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Maximize Holiday Mingling

Year-end brings a flurry of opportunity for holiday mingling at receptions, programs, and other entertainments to thank donors, congratulate December graduates, celebrate with employees, and welcome the New Year. In our office, December 1 begins a string of entertaining that continues non-stop until the last graduate leaves the parking lot after commencement on December 10. Universities spend thousands of dollars and hours of staff time to make certain each guest list is accurate, the program is perfect, the décor sets the right tone, and the food is delicious in order to thank and impress guests with an eye toward affirming or deepening their future involvement. We’ve got event logistics down pat, but are we getting the most out of our staff involvement?

Too often advancement and other university staff, such as deans and vps, attend functions only to congregate in a cluster talking to primarily to each other, or appear just long enough to have a drink and nosh on prime catering before mentally checking the “I did it” box and making an early exit. Meaningful engagement between staff and guests is the only way to garner ROI on any kind of event, but it is especially important during year-end gatherings when giving is in the air and people are in a charitable mood.  Here are some tips to help your team maximize their effectiveness:

Be clear about the event’s purpose. Who is the audience and why is this function being held?

Review the proposed guest list before invitations are issued, adding new prospects and subtracting people who have moved, elected officials who are no longer in office, and cleaning up data base land mines like names of former spouses still linked to their exes, or worse, names of people who have died.

Always take Rsvps and assign advancement staff to greet and spend time with, a specific list of guests. Staff should research each person on their list to understand each guest’s interests, history with your school, and his or her current involvement. Make certain staff are aware of significant occurrences in guest’s lives such as a recent death in the family, or happy news, like a job promotion or child’s graduation.

Notify the deans and other ranking personnel about which of their key constituents, donors, or prospects will be present.

Require advancement staff to arrive no later than 30 minutes ahead of the event starting time. This ensures school representatives are present to greet guests as they arrive.

Be certain advancement staff know details like the locations of food, bars and restrooms, what time the program will begin, and where to put coats.

Brief staff on what to do in case of emergencies such as sudden illness, falls or fainting, or the need to evacuate.

All advancement staff should be up-to-date and ready to converse on school happenings ranging from athletics teams’ records to the latest news on research projects.

Keep cell phones out-of-sight and concentrate on conversing with the guests.

Because many people are sensitive about their reputations, particularly if they are attending an event where alcohol is being served or that might be associated with a political point-of-view, never take photos of guests without their permission, especially if the intention is to post images online.

Staff should not enter “behind the scenes” areas such as the kitchen or prep rooms. Having extra people in these areas impedes workers and, depending on local ordinances, can also constitute a health department violation. Besides, staff belong with the guests, not hiding backstage!

Require advancement staff to remain until the event is over, otherwise, guests can be left without university representatives with whom to converse.

The next business day, conduct a debriefing with your team to collect information resulting from the conversations they had and to develop next-step action items.

For more tips on how to work a room, download my CASE webinar, “Conferences, Receptions, and Cocktails” at www.case.org. Click on Publications and Products, Store, and under Product Type, find Webinars. To arrange an on-site customized training for your team, contact me at april@aprillharris.com.

 

 

 

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Webinar Gives Staff Confidence to Manage Mingling

August is New Year’s in higher education. By month’s end, the majority of schools are back in session and advancement teams are already involved in a tide of fall special events that entail managing mingling including football tailgating, alumni reunions, fund-raising programs, and student recruiting receptions. Hosting guests and making them feel welcome is one of the fundamental jobs of advancement professionals but “working a room” is a skill that isn’t natural and doing it well can take years of practice. These days, most people are far more comfortable texting than they are talking to the living, breathing humans standing nearby. This includes our own staff members, especially if they are newcomers to our profession.

Special events are some of the most effective tools for building personal relationships, but they are also one of the most expensive. When guests attend an event without being greeted, made to feel welcome, and encouraged to deepen their involvement because someone actually took the time to engage them in conversation and get to know them, events are simply a waste of resources. The obvious per-person cost of food and beverage notwithstanding, special events carry a large cost in planning, staffing, and follow up. But the irreplaceable fact that makes events worth doing is that they offer one-on-one relationship building opportunities far more powerful than any online campaign.

We’ve all experienced events where staff huddle talking to each other rather than working the crowd, or they make certain the boss sees them, then load up at the buffet and finally melt away without interacting with anyone. I’m not talking about just rookies. Senior staff are equally guilty!

As American culture has become more casual, many people have arrived at adulthood without knowing how to socialize in a crowd. This doesn’t mean they aren’t willing, it just means the opportunity to learn hasn’t been available. Giving staff tools for self-confidence through training is a proven way to boost performance and maximize ROI whether they are attending a board meeting, or mingling at a black-tie gala.

A perennial exercise of each new school year is holding planning “retreats” and training workshops to indoctrinate newcomers, update continuing staff, map out goals, and energize everyone for the work ahead. This is the perfect time to train your staff by honing their interpersonal skills which in turn will give them the confidence to take the lead in social settings.

Essential skills include knowing how to shake hands properly, make a self-introduction, introduce others, mingle while balancing food and beverage, enter and exit a group, enjoy conversation, and dress for the occasion.

This summer I recorded a webinar, “Conferences, Receptions, and Cocktails,” for the Council For Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), that covers these and other pertinent topics relevant to the variety of the occasions we encounter on campus. I encourage you to consider incorporating it into your fall retreat. Doing so will provide staff with the self-confidence to do their jobs, and help establish a standard code of conduct for your advancement team. The webinar is posted at case.org and is complimentary to members. Log-in at www.case.org and go to Publications and Products, Store, under Product Type, find Webinars.

Best wishes for much success in the new academic year!