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We Could All Use A Peach Corps

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is one of my favorite places. It is a clean, friendly model of efficiency, organization, well-curated shops, eating establishments, and services. On top of that, it’s pretty swell as a first-rate international airport. This week, it is also a model for special events planners tasked with organizing major events. It is Super Bowl week in Atlanta and the city is expecting an estimated 150,000 out-of-town visitors, many of whom will arrive by air. Predictions are between 65,000 and 75,000 more people than usual will fly the game’s official airline and Hartsfield-Jackson’s main tenant, Delta, in the days leading up to and just after the big event.

Atlanta is already the busiest airport in the world, but as I navigated my way through the conspicuously extra-crowded terminals during Super Bowl week, I was impressed because things were still working beautifully. The corridors, gate areas, and restrooms were clean, and waiting lines for everything from security to fast food were reasonable. This was thanks to months of careful planning to ensure everyone was prepared for the big week.

While the Atlanta Super Bowl Planning Committee has been meeting for more than a year, according to the January issue of Delta’s Sky magazine, the company also began months ago to plan appropriate staffing, smooth traffic flow (including ensuring competing teams’ hometown fans don’t arrive and depart from adjacent gates), ordering adequate food and beverages, arranging for additional flight attendants and pilots, and purchasing extra catering and fuel to accommodate the super-sized crowd. Plans even extend to having added supplies of pillows, blankets and toilet kits ready for the inevitable travelers who plan to await flights home by sleeping at the airport.

A key component of Delta’s success is that the company recruited employee volunteers to act as airport ambassadors. Dubbed “Peach Corps,” because Georgia is the peach state, volunteers were interviewed and selected for their expertise and commitment to customer service. They have distinctive uniforms making them easy to spot and they were readily apparent today, strategically deployed near trains and other critical junctions to direct people and answer questions. I watched as one assisted a panicked woman who had misplaced her cell phone. After calming the frantic woman, the volunteer called her number to locate the phone. It wasn’t long until the woman’s back pocket was buzzing and everyone nearby enjoyed a good laugh with the relieved customer. “Don’t tell your kids,” someone joked. The gracious sincerity of the Delta volunteer was impressive.

The takeaway for collegiate events planners is that when we are anticipating a major event on campus, no detail can be overlooked. It’s not business as usual and assuming that our regular systems, good though they may be, will not buckle under the strain is foolhardy. Creating our own Peach Corps could be just the thing to ensure that alumni, donors, prospective students, and friends enjoy a hospitable experience and take home great memories every time they enjoy major events on our campuses.

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Build Better Bylaws

Bylaws define the rules of non-profit entities and understanding them is essential to success for advancement professionals who serve as alumni association or foundation executive directors or as members of other non-profit boards.

Simply put, bylaws are a set of rules established by an organization to regulate itself. They define the group’s purpose, who its members are, who can be an officer, how often meetings must be held, who is eligible to serve on its executive committee, whether or not there are standing committees, what parliamentary authority will govern proceedings, and how the bylaws can be amended. Not knowing what they say, or having an up-to-date document, can short-circuit plans and in the worst-case scenario, get you in legal trouble, especially when fund-raising and the distribution of funds are involved.

Oftentimes, bylaws rest out-of-sight in a dark drawer until a problem arises. In actuality, they are a living document and the first place attorneys look when something goes wrong. For an executive director, bylaws can be a powerful ally. Bylaws should be updated every five years or so, especially in light of rapidly changing technology. Building good bylaws can be a fraught experience and attempting to make changes is probably not the best first action for a new executive director. Eventually, however, you will likely be in a situation that requires updating or creating them.

Twenty years ago, as a rookie alumni association executive director, I got my baptism in the ramifications of living with bylaws when I inherited a somewhat rogue board. Since then, I have had many non-profit roles, both for universities and charitable organizations, and while I am not an attorney and this post is not about telling you how to write bylaws, here are my opinions on useful concepts to include.

Define the relationshipof the executive director to the board and specify whether or not he or she has voting privileges. State that the executive director is an ex officio member of all committees.

Keep the board small.Large membership means difficulty in getting things done and higher costs to host meetings, especially if your association pays member travel expenses. Choose an odd number that is divisible by the length of years that constitute a board term. Therefore, if terms are three years, the board might have 21 people which means seven members would rotate off and seven new people would arrive each year.

Make terms short.Three years is about the length of time most people can sustain interest and be truly effective. Short terms will keep your board fresh, provide opportunities for more people to participate, and ensure that its composition reflects your membership both in age and diversity. The first year is for learning, the second is for peak productivity, and the third is for productivity, leadership, and mentoring newcomers.

Don’t allow a progressionfor officers that stipulates people automatically progress through officer roles until they finally retire or become president by default. The person who was brilliant as the first vice president for finance may not have the skill set to be the next president but you’ll be stuck with her if that’s the sequence the bylaws stipulate. Flexibility in filling officer positions allows you to recruit the best people for jobs.

Use a nominating committeeto vet potential board members and officer candidates. The committee then brings a slate to the full board for an up or down vote. This cuts down on politics and voting for personalities as opposed to selecting the right people for jobs. Bylaws should define the structure of the nominating committee. It is a good idea to include both current and former board members. Including past board presidents in this role is an effective way to keep them meaningfully involved and take advantage of their insights and experience. Rotate members each year.

Define a period of timeduring which retiring board members are ineligible to be reelected. One year works pretty well. This way, board members can’t simply renew themselves. This will help prevent your board from getting stale and becoming a clique.

Require board membersand prospects to be current donors and involved in your organization’s activities. It is important for leaders to have skin in the game. Board membership should never be the first exposure to an organization, no matter how prominent a person may be.

Don’t allow family membersto serve simultaneously. In the case of alumni associations, I also don’t recommend allowing school employees who happen to be graduates (or their alumni spouses), to serve as board members. In all of these situations there is too much chance for conflicts of interest. Besides, you’ve got many qualified people among your alumni body who would love to be part of your board. There is no need to fall back on using two members of the same family or alumni who are connected by employment.

Specify what constitutes causefor removalfrom the board and how this process would work.

Include a statement about your commitment to diversity.

Add the authority to conduct business via technology.This might include voting, signing documents, and transferring funds.

Include the requirementthat the group provide directors and officers insurance to protect board members in the event of a lawsuit.

Define what constitutes a quorumfor conducting business.

Specify your parliamentary authority.This means the board is bound by a set of procedures for conducting business, casting votes, and resolving disputes. The classic reference, Robert’s Rules of Order is the U.S. standard. Editions are updated regularly and the book also includes sample bylaws.

Consult an attorney before accepting bylawsto ensure that they are strong enough to withstand legal challenges and written in accordance with the laws of your state.

 

 

 

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Follow Through For Great Events

Follow through is what we are seeing when we admire the beautiful tall arced posture of a golfer whose ball is headed straight down the fairway or the powerful coiled position of a baseball player as the ball he has hit heads for the centerfield fence.

Follow through means carrying motion through until a plan or activity is concluded. It is a fundamental taught to anyone learning golf, baseball, or tennis because the momentum of continuing the swing after the ball is struck creates the force that delivers power. Follow through is also critical for events planners. It is the difference between events that are good enough and those that are great.

Solid follow through ensures attention to detail and saves time and money because we don’t have to re-do work or finish what someone else started. Follow though prevents mistakes and helps eliminate last-minute chaos caused because critical details were left unfinished.

The university opened last month for the new academic year which meant a flurry of back-to-back events for thousands of people, all compressed into a short timeline. Watching the work crews hurriedly set up tables to accommodate 1,000 picnic guests, I noticed that one man was not snapping table legs firmly into place. For him, this was a time saving short cut, but this dangerous lack of follow through meant tables would likely collapse spilling hot food and drinks on unsuspecting guests.  The consequence: We had to stop progress and recheck all tables.

Many large trash receptacles were delivered to the site to be distributed to pre-determined locations. Instead of following through and arranging them according to plan, the delivery people unloaded the containers into a massive group far from where they would be used and went home for the day. What’s worse, they delivered numerous cans that had not been emptied from a previous event! Their lack of follow through meant people had to be pulled from other jobs and deployed to solve the problem.

Follow through is everyone’s responsibility. It could be that the man setting up tables had never been shown how to lock legs or that the trash receptacle delivery personnel were never told where to put the containers. If so, it means that someone in their organizations failed to follow through with good training and complete instructions.

Here are five tips for ensuring good follow though:

  1. Do what you say you are going to do. If you accept responsibility for certain tasks, be sure they are complete, accurate, and on time. Follow through to be certain you have met your obligations by reviewing meeting minutes and checking your own notes.
  2. Handle tasks once. While events planners must be adept multi-taskers, the more times you handle a task, the more you are likely to forget details or run out of time to complete them. Whenever possible, handle things once, complete them, and move on. Don’t leave details dangling.
  3. Organize all components of an event on a spreadsheet. Check each off as completed. Follow through by double-checking the list with members of your team.
  4. Make decisions and stick to them. Ambiguous or tentative plans leave the door wide open for lack of follow through because everyone is waiting for a decision and in the meantime, moves on to service other needs. If plans must change, be certain this is communicated and that new tasks are assigned and those that are no longer needed are cancelled.
  5. Build follow through in to planning. Follow through with your team by periodically meeting to review progress, identify trouble spots, and revise plans, if necessary.
  6. Always file a debrief detailing what worked, what didn’t and why—doing so is the ultimate follow through and helps ensure mistakes won’t be repeated and that events continue to improve year after year.
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Special Events Planners Need Vacations

Special events planners need vacations. I just returned from mine. Not just any vacation, this was an unplugged, disconnected, off the grid, tech-free week! No smartphone, e-mail, texting, Facebook, and no television. It was time well spent. My goal was to rest from the unrelenting pressures of constant event planning and the toxic continual bad news spewed 24/7 by omnipresent media. It took me several days to gear down, but it worked. Even after a full day back in the office, I still feel refreshed.

It’s hard to get away from technology, but I found the perfect place to do so, Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote places in the U.S., a destination that is far off the beaten path and is noted for its dark night sky, rugged landscape, great hiking, and bountiful wildlife. What’s more, I went with a group of strangers, thus leaving relationship politics and behavioral expectations behind. I spent eight days being myself, deliciously “in the moment,” concentrating on just what was in front of me. It was positively therapeutic.

Everyone needs a vacation, especially special events planners. CBS News recently listed event coordinators as number six on their top ten list of most stressful jobs noting, “Arranging meetings, conventions and events of any sort requires myriad organizational and people skills that can raise just about anyone’s blood pressure.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/media/the-10-most-stressful-jobs/

The fact is, most Americans don’t use their paid time off and even when we do, technology means that we are constantly checking in with the office. This is a mistake.

An interesting report by Project: Time Off called “The Tethered Vacation,” is chock full of observations and facts about why people don’t use their vacation time and the effects of pervasive technology when they do. The one I find most interesting is, “Employees who are more connected are not only taking less time off, they are also more stressed. More than half (51%) of those who check in frequently report stress in their home life, compared to 48 percent of those who check in occasionally and 36 percent who unplug on vacation.”

https://www.projecttimeoff.com/research/tethered-vacation

Bottom line: The constant interruption of smartphones and other technology actually makes us less effective, not only as worker, but in our interpersonal relationships. We all need a break, but taking one requires a commitment to yourself. Think of it this way, not using vacation means you are working for free. Event planners work many, many extra hours. Compounding that by giving back vacation time is like taking a salary reduction. Besides, giving your coworkers a break from you and refilling your creativity by immersing yourself in a different environment will yield benefits in productivity down the road. As people who devote much energy to taking care of guests and ensuring that they have a perfect experience, letting someone else take care of you is well-deserved and soothing. Vacation is an investment in yourself.

Whether or not you disconnect like I did, here are some ways to make your vacation a reality.

  1. Pick a date and make a deposit or purchase an airline ticket. Doing so means you are less likely to back out and also helps spread the cost over many months. Good times to get away in academia are after spring commencement, in early September after the initial rush to open a new academic year, after December commencement, anytime in January, and during spring break. Try scheduling vacation the same week that your boss will be away. It lessens the chance for “pop up” events that need last-minute attention.
  2. Plan to really get away. A “staycation,” that is, remaining at home, will not yield the same benefits as a complete change of scenery.
  3. Control your calendar. Diplomatically steer events away from your vacation week. Having a clear calendar while you are away will dramatically reduce your anxiety about being gone.
  4. Tell your friends, family, and colleagues that you want some down time and ask that they not contact you while away.
  5. Give yourself peace of mind by assembling a home based “first response team.” Arrange for friends and family to back you up to handle minor problems or field emergency calls. Designate someone to check on your elderly mom and to be the first point of contact in case of emergency.  Recruit someone that the vet can call if your dog gets sick while boarding.  Ask a neighbor to watch your house.
  6. As the date approaches, don’t remind coworkers that you will be away. Telling people as you are about to leave only encourages them to dump projects on which they’ve procrastinated onto your desk at the last moment.
  7. Trust your colleagues to manage events while you are off. You will have the chance to return the favor when they take their vacations.
  8. Remind yourself that taking a break will make you a more productive employee and energize you for events ahead.
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Yea, May! Commencement Time!

Yea, May! It’s the time of year when campus events planners have the end in sight and are looking forward to some time off. The academic year that began last August and that has since encompassed literally hundreds of events big and small, is about to wind up with the year’s biggest celebration: commencement!

Campus events planners often say to me “I don’t have anything to do with commencement.” But wait, we all do. Commencement is our reason for being, without graduating students, none of us would be employed. There would be no need for events to recruit students, re-connect alumni, or court donors.

Commencement (called “convocation” in Canada) is the year’s biggest celebration, a day of accomplishment and achievement celebrated by thousands of very happy people. For many, it will be one of the highlights of a lifetime. Why wouldn’t you want to be involved?

Orchestrating commencement requires a team of people with specialized knowledge and the capabilities to manage a large ceremony involving everyone from dignitaries to proud grandmothers. It’s worth learning how to do.

For one thing, adding commencement experience to your special events planner skill set adds value to your resume, is good for job security, and is attractive come promotion time. Even if diversifying into commencement and other academic ceremonies seems a far-off likelihood, I encourage you to get experience anyway by volunteering to help. While every campus has someone who is ultimately responsible for commencement, no campus has a permanent staff large enough to manage the ceremony without others. Volunteers are always needed and being one is a good way to try out commencement to see if you like it. Besides, volunteering for commencement may yield some return favors when you need assistance with major events. Beginners usually start by assisting with line-up, helping in the robing rooms, or facilitating post-ceremony receptions.

Commencement is a joyous day and it is always gratifying to watch the graduates and their proud families celebrate one of life’s major milestones. The positive energy and excitement never fails to rejuvenate my planner spirit and leaves me deeply satisfied.  Commencement brings closure to the year.

To learn more about commencement, check out the North American Association of Commencement Officers at http://naaco.org or plan to attend one of their regional meetings or annual conference.

To those of you who are already part of the proud commencement team, good luck with this spring’s ceremonies. I have posted answers to commencement FAQ in “Academic Protocol Fast Facts” under the Academic Ceremonies tab.