bad Mouth person, and you’re going to have them tell you exactly how they feel and what they feel.

Let them talk, and listen to them. After they’ve told you their issues, ask what they suggest as a solution, because people want to be heard. Then talk to them about the negative impact their comments are having, and let them know you appreciate them moving forward and talking to you separately if there’s anything.

Once again, any time someone’s in a committee meeting and doing something inappropriate, that’s when you praise, delay, and distract. Then you get them out of the committee meeting and let them vent to you alone. Then just be aware they’re there, and you oversee that.

The next is the Over-Promiser. We’ve all seen the person who says, “Oh, my gosh. I can get Pierce Brosnan to be the MC for our event. No problem. I live next door to him.” I hear that a lot because I live in Malibu, and you know that’s never going to happen. You need to be skeptical, and you need to be prepared that they’re not going to come through.

People may say, “You know what? I can get you a roundtrip ticket on an airline for our live auction, so put that on the live auction.” Awesome, but be skeptical. There are certain people who don’t come through with that. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be prepared to have to just not have that thing at your event.

Next is the Disappeared. Sometimes there are people who are really active on your committee, and suddenly, they don’t answer phone calls, and they don’t talk to you. You know what? It’s hard. This is a team. You want them to be there, but if they aren’t available, you need to move forward. You need to try and contact them and find out why they aren’t participating.

Whatever the reason is, you need to share it with the committee because they are going to notice that there’s not somebody there. If somebody is suddenly not there, find out why they’re not there. Unless it is something that they don’t want shared with the committee, because some people don’t, let the committee know, and then move on. Once you talk about it, just move on.

The next is the Thief. There are people once in a very great while. I’ve only had this twice in 20 years. Somebody has stolen something from the auction items, and somebody has stolen money from the ticket sales. I will tell you that in both my instances, they were in the organization when we traced them back.

You need to handle any noticeable thefts or missing items immediately and in private. This is not something to be discussed with the group or the committee. Your committee is a team, and you want to keep them positive and cohesive, and a thief in the midst is bad. If you are not the Executive Director, you want to take it up to the Executive Director.

If it is a committee member who is stealing or taking something, you do want to make a decision as to the value of what has been taken and the actions that are going to be ensuing. You don’t want to alienate your top donor. If they took a gift card to Pottery Barn for $100 and they’re a $10,000 donor, that’s not worth it, but you need to really make a decision in private with your nonprofit organization about how to handle that.

Lastly, death or illness. This should be handled in private. If somebody has a death or an illness, and I’ve had this several times, who was a committee member, you need to talk to them on the phone or meet with them in private. You need to give them empathy and ask them how they would like you to proceed.

Some people are very public and want the warmth and support of the team. That would mean you’d rally the troops. Other times, they just want to be a turtle, and they want to deal with it on their own. You need to respect that and let the team know that. That is how you handle those things.

Today, three things from this webinar, if you remember anything, if you walk away thinking, “Oh, my god, so much information, how am I going to deal with this?” these three things will get you through your entire committee event planning experience.

First of all, organization, communication, and appreciation. Secondly, that praise, delay, and distract tactic, which is just awesome. You’ll see. It works. It works in real life with your children too if you’re parenting. Lastly, remember that you’re in control, and they’re looking to you for leadership.

Just keep your head above water, and remember that these are volunteers. They’re assets to you, and they give you an awesome opportunity to really succeed at your event and expand your reach long-term and to succeed beyond all your wildest event dreams.

That’s it for what I’m presenting today. For those of you who are doing anything with events or thinking about events, I really encourage you to come to my website at, take a look at what we have to offer, and sign up. We do an event planning tip of the week for tight budgets, so those of you who are looking at really great, awesome, creative ways to put on smashing events and not break the bank, we have a weekly thing for that. Also, just to let you know, I am teaching event planning webinars with this month. Take a look at those too.

I hope you found this helpful. I love, love, love events, and I love helping people have great events, so bless you all for all the good work you guys are doing.

Steven:Thanks, A.J. That was awesome. I was just sitting here furiously taking notes. I love the queen bee analogy. It was really fun. I’ve never heard it before. I really like it. It makes a lot of sense. It’s great.

A.J.:Thank you.

Steven:I think you’ve got a lot of other people’s brain cells firing, because there are a lot of questions in here, probably more than we can get to in the next 15 minutes.

A.J.:I know. I’ll let you choose. I’m going to let Steven choose. He knows his Bloomies.

Steven:Yeah. Well, Melissa’s got one here that a couple of other people asked. How do you deal with low attendance? Once you’ve gotten your committee up and running, you’ve chosen all your people, but not everybody is attending every meeting. What should you do there?

A.J.:That is a great question, and I appreciate that. First of all, I hate meetings. Just so you know, I’m an event planner who specializes in leading meetings and hates them, so I understand why people just don’t want to come. They’re busy.

Low attendance is usually because of two things. One, you have too many meetings scheduled. You don’t need to have so many meetings. Secondly, you don’t schedule your meetings way in advance so people have conflicts.

That being said, you can do two things. Let’s use nine months. I like to say in nine months you can have a baby, or you can have an event. Let’s say we have a nine-month window of opportunity for event planning. You can schedule each of those meetings once a month. That’s all you need. You have nine meetings total in a year’s time. Let them know, and you schedule it on the same day every month. “It will be the first Tuesday of each month at 10:00.”

You’ll decide what works best for your group when you meet at that first meeting. By scheduling in advance, people have it on their calendar way in advance. When a tennis match comes up, they can say, “You know what? I’ve got that event meeting.” That is what has really helped to hugely boost attendance in my event committee meetings.

Also, food and snacks. People love snacks. People love coffee. Really, if you do snacks and coffee, it’s just like kindergarten. People love it. Of course, in kindergarten, it’s juice and not coffee, but we’re all grownups.

That’s it. It really does make a difference to schedule in advance and not to have too many committee meetings. Not everybody can come, because they have different schedules. Hence, that’s where you do the follow-up recap. Those reminders help too.

As I said, schedule in advance, don’t have too many meetings, and send those reminders a couple days beforehand to remind people the meetings are coming up.

Steven:I love it, especially the food part. Food’s always good.


Steven:Here’s one along the same lines from Hailey. What about folks who have disappeared? They’ve fallen off the face of the earth. How many non-responses do you give them? How long do you give them before removing them from the committee? How do you handle that? What about those folks who disappear on you?

A.J.:Yeah, that’s a great question. It does happen, and I actually once had the chairperson do that, which I could have seen in advance because I had cautioned this nonprofit not to choose this person who obviously had huge personal issues going on.

I say three months. There’s no reason for that except three months seems like you’re giving them a good chance. You’re giving them a good chance to do it. Usually, if you email, they’ll respond, “I can’t make it. I can’t make it.” If they’re totally, totally not answering a phone call or an email, then they disappeared, and that’s the answer. If people ask where they are, you say, “You know what? Something came up, and they just chose not to be on it.” I always try to put a positive spin on it. I try never to badmouth or say, “Oh, they flaked.”


A.J.:Every community is a small community, and we love to keep them as close as possible. That’s that.

Steven:That makes sense. A.J., could you talk about subcommittees? We’ve had a couple people ask about whether you recommend them. What are good tasks if you do recommend them? How do you feel about subcommittees in general?

A.J.:I love them, and it’s so funny you say that, because I actually have a whole series of workbooks coming out that are breaking up what every single subcommittee’s tasks are. Stay tuned for 2017 at the end of the year.

Subcommittees are important. I am a huge fan. It gives everybody a specific task, and it’s not like a big cluster of everybody just giving their opinion. It keeps the meetings running more smoothly. It makes sure everybody is known in advance. If you go onto your agenda, I sent you a sample agenda, that is actually broken down into all of the subcommittees that I suggest.

Once again, if you give me a call, I will go over this. I know that we have so many questions. I am thrilled to talk to each of you about your individual event. Do schedule a call. Subcommittees are important because I think that it gives structure to the tasks, and people like structure, and you have more control to make sure everything’s being taken care of and, at the last minute, you don’t see something drop between the cracks.

Steven:That makes sense.

A.J.:Yay, subcommittees. I always say nine subcommittees, I think, is the number that’s on there, but you’ll see them listed on the agenda. The agenda just goes through each subcommittee, and each subcommittee’s chair presents that portion.

Steven:Anyone listening, if you didn’t get those handouts, I sent them at noon Eastern today. If you registered after that, you probably didn’t see that, but I’m going to send them out again this afternoon. If you don’t have that, don’t panic. You’ll get that this afternoon from me for sure.

Here’s one from Katie. This may be my favorite question that I’ve seen through the whole session. Katie’s wondering how do you appease a longtime committee member, influencer, organizer, or someone on your team who tends to see any changes to maybe a longstanding event as a personal insult? Maybe they resist any change. They take it personally. Any advice for dealing with that kind of person?

A.J.:Yes. Once again, that’s a great question. I always like to deal with any issues separately and away from the committee as a group. I like to do it in person over coffee, personally, or just a casual meeting. You can do it on the phone. I would call and let them know in advance that there are changes.

If you can see changes coming down the pike, ask their opinion. Let them know it’s being considered, and let them know why it’s being considered. That may not appease them, but at least it makes them the feel that they’ve been alerted, that they’re opinion matters and is at least being heard, and that you value them. That’s part of it. There’s a lot of ego involved.


A.J.:There are people who leave.


A.J.:I wish I could tell you differently, but you will mitigate your losses so much by making that personal outreach and letting them know you hear them, you appreciate them, and let them know why the changes are being made.

Steven:Nice. Here’s another great one from Andrew. Andrew is wondering if you are new to the job, so you’re new to the organization, how do you identify an existing event that may have been mishandled in the past? Are there any warning signs or maybe questions you could ask as a new employee to sniff these things out?

A.J.:Right, good question, yeah, because a lot of people change jobs, and then they suddenly have this event that’s thrown in their lap.


A.J.:First of all, if it’s a recurring event and you see a downslide in ticket sales or revenue, warning sign. Unless you have a 2008 disaster with the economy like I’ve lived through, that’s the only reason to have a downswing in your event attendance or your revenue. You want to look at that.

If it was just one event, you want to see if you met your goals, and not just goals for money. It’s money. They’re fundraisers. That’s why we do them. But my gosh, how often do you have 300 people just raptly paying attention to you and your messaging and your mission? Look at all your goals. Did you get new donors? Did you have new people join your supporter list or your email list? Did you have a call to action?

When you see a downturn on an occurring event, or if you see that none of the goals were met for the event prior, then that’s definitely something that is a warning sign, and I really suggest having him call me. Give me a call. You have the PDF, and you can schedule a call. You can just read to me what you have and talk to me about it a little bit, and I can brainstorm with you a little bit more.

Steven:Cool. Here’s one along similar lines from Cassandra. Cassandra is new to her organization. The previous event planner didn’t use committees, and Cassandra is wondering if you have any suggestions, A.J., on maybe getting a committee established for the first time for an existing event. It’s not a new event. It wouldn’t be totally new. Any advice for her on getting that first committee going for an existing event?

A.J.:Absolutely. You have the slides to this, and you’ll probably have access to a recording at some point, but go back to the queen bee portion of this where it talked about a hive and the traits you’re looking for. You want to first get the cochairmen. Get two, if possible, chairs to the event.

What you’ll do is you’ll look at past volunteers. Look at the spouses of your board, and I know that this is not gender specific, but it just happens to be in my world. The board members, a lot of times, are men, and they have wives who are looking and who just happen to be at that phase in their life. You want to look at board members’ spouses.

You also want to look at big donors, people who have skin in the game. When you approach them, you want to approach them so that you are not just saying, “Hey, come on as a chairperson.” You want to approach them about their opinion. Get them excited about the event before you bring them on. Ask them who their friends are that they want to bring on as committee members.

Also, look at other people who are volunteers on a regular basis and who are reliable in your organization. That is the first place to look around, and you’d be surprised. I have yet to find someone who doesn’t have that light bulb pop onto their head, and suddenly, it’s like, “Oh, yeah. There they are.”

Steven:Yeah, there’s always someone.

A.J.:Yeah, there is.

Steven:Well, we’ve probably got time for one more question. I know there’s a lot that went unanswered, A.J., so I’m just going to flash your contact info here for the rest of the time.


Steven:Please email A.J.


Steven:A.J., is that cool if people email you questions?

A.J.:Oh, I love it. I’m sorry. I love when everybody’s events go well. There’s so much good in the world. Just email me. It takes a day, maybe, at the most for me to get back to you, but I would love to hear from you.

Steven:Cool. Do look for that CharityHowTo webinar. Those are great webinar series as well. Obviously, A.J. is a wealth of information, so there’s lots of good stuff there. The last question, Athena, she’s a first-time events coordinator. A.J., what is your one best piece of advice for a first-timer putting together their first event?

A.J.:Oh, my gosh. That’s such a big thing. Be organized – organization, communication, appreciation. Go straight to the event planning. Have things done in advance. Look at the timelines. I have timelines and templates, and if you contact me, I’ll send them to you. Really look – oh, my gosh – look at the CharityHowTo webinar that’s coming up called Successful Basic Events. It’s basically A to Z event planning in an hour and a half. It’s great.

I would say organization, communication, and appreciation. If you put those three words in front of your computer and look at them every day, that, to me, will do so much for you. There’s a lot of resources online as well as mine about event planning and things like that. Schedule your call. I’ll talk to you about it. But really, you’re going to be fine. You’re a first-time event planner. You’ll do great. You’ll do fine.

Steven:Yeah. Well, A.J., I’ll give you the last word. Where can people get ahold of you best? What’s the best way to get ahold of you?

A.J.:You can always email me if you have a personal question. You can go on my site. We have workshops and programs that we put together for small and medium nonprofits. Not everybody has these huge budgets, and I really do love it when we can help the smaller nonprofits as well as the larger ones.


A.J.:You guys are doing great work. I appreciate every one of you, and thank you for giving me your time today.

Steven:Yeah, well, thanks for taking time out of your day. This was really awesome. What a great way to start off the year of our webinars. I’m glad we did this in January, because everyone can use all this stuff regardless of when their event is this year. This is awesome. Thanks, A.J.

A.J.:And forever. Once you have it, you’ve got it forever.

Steven:Yeah, you’re right. There you go.

A.J.:All right, listen. Thanks so much. I appreciate it. Everybody have a great day.

Steven:Yeah, have a great day. Thanks to all of you for hanging out with us. I know it’s a busy time of year. You’re probably doing a lot of year-end receipts and thank you letters, so I always appreciate seeing all your smiling faces here.

You’ll get the recording from me later on this afternoon as well as the slides and all those handouts if you don’t already have them. Look for that. Just give me a couple of hours. I’ll get that out to you today. I promise.

There are lots of goodies on our website as well. We’ve got our webinar series, of course. We’ve got some really good webinars scheduled over the next few months or so every Thursday, including one week from today, a special 3:00 p.m. time. We’re going to go a little bit later in the afternoon, but Sandy Rees is going to join us to talk about putting together a written fundraising plan. That’s another timely one. If you don’t have that written plan for 2017 already, you’ve got to attend this webinar. Sandy’s awesome. She’s one of our favorites. It’s totally free and totally educational.

If that one doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, there are lots of other sessions on our webinar page. You’ll see those. Just click on that link there. Go to our website. Click Resources. We’d love to see you at another Thursday webinar.

With that, I’ll say a final goodbye. Have a good rest of your day. Stay safe if there’s snow out there. Have a good weekend, and hopefully, we will talk to you all again next week. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.