special events

A Rainbow Explosion in Times Square! ft.Marissa Piper

This week on Meeting Minds with speak with the Director of Events at Outside Interactive, Inc, Marissa Piper. We talk about what it was like to work for Tony Robbins, how to stay calm when organizing a huge event, and what it was like to produce WorldPride in NYC. Make sure you listen to this episode!

You have just amazing experience in the events world from all over the country and big brands, including Tony Robbins, which I want to talk about later. But before we dig into that, tell us just a little bit about you how you got started in the events world.


Hi, yeah, thank you so much for having me. This is so fun. And it’s it’s so fun to get to talk about what you love to do. And it never seems like work. It always seems like play. But how did I get involved? I’m kind of I think by accident, I started off in medical device sales, which was just the biggest mistake of my life, because I can’t sell anything. But I can talk to people. And so ultimately, I think people just bought stuff from me because they felt sorry. But I had found this passion for events through medical devices, because I got to go to the trade shows. So that’s where I saw myself thriving. And I kind of took it, you know, one step further, when I was like, hey, maybe I’m not the best salesperson because I really don’t like asking people for money. But I really can talk to people, you know, and I love this idea of building an event. I love the idea of building the churches. So it kind of transgressed from there I kind of stepped out of the sales role. I went, I stayed in the tradeshow industry just a little bit. And then I started on a whim. And all this entailed to moving around. But on a whim, I had moved back to San Diego, and I had some friends who were really involved in, in politics and local politics and community organizing. And that sort of took light for me when I started doing and organizing some campaign events for declined to sign and no one age, and HRC, which are some really hyper focused political action committees for gay marriage. And this was back when we were really fighting for equality, trying to get it taken off the ballot because they’ve already passed in California. So I said, sign me up, I’m on board. So I did that for a couple couple years, which actually really helped me kind of get my, you know, community organizing chops and learning a lot about larger events. And from there, it snowballed. And I and I ended up doing a bunch of events for the gay community. I did a lot of large parties. And then I took the next step into TV, which really helps with sort of building my AV understanding. And I think if you’ve been in this industry long enough, if you are multifaceted, it’s a massive advantage. You know, if someone’s just stuck to trade shows or if someone’s just stuck to ballroom, it’s no offense, but really, really broadening your perspective and spectrum of understanding is very helpful. So TV for a couple years really helped me learn the ins and outs of camera shots, lights, audio and things that I didn’t have as much from doing just the community organizing and, and live events. And from there, I started my own company and I started taking on clients doing their events, mostly in California. Pretty basic, but fun, I got to make my own schedule I was taking on, you know, the amount of work that I could. The next the ride from there was Tony Robbins. I just put it out there and I think maybe maybe five years later, I got a job with Tony Robbins and it was available, I left working for myself, went back to working for someone else full time. And I did that for three plus years with Tony on the road all over the world. You know, I think we could dedicate you know, another eight hours of podcasting experiences like, because if you know him, he’s larger than life. And then I got back to New York City and I was working for the Clio awards, and, um, and happenstance, I hired a company to do our production and for one of our big shows, and they poached me righ t then in there at our event, because they had an opportunity that they do, I think they thought it’d be perfect for which was producing World Pride, which will probably be the pinnacle of my career in Times Square, and then Coronavirus hit. But that’s sort of my 20 year 22 year how I ended up here and back in San Diego, working for Idea health and fitness under the outside brand, and couldn’t be happier. I love the path that I’ve no regrets, but little led to big. And the big made me see that there’s just such a massive world out there for live events that people don’t even know about. And so I just said, Where can I go from here?


Tell me more about World Pride because that is an incredible event and to be a part of something like that. And what year was that? 2019?

Yeah, so I we planned for almost a year, by the time I been poached by this company, Deco Productions. And it was what’s really cool about world pride is this was the first domestic world pride event, right? So real pride is all you know, it’s all over every two years. And so New York City won the bid for the 50th anniversary of pride. So here now it lies, you know, 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots started as a right turn into a celebration. And now, you know, I get to be a part of building an event in Times Square for 14,000 plus people as the the finale to world pride, you know of a weekend of celebration, which actually turned into basically a month of celebration because of all parties. And I mean, New York City was just one big rainbow bomb, it was probably one of the coolest things I ever got to be a part of not only just living in New York City as a New Yorker, but also being part of the experience to give a community that I’m so deeply passionate about. It’s so important to recognize that I wouldn’t be standing here today doing and having the life that I have, if it wasn’t on the backs of those that paved the way and didn’t get to experience the same things that we have, because of just generalized privilege. And so, you know, I think that my respect for that event came down to everyone that has paved the way for the younger generations that have now had the ability to marry freely, love, love out loud. And that has never, you know, I don’t think in my heart that’s ever going to go away the pride that I have for that older generation of that community. And that’s what that event came from. That’s where the sweat and tears came from. I love it. I love it. And we were talking about this before we started recording too. You know, for us crazy people that get into events. It’s it’s not about just sharing a message, right? If it was about sharing a message, we’d send an email or we make video, but there’s something special about getting people together to experience something at the same time in the same place, you know, and, and that power and that energy that happens when you get just massive amounts of people together. I mean, it’s, it’s life changing, you know if you can do it well. And you know, we’re coming into second quarter of 2021. And, and that energy of being in person is not there right now, you know, you just got done producing a really great virtual event. You know, I want to talk about how do you keep that that passion and excitement going not only for yourself, like to get up out of bed every day to do this alone from our house? And and speaking to a virtual audience, like, how do you keep that energy up? How do you keep that passion going when we’re stuck in virtual right now? We can do things like that that are being been tools for us to sort of help people feel like they’re at a live event. But also one of the big things is helping presenters learn how to present, you know, well lit, clean backgrounds, quality audio, just the or platform have the ability to use a slide advancer that sounds so basic, but instead of like having to constantly go back and forth from your computer, there’s just a polished look to it. So in this next event, we’re like, we’ve built presenter kits into our budget, something that we’re sending to each presenter to make sure that you know, they look sound and can act great. And then, you know, just generalized keeping the energy up in the chat rooms, and you know, really hierarchy for my team, addressing concerns immediately, like just stuff like that, I think gives us sort of a live event field.


That’s so good. Oh, that’s such good advice. One of the questions I have, you’ve been in this for so long, and you’ve done a lot of different aspects of event and run of show. What do you feel like is something that you are particularly skilled at that maybe most people in your field are not?


I think what what one of the things that has helped me helped me stand out in my career is – I just don’t get flustered. I mean, in like in for me always has been if you see me, if you see me flustered, if you see me freaking out, it is a bad day. You know, I mean, if I’m wrong, take cover, because it just doesn’t happen. So I think what it is, is training, it’s training yourself that if you can remain calm, your team can remain calm. When you exude a sense of calm people around you stay calm. And I think that that’s some training that I’ve taught myself in the last you know, you know, 10-12 years is just maintain a sense of calm, keep your team level-headed, always address things, you know, you know, with, with a broad spectrum of questions, like, What do I need to do right now in this moment? What can go? What can go you know, 10 minutes from now what can go 15 minutes. So it’s this like, calculated precision in my mind, like picking through like the 911 picking through the 411 and say, Hey, you know, let’s focus on this right now staying level headed and tackling it.


That’s the best advice if you get flustered over every little thing, the events world is probably not for you. We we did an event probably about a month ago. And I was doing the debrief with the client to just say, you know, how did everything go? And I got the best, the best feedback that I’ve ever received from a client. I think that’s so important for us event people is to understand like, yes, we’re putting together an experience, right. But sometimes how we bring everything together and how we’re making people feel during the planning and during the event itself is just as important and maybe sometimes more important than the actual event itself.

Yeah, I imagine to that amazing advice that you got, is also the ability to say, I think everyone should work on the vendor side, and the client side, because having both perspectives is also something that if you walked in a client’s shoes, and you know, the pressure from their bosses that they’re getting for this event to be done, you know, 100% perfectly, but then you’ve also been on the vendor side, and then go back to being a client, you then can walk in someone else’s shoes for a hot second. And I’ll tell you, that really helped me when I went back to the vendor side of things. And I was like, Oh, God, I was the client for so long. I need to read, I need to check this, I need to address this. And it made me a better vendor.

I want to know maybe someone or something in your event that was really impactful or influential, there’s a turning point, there’s someone or something. Tell me about that?


Well, I think there’s so the friend that I mentioned earlier, her name is Tanya Geary, and she worked for Tony Robbins for quite a few years. In the last couple years, she is one of my closest friends. You know, and so I think that when I learned that in my got that from her, it changed the trajectory of my career. And so huge shout out to her always…Everyone in this world, and everyone that works in the events world, should know that, if you’re going to come work for me, I am going to ask you, how did you celebrate your most recent failure, because you should celebrate it.


How can people get in touch with you if they want to just like connect or learn more about you know, outside or they just kind of want to see what cool projects you’re working on?


My email is Piper@outsideinc.com. And I really, really, really hope with my whole heart, that 2022 is going to have some blast off events, and I want to be a part of it.

Fundraising Tricks To Raise More Money

In this first episode, Charles meets with Shauna Brick and Sara Meyer of the American Heart Association to discuss maximizing a non-profit fundraiser. This episode covers everything from the strategy for pricing gala tickets to the use of alcohol. We also talk about live auctions, audience reactions, show flow, and entertainment for your guests.

 

 

WHAT ARE THE SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES OF NON-PROFIT EVENTS AND FOR-PROFIT EVENTS?

We, American Heart Association, are a national organization and we run much like a corporate business. We work a lot with sales and budgeting. Our gala is successful because we are so driven by the numbers.

 

WHAT WAS THE STRATEGY BEHIND MOVING YOUR GALA FROM NOVEMBER TO SEPTEMBER?

A couple of things. Sometimes when you look at who is going to be the Chairman(s) for our event, we have big C-Suite executives and it has to work with their schedule. Also, the venue. We have over 700 attendees and we need a space that will accommodate that. Plus, when we are trying to raise 1.8 million dollars, we need a beautiful venue! *link to donate below* Also, since we live in Minnesota, the majority of our guests are snowbirds, so they leave for 6 months of the year, and unfortunately November falls into that time. So we moved it up two months earlier! Which really can throw of our timeline, because that is two months that we no longer have to fundraise and plan. Our goal is $300,000 higher than it was last year, so those two months would be amazing to have, but we know our audience and know this event, so we are not too worried! *Shauna has been with AHA as their Gala Coordinator for seven years! Sara was there for five, left, then came back, and is coming up on her seventh year!

 

HOW MUCH OF THE MONEY YOU RAISE IS RAISED THE NIGHT OF VS. MONEY YOU KNEW WAS GOING TO COME IN?

It ranges depending on the organization, but AHA is very corporate heavy. So when you look at the audience and who is in the room that night, a lot of it comes from the corporations in the community, like U.S. Bank. We are raising about $300,000 tops on the night of. Majority of the money comes from sponsorships and donations beforehand. Even though we love monetary surprises, we want to make sure that we have done our due diligence of sharing what the mission is and where the donations are going. The more planning and less surprises the better, because people’s lives are in our hands. The expenses alone are what you are going to make the night of, give or take. I think it would be irresponsible of us to gamble on raising all the money the night of.

 

HOW DO YOU MAKE A GREAT EVENT, FROM FUNDRAISING TO THE EXECUTION OF THE ACTUAL EVENT, FOR NON-PROFITS?

First and foremost, it is not something you plan for 2-3 months. It is a process. People often ask us what we plan on doing now that the gala is over and we are shocked, because there is still so much work to be done and we have the next one to plan! We are always looking out 2-3 years. The individuals you want chairing your event are so busy, so we need to plan years in advance. Especially, if you have a large fundraising goal. We couldn’t do any of this without our amazing volunteers. We need those volunteers and C-Suite executives to spread that awareness. It is our job to help them sell the mission to their friends, because this is not their full time job, it is ours.

FUNDRAISING TIP: Have monthly check ins with all of your executive leadership team members. Simply, a 15 minute call asking them who are the ten people they are going to call this month. We will even create the message (email) and send it to them as a template for them to send to others, then we check in with those people and “close” the deal. Also, their assistants need to become your best friend so treat them well!!! We like to be pleasantly persistent.

 

HOW DO YOU EXECUTE A GREAT EVENT?

It seems like a lot of people like to be a jack of all trades, but for us, we have a team of three for the Gala. The three of us cannot do what this event entails without great volunteers. The night of and weeks leading up, we are reminding them how valuable they are to us and we set up specific leads. Someone to lead registration, ballroom set up, etc. You need a specific lead to be there if anything was to arise and you NEED to prep them! No amount of communication is too much and no amount of information is too much. You are putting your event and goal in their hands, they need to know everything.

 

HOW DO YOU DO THAT? HOW DO YOU PREP THEM?

We pick the veterans, the ones who have been at the gala a few times, and we sit down with them prior to the event, either for coffee or at the office, and we run though everything. I give them all the materials they need to be successful. For example, our auction room. Our goal is to raise $160,000 that night and if I’m putting out fires left and right I cant be there to talk to John from XYZ Organization about the next auction item coming up and getting him excited about it. So I need to make sure that the key volunteer knows the lay of the land, like where the online auction person is or what the vacation parameters are around the vacation home in Mexico, etc. It may be overkill in the beginning but it is worth it. These meetings happen about a month out and then again two weeks before, and then the leads need to arrive even earlier the day of than the guests and other volunteers. You need to realize that just because you’ve been planning this event for eleven months and you know all about it, doesn’t mean your volunteers do. Give as much information as you can and delegate as much as you can.

 

HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM SOME MISTAKES?

Continuously! We learn every year. For example, we changed how we did check out a couple years ago to make it more efficient. At least we tried. To the three of us it made perfect sense, but we weren’t there when people were trying to check out and it was absolutely chaos.

TIP: Keep your guests’ experience in mind the whole time. From the moment they reach the valet to when they check out or leave the valet. What is the first thing they see? It is all about the details. Have a glass of champagne being passed during check in. Just like any event, there is a general flow to the event, which is why the details matter so much in helping you stand out. It changes everything. Put yourself in their shoes.

 

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO IMPROVE CHECK IN?

In the past 7 years our registration has dramatically improved. It used to be ‘stand in this line, carry your program, carry the seven other things we have for you, etc.’ Now, our guests do not get any of that. You can go to any computer or open line, and you don’t even get a program anymore. You get a little card with your table number, because everything is on your phone!

TIP: Don’t be afraid to look into mobile bidding. Mobile bidding is your friend! For years we used BidPal, but now we use Greater Giving.

We also have volunteers to show you where to go. Then, at your table is where your program is, your bidder number, etc. We don’t want them holding anything but their phone and a glass of whatever. These are little pieces that make a huge impact on your guest’s experience. What are the experiences your guests can have? Also, be sure to change your experiences! Some people are going to galas every weekend. In the past we have had bright lights hitting the valet so our guests feel like stars when they walk in. Last year we had a gorgeous coffee station, Girl Friday helped us set it up. And as our guests were leaving we had these cups made with our logo and all of our sponsors logos that would be working with us next year. It was a take home gift that everybody loved! The guests loved it because it was pretty and who doesn’t love a take home gift? And our sponsors loved it because it was getting their name out there. For some, that coffee was that extra little push to get sponsors on board for next year. And now sponsors that weren’t on it, want to be on it!

Last year, when we were trying to get our donors on board before the night of the event, we had this beautiful wine wall, where you could “buy” a bottle and have it engraved in memory of the person you were there for. Then, you received it in a beautiful bag on your way out. It was great!

We will caution you to be careful with your changes. You know your audience and you know what they like. So if you change up the auctioneer, for example, it can be really hard on your guests because it eventually becomes endearing to them.

 

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE AUDIENCE REALLY LIKES TO HAVE THE LIVE AUCTION?

For sure. It breaks up the program. Some years, our survivor stories can be pretty heavy. Sometimes non-profits can be “Debbie downers,” but we need to give hope. You have to be very careful with how you tell your stories. We’ve learned that through having people actually leave the room because the video or story was too heavy for them. We love a good tear jerker, but there needs to be hope.

TIP: If you’re going to make a video or share a really heavy story, bring in hope at the end!!! That’s where the money comes from.

You’re walking a fine line and you need to know your audience. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know everyone and it has taken us years to work up to get a room full of high level executives. We go out before the gala, about a month to a month and a half out and we let them know the importance of who is in the room and that they are there too. We are setting the expectation of who we want in the room with the large company. We talk with our sponsors about Key People. From day one with our Gala Chairman, who this year is one of the EVPs at 3M, we always tell him, it is very important that your CEO is there.

Over the years, our event has gone up in donations exponentially and gone down in size. You need to focus on who is going to be there, because at the end of the day it is about hitting goal for the non-profit.

 

WHAT IS YOUR PRICE POINT ON TICKETS? HOW DO YOU PRICE YOUR TICKETS?

We don’t rely heavily on ticket sales. We focus more on the big sponsorships. A lot of our tables come from our sponsorships. So with those say four tables, for example, that comes with the sponsorship, we sit down with the sponsor and say, “we want X, Y, & Z at your tables.” We do individually sell tickets, they are $375.

 

WHAT DID YOU SEE HAPPEN WHEN YOU INCREASED YOUR PRICES FROM $150 TO $375?

Honestly, nothing. It is a pretty consistent group of people and amount that we raise/sell from tickets. But, everything has to be a strategic decision. We go through the pro’s and con’s. Keep in mind though, you can’t raise the money after the fact. Start high, set the expectation, and put the fundraiser hat on. You always have to think about if this: ________ is going to move the bottom line.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ENTICE THE GUESTS TO STAY LATE?

Instead of having the preset desserts, we decided to hold off and did a dessert cart after. That probably held another 100 people than we would’ve ever expected.

 

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND TO OTHER NON-PROFITS TO KEEP SOMEONE IN THE SAME EVENT SO THEY BECOME A SPECIALIST?

Yes, because although planning the event can be very repetitive, there is always something new. Also, it can be very hard to switch from wearing the “Gala hat” to the “Young Professionals event hat” or whatever it may be, because you are not given enough time to really put everything you can into making the event the best it can be. Knowing that the gala is our baby has really helped our organization grow.

 

HOW DO YOU SELECT THE RIGHT PARTNERS IN YOUR COMMUNITY TO HELP YOU PUT THIS TOGETHER? LIKE THE FLORIST, THE VENUE, ETC.

It isn’t always money. Our policy is that every single year we are supposed to get three bids on every aspect. But it goes back to our relationships. We have used the same vendors in a handful of different areas because they know us and what we are trying to achieve. They know our goals, our bottom line, our room most of the time, etc. So even though they might come in a little higher at their cost, we know the service they are going to provide.

 

QUICK TOUCH ON PROGRAMS, WHAT WORKS AND WHAT DOESN’T?

Well, we have an amazing Senior Communications Director, Elizabeth. And we are thankful that we all know our expertise. We are good at fundraising and planning, but not writing a script. And in some cases, like for some non-profits, you do have to do it all. At the end of the day it is all about the goal and what you need to accomplish. So when we start planning the program, all three of us get together and we all have say! We come from different points of views and it is always interesting. One of the ways we start, is what kind of advocacy wins have we had? What are the things we can celebrate that evening to show the impact that the donations are making? We meet with our survivor and go over expectations and make sure they are comfortable with our expectations.

 

HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE FUN EXPERIENCE OF THE NIGHT WITH THE PURPOSE OF THE EVENT (RAISING MONEY)?

  1. Warming the room. Like an email to the guests from the survivor or the Chairman and in that email we will share our goal and encourage them to join us in meeting that goal. It prepares people to spend and start talking about it beforehand. It may sound like overkill, but that key messaging is so important. One email will preview the speaker, then the survivor, then the auction, etc.
  2. Alcohol. It gets people relaxed and a little competitive.

 

FOR THE EVENTS THAT DO CHOOSE TO HAVE ALCOHOL, HOW DO YOU MAKE THE DECISION TO HAVE OPEN BAR AND AT WHAT TICKET PRICE OR DO YOU JUST HAVE BEER AND WINE? WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY WITH ALCOHOL?

We have a balance. When you come, all of our pre-selected beverages are open bar, which is more than just beer and wine. That is open to everyone. Then, when you get to your table there is a bottle of wine, red and white, which we try to get donated by a vendor. We have a great partnership with a company, called Colby Red, that we will be working with. From that point on it is cash bar. Last year, we had a champagne toast at the end to celebrate the night, and I don’t know if there was value in it. But, alcohol in the beginning really loosens people up. We noticed with an open bar all night you have to worry about people being over served and it can be a bit messy. We like to give a little “liquid courage” up front, then let the rest be up to them. Our VIPs, or higher donors, also get a bottle of champagne and we will replenish their wine throughout the night. It goes back to what your overall goal is. Is it to have a party or to raise money?

RECAP…

  • It is not a 2 month event. The gala is a year-round event and we are always looking three years out.
  • Don’t be afraid to lean on your seasoned volunteers that night. The night of you should be the thermometer of the event, seeing what works and doesn’t work.
  • Make the small changes.
  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t forget about the details. Ex. Cards or gifts to your sponsors at the table. You want everyone to feel special and we all work hard for our money and there are tons of different amazing causes out there fighting for that money. Remind them of how much you appreciate them.
  • Build relationships! Don’t only talk to your sponsors once a year when it is time for them to donate.
  • It is important to have POST-event meetings, with your team AND with your vendors. What worked well, what didn’t. They are uncomfortable conversations, but SO necessary.
  • Understand the cadence and the flow of your evening.
  • Put the guest experience first.

 

ANY OTHER TIPS OR FINAL THOUGHTS?

Lead with mission and be sincere. And believe in your mission. It’s hard to sell what you don’t care about. Be yourself.

 

HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED?

Volunteer! Email sara.shaw@heart.org to volunteer, donate, or provide connections for AHA. The gala is September 29th, 2018. A Saturday night. It is a black tie event and we are looking for volunteers for everything from the auction room to guest experiences!

Find out all you need to know about the 24th Annual Twin Cities Heart & Stroke Gala HERE.

 

 

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