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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.