It had been a long and difficult day – an early start with numerous meetings and endless telephone calls. That evening I was required to host our corporate table at a charity fundraising event. It was one of many fundraisers that I had attended over the previous few months – often at the same venue with the same menu.
As usual, I was seated at a table of 10, half of whom were corporate colleagues and the remaining guests were from the company’s suppliers who, for obvious reasons, found it difficult to decline an invitation. I had spent much of that day with my table companions, so we struggled to find anything new to discuss. Finally, as I looked around the room, I leaned over to the person next to me and ask, “What cause is it that we are supporting this evening?”
I believe that this is not an uncommon experience. So many people find themselves dragooned into attending corporate events that are tiresome, with lengthy, well-meaning but tedious speeches and overly complex agendas that go on far too long into the evening. Despite the value of the cause, often the support can feel worse than the affliction. Finally you arrive home with your family all in bed and set the alarm clock for 6 a.m. the next morning.
Time to reinvent
To be clear, these charitable and community causes are extremely worthy and deserving of the fullest support from the local business community. Yet, I have often wondered if perhaps a little reinvention is necessary. The president of one company that I worked for always wanted the size of the donation to be related to the length of the event. He used to say that we should give them 100 per cent of the donation if we are out of the hall by 9 p.m., for every 15 minutes after that we take off 25 per cent! Of course we did not do this but it is a sentiment that organizers might want to keep in mind.
From the organizer’s perspective, it might be worthwhile viewing their event as not only a fundraising activity but also an entertainment opportunity.
I contrast this rather gloomy view with a special event that I recently attended. The organizers had invited a number of their clients to a very entertaining musical. Guests were asked to arrive an hour before the show for a reception and conversation as well as drinks during the intermission. The first thing that I noted was that all the guests had brought spouses or partners, which to me is a sure sign that they are actually looking forward to the evening. All the attendees had a great time and were appreciative of the invitation.
These sorts of activities do not always have to be something as elaborate as a Broadway musical. There are many community organizations and schools who can provide affordable and engaging entertainment. For example, I do volunteer work at a local college school of dance. Their students are talented and innovative. They put on shows that cannot help but entertain and energize an audience. Similarly at various colleges and universities, there are acting departments staging plays, art departments whose students produce wonderful pieces of work that they display in shows, music departments with terrific recitals. There is even a faculty that trains comedians whose youthful irreverence and sense of fun is infectious.
Even thinking further beyond the box, there are colleges with outstanding schools of cuisine training the chefs of tomorrow who can put on a really fun evening of food and talk.
If you are organizing a charitable fundraiser or customer program, why not see if you can team up with schools like these to create a truly special occasion. Your guests will find it fun and memorable. They will be thankful for the invitation. And I can assure you that these talented students of the performing and visual arts, cuisine and other specialties will be enormously grateful for the opportunity.
Who knows, some day one of your guests may be watching the Grammy, Tony, Academy or Epicurean awards and recognize a winner who performed at your event and remember you fondly.
To me the ultimate measure of success of a special event is when on the way home, your guest’s spouse says, “That was fun; I’m glad that we went.”