“One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.” 

― Gordon B. Hinckley

One key to having a successful fundraising event is learning how to maximize the host planning committee to their full capacity and interest. Often times, the volunteers invited to serve on the planning team are members of the board, community leaders, or maybe the spouses of the top tier employees. No matter what their relationship is to the organization, they bring to the table an amazing amount of influence and connections. Learning to tap into this pool of potential is a skill that can achieve success well beyond a single event. Managing and leveraging host committees is one of Michele Von Deak’s specialties and this post includes her top 5 ways to cultivate an effective event planning committee.

Michele is Principal at TVD Associates. In this position, she is intimately involved in every aspect of the firm’s relationship with clients. Before joining TVDA, she spent nearly two decades working for nonprofit organizations, developing programs and strategies, raising funds, strengthening relationships with key constituencies, and managing events. In the process, she has learned how to tackle the challenges nonprofits and associations face today and create customized opportunities for growth and improved efficiency.

Here are Michele’s top five things to engage committee volunteers:

1. What’s the charge?

First, Michele is always sure to clearly communicate a specific charge or mission for the committee members. This should be addressed to the group as a whole, followed by speaking with each member individually. Having a second conversation confirms that expectations are understood, and each member can give you feedback on his commitment. It is okay if each person’s commitment is different as long as everyone feels like they are all pulling their weight as a part of the team. Some members of the committee might be more comfortable doing all advance work, and some might not be available for the advance work but will be on the floor working hard the night of the event. You need both.

2. Be Respectful.

When having these discussions about commitment, be mindful that the committee members have “day” jobs and other responsibilities. They are volunteers who are being generous with their time. Respecting that time earns trust and respect. Keep meetings punctual and efficient. At the same time, have an open line of communication about expectations to be met.

3. Why are they there?

Michele knows that it is extremely important to spend time getting to know the committee members. Why are they volunteering? What are they looking (if anything) to “get” out of it? Is it a passion project for them? Do they have an emotional connection to the organization? Have they joined to meet people or make professional contacts? Is it to build their own resume? All are valid and important reasons. If someone has joined because she wants to meet people and make professional contacts, don’t stick her in the kitchen during the event. Put her in charge of the guest check in. Ask her to sell raffle tickets around the room.

4. Bringing passion to the project.

In addition to finding out why volunteers have joined the team, it is important to discover their passions and what motivates them. For example, through spending time getting to know one of her past committee members, Michele discovered he had an interest and knowledge of wine. So, when the time for an event comes, Michele turns to him for guidance to pick out the wine for the event. Could Michele pick something quicker and check it off her to do list? Yes. But letting this person use their knowledge and passion helped create a feeling of ownership and personalization that ultimately supports long term engagement with the organization.

5. Seeing the big picture!

The final tip is to not let committee get so bogged down in the details of the event that they lose sight of the long-term goals and plans of the organization. Yes, most likely this event is just one night a year but a successful planning committee can see past that evening and into the larger scope of the organization’s mission. Even better, they know how to talk about it.

All of these tips are key to creating a successful event but perhaps more importantly, ensuring a lasting connection with the members of the host committee. This is done by offering clear expectations, establishing opportunities for tasks of interest, and instilling the feeling of being valued. An invested volunteer is the best person to make peer to peer asks on behalf of the organization, and advocate for its significance in the community.