Galas

S.3 Ep. 20: Using Event Design to Make a Difference

David Stark is an event veteran who uses design to make guests feel moved. How does he find inspiration? How does he give back?

Tell us your story.

When I went to college, I had no idea that there was an events world. I had no idea that this kind of career existed and that people do this. I studied to be a painter. I had every intention of being an artist and making paintings and sculptures and having shows in galleries and museums. That was always my goal from the very early age. I graduated from school and I went to graduate school and about 30 seconds after I got out of graduate school, I realized that I actually hated being in a studio by myself. The act of being alone painting was something that kind of made me a little bit crazy. I would get on the phone and I would call anybody that would possibly talk to me. I’d have a paint brush in one hand and I’d have the telephone in the other hand. I would talk my way through. What I realized in that process was that I actually like to collaborate with people. Transitioned from being a fine artist, working by myself to working with a group of people. More brain power created better stuff or more stuff or bigger stuff. I originally got involved working with flowers as a way to support my painting. That was really the way that I inched in. Working with flowers was a creative solution to waiting on tables to support my artwork. It felt akin to painting and it felt artistic. Somewhere along the way I realized that flowers were just one of the tools in the toolbox it wasn’t really right for every single occasion, but we’d work on these little events and that would lead to a slightly bigger event, which led to a slightly bigger event. Along the way I realized I’m really doing this, so let’s just do it. I approached what we do, like making a painting. So my approach has not changed. I’m still the fine artist deep down, but I do that for people. I do that for milestone occasions for individuals or corporate events or non-for-profit events where we’re looking to raise money for really incredible causes. I apply that same kind of art training and art making to those experiences.

Where do you get your inspiration? 

Everywhere. I don’t look at a lot of other people’s events for inspiration. Not that I’m not interested or not that I’m not curious, but I actually find that my ideas come from culture. My ideas come fromseeing art, going to the theater, going to movies, hearing music, being part of fashion experiences. Seeing the world of culture that’s around me, that is much more gratifying than adapting somebody else’s idea that they did for an event. I really stay focused on exposing myself to what’s going on in the world and having an ear and really truly being interested in what’s going on out there. It’s not always very immediate where the idea comes from.Sometimes I see an exhibition and I’m moved by it and I put it into the back of my brain. Then three years from now the right event comes up and all of a sudden that thing that was in that pigeonhole in my mind comes out. Sometimes it’s an immediate response to something. For me traveling, going to see stuff, being out and about, that’s where it all happens. Inspiration hits when you least expect it.

What’s the craziest or most unique thing that you’ve ever designed? 

Things that I’m really proud of as an organization is we’ve done a lot of work in the non for profit space and for non for profit galas and we make a big distinction between the difference between decorating and telling a story. I think that our job when we create these installations and the decor is of course to make a room look a certain way and make people feel a certain way within that room. Ultimately I feel like my job is to create a safe set that tells the story of the organization. We do that in a lot of different ways.

I think the biggest example of our work is for the Robin hood foundation.It’s a New York based organization that looks to eradicate poverty in New York city and they’re taking the rich and they give to the poor. It’s not about giving, it’s about empowering and it’s about creating access. The thing that’s important to establish is it’s very large. So it’s a seated dinner for 4,500 to 5,000 people. They come to dinner, they have cocktails, there’s the big presentation, there are films and then there’s a big giant concert after with the likes of the Beyonce’s of the world. It’s at the convention center in New York, which you know is a vast, vast, not incredibly attractive space that we need to turn into something, and you have lots of choices, right? Like one choice is, you make it something that’s really beautiful. That could be a choice. But I always feel like my job here is to actually tell the story of Robin Hood. Several years back we created an idea where in partnership with Robin hood, we sought out $1 million worth of donated items that people in the programs needed. Some of that was pretty self explanatory, it’s food, it’s clothing. Other things were really surprising and moving: alarm clocks, you and I take it for granted. We have an alarm clock and what does that do for us? That gets us to work on time. It gets us to a job interview, but if you don’t have an alarm clock, it’s a little harder to do those things that we take for granted. We made a giant installation out of thousands of alarm clocks that went to people that needed the alarm clock. So all of these items were donated and then they went directly to the programs after. From a design standpoint, what’s tricky about that is you can’t nail into it. You can’t screw into it. You can’t mess up the item because it needs to have a sure life after. So we’d have to come up with all kinds of ways to make these 30 foot tall set pieces where we preserve the integrity of the item in the first place. Very proud of the fact that it was.

A. Very great way of telling the story of all of the different programs that Robin hood is involved with. 

B. We were able to rally the community to donating these things. 

C. They went to the hands and the hearts of the people that needed the most after. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me really excited about being in the events world. I throw a great wedding. I love that too, the milestones of one’s life are really important to celebrate. Things like the Robin hood foundation where we can really be making a difference is something that I think always remains dear to me and my goals when I wake up in the morning. 

You’ve made a great point here in that it’s very easy to get distracted with the mechanics of things when first we need to determine what is the purpose of it, why are we doing it? Right?

Yeah, I think so. I think the why is the key and then the how of course is a big part of that. We extend that to everything that we do. You guys are in Minneapolis and one of my longtime great, great friends are my pals at target. I realized last week that I’ve now been working with Target for 20 years and we also had the occasion last week to create a big event with target in partnership to honor their 20 years of design for all, it’s been 20 years of their designer partnerships. It’s designed for all. That was a great honor to be part of that and having such a journey with them for so many years and then having to really apply the beautiful thinking that really happens behind the doors of Target to what the intentions are and then illustrate that by what we do with the material. It’s both a challenge and it’s great fun. It’s really satisfying to be able to be thinking so conceptually about this stuff. 

Target invented the pop up store. Target invented these designer partnerships. There’s a tremendous amount of trailblazing and visionary thinking that have gone into the history of style and many of those things have now been copied by others and everybody brings their own spin to it. The original impetus was really about providing access to great design for everybody. Target is rereleasing product from 20 of the designer partnerships over the last 20 years. Aat the event that we did, we had the occasion to look at that history and see all those products together. One of the things that was mind blowing to me is how fresh it all looks today. Something that was created 20 years ago looks like it was just created last week. 

Tell me about, do you have any mantra you live by? 

One is one that my parents taught me from an early age, which is that I could do anything that I set my mind to do and I do really believe that to the core. The other one is that it’s just quite all right to break the rules as long as you do it really, really fabulously.

Any advice for newbies starting out?

Work really, really, really hard and no matter what the scale of the event, approach it as if it’s the biggest, most important thing in the world. The special events business is very, very difficult, right? People see the photographs and they see the celebrities and they see the glamour of it all. But at the end of the day, it’s a very, very difficult business. Part of the thing that’s important is to recognize that the hard work that you put in is an investment. You can work really quite tirelessly and you can not necessarily see where it’s going to get to but I promise you if you invest the time and the energy and the love and what you’re doing, it does eventually pay off. Give it your all be present, meet people, follow up with them, continuously create new relationships, and when you do give those relationships, they’re all, honor them with the same kind of devotion you would give to a friendship. Ultimately that pays off on the business landscape front as well. 

davidstarkdesign.com.

Insta: David_stark_design 

Pet Peeves: Not being nice to everybody 

Pet Peeves: Floor plans not to scale

Super Power: Very very calm

Insta: Charlesevaneide

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Twitter:The Meeting Minds

S.2 Episode 4: Why is the Inc 5000 Event so Successful

We are joined by the VP of the Inc 5000 Event Breana Murphy. Tell us about you!

I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. I started in Marketing, I’ve worked in Media my entire career. I’ve worked in the corporate marketing department, and I grew up there, we put on varying types of events. We did roadshows, tours, pop up stores.  I was there for 10 years. I worked for rolling stone and did stuff on the festival circuit. Then I ended up here as a freelancer. Was recruited by a friend of mine who worked in the industry and she needed someone to help produce the Inc 5000. This will be my 16th 5000 next year.

Tell us about the Inc 5000 event.

The Inc magazine is the premier magazine that services small business magazine.  Every year we publish the Inc 5000 list, the fastest growing small businesses in America. It’s a three day event that celebrates their achievement. It’s not easy to make the list. The folks there are people really excited to come and celebrate their achievement and be recognized for their hard work. Its rooted in content. Everything about our event starts with the content and how we can better empower our audience and readers.

1 day pre conference

2 day conference

1 day gala event.

Tell us about the conference.

The attendees are people who have made the list. Business owners. The speakers are generally other founders. We try to put on the stage notable founders, Mark Cuban to Ben Chestnut, people who have had remarkable success. Or we also do teachers, people who are inspirational. Our audience is across the industry so we don’t cater to any specific industry.

How many attendees?

Just shy of 2000

Where is it?

We move and try to keep it in resort areas. We are in San Antonio this year, coming up it will be in Scottsdale, then Palm Springs.

When it comes to the event, tell us about your process.

There’s two parts, multiple actually. We have the logistics side and the content side. Last week I sat down with my editorial team and my programming team and we brainstormed who will be the big names, who will be interesting, who will make impact, who is relevant, we made a laundry list of people we’d like to go after. That’s on the content side. On the logistic side, the floral plan, anticipating if we have enough rooms, our setup how we like it, keep our sponsors in line.

We have a lot of return sponsors because we deliver a lot. We give them a lot of ROI on their investment. If they keep coming back we are doing something right.

Tell me about the design.

We redesign. Every year we try to inject something new. What we did this year that was successful and unique was a session in the round. We do concurrent sessions and gave the options of really small pointed conversations with business leaders. 30 minute topics with a maximum of 10 people per table. Then they switched and moved tables. Or they could do a breakout session.

It wasn’t just providing them with keynote, it’s interactive.

And that is probably the note we get back most. How can we provide more networking opportunities and that is something we strive to do. We do a kick off networking before our opening session. We do purposeful networking. We do an in depth survey to drill down the content pieces. They are there to be inspired and they want to meet other people.

It’s lonely to be an entrepreneur. You get them in a room it’s amazing they start solving each others problems.

How much does a company need to grow to make your list?

There’s not a set number, you have to be in business for at least 4 years and you have to have over a million in revenue. The growth percentage ranges. Some grow 3000%.

Do you include the room and other things with the ticket?

The ticket is just itself. The marketing department handles that. We have a room block, almost 800 room nights reserved. We have a portal where they can book and get a discounted rate. We do not arrange for travel or pay for hotel.

Tell me about when you are doing the coordination and working with hotel, are you negotiating directly with them?

I work with an organization that I connected with a few years ago. Hotels for Hope. They help us negotiate the room block. I work with them because my contact there is amazing and because the process of managing that block is hard and I have a small team. That process is made turnkey with working with them.

What do they do?

Part of their commission goes to a charitable organization.

When it comes to pricing your ticket, have you had to move it around?

It has stayed, we have separate consumer marketing team that handles that. The price has been pretty consistent year after year. We have to keep in mind inflation. The industry average is 10% i do my best to negotiate that. But food goes up by 10%.

Tell me more about your programming.

I have an executive producer, I’ve worked with her for six years. We sit down and do a draft agenda. We do a lot of planning with our editorial team. We look at who is making waves or has something new coming out, something that will be relevant and topical. We start with key names we want to put in and we try to round out the content and make sure we hit all the notes. Talk about money, company culture, human resources, economically, we empower them to grow their businesses.

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S.2 Episode 3 Live Auction Tricks that Actually Work

Tell us a little bit about you, how does someone get started?

Most people that become an auctioneer grow up in the business. All the auctioneers that work for us, most of them have a family member that was involved. My dad became an auctioneer in 1978 and I had no plans to go into the business. I went to Wilmer high school graduated, went to Hamline University and have a degree in communications. I was working for WCCO tv in college and out of college.

Then my dad had a heart attack and a stroke. He had a stroke the morning of my wedding. I left my job at WCCO and went back to our family business. My dad wanted my sisters and I to go to auction school, the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City Iowa. We all went there, I went in 1994 and in college, I started doing these events when I was 19. I had no money I was living in St. Paul. People found out this kid in Drew Hall at Hamline University had his license. I was 20 years old and I was doing little events to raise money. By the time I graduated from college I was doing 30 of these a year in the early 2000’s. Then it went from 30 to 50 to 90 to 150 and today this year our company will do 300 all over the country.

You fell into it in a way?

I did fall into it. I will tell you a fair amount of growth and success we’ve had is a little bit of God given but also who we are. You have to have a heart for non profits to be successful in this. You have to care about why this is important to the community. You have to care about what it will do for people. It is hard to be successful at what I do if you stand on a stage in front of 1000 people and don’t have empathy for what your raising money for.

Yes you have to be excited about the vause or you can’t do your best job.

The business today is so different than what it was 5 years ago and 10 years ago. The audience can sense if your not authentic. They can sense if you’re there for a paycheck. They can sense if you haven’t done your homework. You can’t just be standing on the stage going through the motions. I tell the auctioneers that work for us all the time is the real key is can you build a bond with the audience. You are building a bond and they are saying I trust this person cares I know what the money is going for. Today, the two portions were involved with, the live auction being one and the fund to need giving moment being the second portion. The second portion is raising 80% of the revenue. I tell people, if I’m on an airplane and somebody asks what I do for a living, my lead answer is I own a company that consults and advises and facilitates giving moments for non profits. So much of the revenue is from people pledging financial support, not me auctioning items.

Maybe you can speak more to someone who doesn’t understand the difference between the live auction and fund to need?

I wouldn’t be here today if the fund to need hasn’t’ grown to what it is. About 20 years ago in the industry, people would do the events, raffles, silent auctions. They identified there are so many people in the room that don’t win or don’t care if they get the wine basket. You have to create an opportunity for guests to pledge financial support. That’s the moment where the MC or auctioneer stands up and makes a case why you should donate to the mission of the organization and people pledge financial support. For those of you listening, if you don’t remember anything I say remember this, do a fund to need and focus 90% of your energy on mission based giving where people can pledge financial support. I think years from now it is absolutely the future and direction of fundraising. It is the total key. The big thing now is a lot of people are not driven by buying something, they don’t care. They’d rather write a check to build wells than purchasing a night on the town.

We have been talking about the shift in millenials and how different the mindset is of giving.

Before the end of the show I will highlight there still are live auction items that are selling really well. There is one interesting that’s happened, last year congress made some tax changes on the deductions you can make. We have seen an uptick in people spending money in live auctions because now there’s a limit to how much you can donate to a non profit to have a tax consequence. Dinners are the best, in home dinner with a chef is the best item, and how we’ll sell those things for $7,000-$15,0000. Some people are wanting to give 15 thousand but in this case I’m giving and getting a dinner.

To your point about millenials, the big change that we’re seeing with younger people aging into the marketplace, this is probably the second most important piece I’m observing right now in the business. 15 years ago this business is about seen to be seen dress to the nines, what is the new hot ice raffle bar etc. What’s the new trick and gimmicka?  The new change is millenials want to think and feel this is important. It’s not what’s the hot new thing, people still like to be entertained, the biggest thing for younger donors is, is there there behind it.

Sometimes people show up to have a party and it’s hard to weave mission and fundraising in that.

Not only is it hard but sadly, the planners have miscalculated what they’ve created has put downward pressure on the fundraising environment. They’ve actually created an environment that is more difficult to raise money because they believe it should have been about a party or something unique or cool.  My wife, when we were dating, she’d come and sit down, I’m going night after night, she’d sit down and in the first 20 minutes she would say I totally get it, I get why this is important. She wouldn’t know about the organization but based off the opening the show, how they communicated she would know. There were other nights where she would sit for an hour and say, I don’t get why people care. The mindset of the donor changes throughout the night.

When people come to these events you can tell the ones that came because they wanted a party vs the ones that are there to have fun, but they are there for the cause. I want to get back to the statement about how the planners can make it more difficult to raise money. What are things they can do to make it easier?

We now know, on any given saturday night that we will raise more money at 8:20 than 9:05. You will raise a significant more money, they are more engaged there mindset is more clear, their buzz is a little bit better. It is significantly easier to raise money earlier. Timing is a really big thing, the time at night. One of the greatest mistakes you canmake is getting into your fundraising too late.

The second big thing is it has to be mission focused. Does it really make a personal connection about why this is important. Design your showflow so it leads in right before the fund to need, are they sitting in their seats and are they able to say I get it. There has to be clarity in messaging as well. A lot of event planners will set it up but do not connect the dots on what it means and what it will do.  Talk to people in advance see the momentum donors. When I am standing on stage and trying to raise money, 99 times out of 100 when I am asking for a large sum I know one or two people will give. They are called seeded or momentum gifts. If you don’t have that in place, people don’t want to be the first one to raise their cards, but after 2 or 3 people do it they’d be happy to do it. You have to alter the mindset, if 2 or 3 people give 25 thousand dollars there’s 600 people sitting in the room and they think more about there donation. Create the perception there is organic enthusiasm around what you are raising money for.

The program length is critical, tell me what’s the perfect program like?

Almost everyday we get a call from a new perspective client. I’m handling these calls and I’ll tell people now, we will roughly know how you will do three days before your event. After we look through the shoflo, we know who is in a more tricky spot and whos going to be in a great spot. The right length of the program, if you can make it about an hour and fifteen minutes I think that is helpful, that’s assuming a fifteen – twenty minute break for dinner. You have to build in time for the live auction, air on the side of caution.

How many items for a live auction?

It depends, it’s changed, the short answer is fewer today is better. There are nights now where we are doing two or three items because the fund to need has grown, it is rare in the midwest to see events with other 500 people with more than 9 live auction items. A general answer would be someplace 4-7 live auction items depending on the size and history of your event.

Often times we will raise more money with fewer items. You’re not creating competition within itself for the items, and the environment and energy around the live auction is usually higher. The other thing we are evaluating is if the fund to need giving moment is coming after the live auction, I’m looking at how much money and energy is there in the room, because those two items are contingent on eachother.

You’ll laugh when I say this, there are so many nights that I walk out and think, why did people ever hire me when I was 23 years old?  In the moment, the decision you are making and experience helps, you have to be intuitive and thoughtful, you have to be data driven. In the moment many clients don’t realize the choices and decisions the auctioneer makes makes a $7500 difference in the moment.

The other piece, if you ask me aside from mission based giving and fund to need, if I said where’s this business at five years from now, I would say it’s not based on just how much money we raise night after night. That’s a big mind shift. It’s a shift about how we are thinking about this. We also have to make decisions based on how to keep donors more active and involved and keep those relationships strong regardless of the financial gift they make that night. The big thing is the auctioneers I hire, they have to be mission focused, look at the big picture, and they have to make people feel valued and appreciated. It can not be driven by did we top last year’s financial goal. Now there are so many non profits, the real question is can you keep your donors longer than anybody else. It can’t be a revenue equation, it has to be a relationship equation that is built on trust, accountability, communication, and authenticity.

The other thing that surprises you over the years, there’s nights where somebodies giving $100 and maybe that’s all they can give or used to giving. Then six months later they will gift a farm to them. Sometimes these relationships that are based on a $100 gift, the long term upside to sincerity and thankfulness is a big deal.  

I’ve seen some of your tricks, what tricks do you have?

When you have a double item you can sell twice, it’s super helpful. A lot of committees don’t understand how complex and in the moment that is for the auctioneer. A lot of times when I am doing that I can’t sell that second dinner unless I’m at x amount for an example. Then I have to get both of these people and keep them both with me. As they are bidding you have to gauge their interest. You have to stop before you lose the second person. It’s a lot of dynamics and in the moment.

A really helpful trick or experience is, so much of the value of these items has nothing to do with the item, it’s the relationship around the item.

How should an auctioneer be charging for their services?

Some charge a flat rate or a commission fee. A flat fee is better in the nonprofit world. I don’t want people to think we are giving different advice based on our compensation. The fees across the country vary, and they’ll change. A lot of auctioneers will prorate their fee based on their revenue. I also tell folks whether they hire us or somebody else, I encourage them to grill the auctioneer before they hire. If you spend a half hour asking the tough questions you’ll figure out who the right fit for you are. You should interview a couple two or three. The challenge depending on the size of your event, we schedule a year or two out so you have to be really on top of that.

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S.2 Episode 2: Growing Generosity in Events

You’re using events to create awareness, welcome to the show! Tell us about Matter and what you do.

It’s an organization that was started here in our community by some people in the commercial real estate space. I love the way it started. It started by asking what can we do with our own two hands to serve the world. As successful business people there were people coming to them all the time saying can you support our cause and they said well what do we have that we could use to help others. In their case their answer was unique they had real estate space. They had all these warehouses. At times they were empty at times they were full with tenants. They said how can we leverage that to serve others? They started to adopt this concept they called repurposing corporate surplus.

They took in different items from the community. It started with food, sometimes office equipments, it got quickly into medical equipment. Over the course of the last 18 years the organization has matured and grown into this movement really of people that believe there are a lot of great people that don’t have access to a great life. But we can provide that access to have a great life. We are working primarily in the food space. Of course asking the same questions our founders asked, what does Minnesota have in our community we can export to the world? We have incredible food companies, we also work in the agriculture space, lastly we’re often known in Minneapolis as medical ally. Access to all this medical equipment. We take in millions of dollars of medical equipment that we repurpose all over the world. The last 15 years we’ve worked in over 70 countries around the world. It’s fantastic! Our community is such a generous one. We really become a beneficiary of the equipment and food that we can then repurpose so everybody in the world can have a shot at having a better life.

Everything is new in our hospitals, the equipment is being constantly turned over and I was thinking where does it go?  There are places in the world that would love to have gently used equipment. You guys do that!

Exactly, we live in a competitive hospital environment. Especially in Minnesota. It’s very competitive and we become the beneficiary of that.  This year I was in Congo and walked into a large hospital. Inside the maternity ward there were about 40 women giving birth and there wasn’t one bed in the room. They were all giving birth on the floor, there was blood and fluids all over.  It’s one of those moments where you think to yourself this is not right this is not ok. Here we have a warehouse full of gently used hospital beds. That really becomes our urgency and mission. It’s the right thing to do to give these women beds to give birth on. It’s just the beginning of it. It’s something we have great access to here in Minneapolis. Thankfully we can serve others around the world. I have the best job in the world.  I get to serve people.

How do you choose where you are serving?

It’s a good question. The line is long this list is long of people who would like to partner with us to get this medical equipment.  Really for us it comes down to partnerships. It’s about the relationships you can build with people. Find those shared values, visions, outcomes that meet and align. We look for those partners around the world where we can go hands on face to face. What is the vision you have? Are we the right group to help?  It starts there, once we establish that then it becomes detail work. Figure out what needs to be done.

Getting your hands on stuff is a task on its own, then deploying them is another, it takes time and money.  Something you do a great job with is engaging people in your mission. How are you using events to grow your engagement?

There are two areas I’d like to touch on. I started reading the book the Power of Moments. It’s a very intriguing book. They are making the case that when you reflect on your life there are these moments that stand out. It’s the power of those moments that shape your life moving forward. It forces you to make certain decisions of what you are going to do. It’ impacts where your family will be involved. He has so many cases in the book that he draws to prove this point. I found it helpful and interesting especially for events.

That’s what events become, a powerful moment. At least at Matter that’s what we are hoping to do. We want to create a powerful moment where people consider what’s important to them what do they need to invest in. The two areas for us, in the food area we have a Matter Box. It’s a box of healthy shelf stable food. It’s really a healthy eating starter kit. We collaborate with hospitals in the community and different organizations. The design is to help kids primarily understand what healthy eating looks like. It’s not that confusing or difficult but sometimes if you don’t have a tangible example you don’t know. ‘

We assemble these boxes and our strategy is called companies that matter. We engage corporations in town, and ask them to consider coming with their team and packing these boxes. We create an event. One of the things we’ve said is we want it to be the Disney experience. In that context it’s not oftentimes a big event sometimes it is though. It can be a work team of 10-20 people sometimes up to 100 people. It really becomes a moment for them to consider, I’m getting my hands dirty helping the community and we try to bring beside that what is the meaning you can bring to your community and whole life. Those are opportunities to create an experience for people to have that powerful moment. That’s the one space to grow engagement.

It creates an experience that is memorable and that’s what a lot of non profits or people conducting events struggle with.  You want a take away people can have that is memorable. We are trying to create that. One of the interesting things we came across, we did a large event with General Mills. It became a nation wide experience. Ellen Degeneres got involved with her million acts of good campaign.  What we developed was a movement around this you matter idea. We created these little you matter notes. Every volunteer writes a note of encouragement. It could be as simple as you’re special, keep going. Every volunteer that packs a matter box writes a you matter note. A kid gets that and read that. That became almost more so than the food the inspiration, really that was the moving piece for them. That was a powerful thing that we incorporated into a event, a simple idea that I thought it was a silly idea, but it’s amazing. Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can be the spark.

One of the events I’d like to mention is an event we created with Cargill called Matterbox Madness.  It’s an opportunity especially this year with us hosting the final four event. We bring companies together, last year we had 30, and they each form a team and get really competitive and compete against each other bracket style to find a champ that is a Matter Box packing champion. It’s a fun opportunity, another principal we employ, people like to have fun. To come together and create something fun.

Another thing we’ve tapped into is the corporate groups are type A personalities and they like to compete. That’s an event that is coming up this spring around the final four tournament. We are going to try to incorporate as many companies as we can.

A lot of people ask the question, when you approach these companies with these ideas, you have to have them flushed out, but at the end of the day, how do I go approach them?

I wish there was a silver bullet for this one or a magical answer. Our development team is always looking for what’s that sneaky magic, I hate to break it to our team and myself, it really is a lot of hard work. Classic networking, getting out, knocking on doors. I would say there are some strategies we use. We work with our board of directors, we have this group of influencers we’ve brought together and ask them who do you know. We ask our board members every quarter that they would make one connection to an influencer in the community for our development team.

People want to have fun and want to feel like they are enjoying themselves, how do you design an event that is fun and entertaining?

That’s the second category I want to reference, it’s the gala events, we have a handful events we do that are more what you’d call traditional gala events. One of the things we looked as is trying to really push on the status quo or how things have always been done. We get in the room and do what we call the fight unite strategy. Let’s get in a room and fight about ideas and then unite on something in the end. We push for outcomes through that strategy. It’s helped us to challenge some things. A lot of galas we go to we see stereotypical things. What happens is it becomes a little mundane. We are always looking for things we can do that are different.

Two years ago we decided to do our gala event at the sun country airline hanger. The owner is a friend and supporter of ours. There were a few things that happened. It allowed us to reduce cost on venue space, it gave a lot of flexibility on what we could do in that space, it allowed us to put the financial resources into a creative outlet. We were able to pull off our most successful event raising over 1 million dollars and everyone that was there was blown away. I don’t think it was that we were magical in our execution or set up, I think it was so many different elements that people were taken back by that.

When you do something like that, tell me the benefits with not dealing with a hotel or traditional hotel.

It’s a great thing to comment on because we took a different approach to it this year. There are cons as well. It’s a lot of work, you are trying to figure things out every time. There are benefits to going to the Rivercentre. It creates a lot of work for our team and the folks we work with. But there are real upsides, for example, we did our Gala at our own warehouse. The venue was free, and then we were able to work with food vendor’s in town. We had 7 different restaurants that agreed to donate. When we went to each of those, they donated an item or a couple of items so it wasn’t a huge burden to each group.  We took our food budget from $55,000 to $0.

So what does that money go to?

It’s a combination, some of that goes to the bottom line then we are able to leverage that for other things. What’s really cool is during the event we announce that! There is a round of applause. There’s an element of stewardship, we have the flexibility to do that, but you can’t do that for every event.

You brought up a really good point. A couple of principles we employ is we are always looking for those win-win situations. Where a company comes, donates, we acknowledge them, they gain business. We win from the financial side and they win as well and feel good about it. We are continuing to look at what are those win-wins. Two of the words we use when starting the planning process are fun and meaningful.

Tell me more about the fun element.

I’ve become a believer in data driven decisions. Data can help. We try to do as comprehensive of a survey as we can to find out what the elements are that people like. It’s nice to get the data and have data to prove people like these elements. That’s one place we start. We do a team debrief and look at those elements. People here in the midwest like other interesting people that come to town outside of Minnesota, celebrities, artists, comedians, whatever that might be. Most people won’t say they do, but the reality is, from our research and surveying, people actually do like it.

How do you tie the meaningful part in while keeping it fun?

One of the constant critiques we get is that the event is too long. I don’t think anybody complained about a short event. I think that’s a challenge for organizations, you have so many things going on and you want to tell them it all in one night. It’s a difficult thing to widdle that message down. That’s an area of growth and opportunity for us. You can kill the fun if you try to get too much information across. Other things get hurt along the way.

When it comes to using these events to get the message across, how much of the program is helping the audience to understand the mission?

We survey the audience to see what works. It’s something we can continue to improve. For us the power of the story is really one of the things we put at the top to drive the meaning. The most effective story is video, you can limit and control what’s being presented and how long. This year was a little bit unusual, we had a gal, a new partner is in Zimbabwe and had all our friends from there come over. One of them, when we got to know her, could tell she had a gift for sharing stories and captivating your interest so we had her before the appeal get up and share a story.  There’s a little risk in that, but she has a true gift to be able to understand the audience and she hit a home run.

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Meeting Minds by EideCom

Episode 20: Mission Centered Events that will Change your Life

Ever wanted to know how to weave your vision throughout your organization? We were joined this week by Gwendolyn Cowle of Feed My Starving Children. She shares how they have been able to encapsulate their vision in all their events and create an engaging gala.