Last week I met up with Teresa Mathers and asked her about her experiences working for many different charities in different roles wearing many different hats for the last 25 years. She currently volunteers for the Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society and is Vice President of membership.
I asked Teresa a few questions about what she wanted to share regarding her experiences working with nonprofits. She has many experiences working as a nonprofit event producer, talent coordinator, volunteer coordinator and a volunteer, and shares with us some points to remember about what she’s learned working in each position.
Q: Teresa, when working as a volunteer coordinator and also as a volunteer, what would you like to tell nonprofits staff about your experience?
A: “First and foremost, I think it’s important for people to realize that volunteers are the backbone of any fundraiser. Most fundraisers I worked on would never have happened or wouldn’t have been as profitable if it weren’t for the many hours and hard work that the volunteers put in. Volunteers are golden and essential to a fundraiser. If you don’t have enough good volunteers there is a chance that your event will not be as successful as it could be.
I’d also like to encourage nonprofit organizations to make sure that there are drinks and nourishing food always available for the volunteers. My worst experience was when I volunteered for 10 hours for an event and the only food that was available to us was cheese and crackers and water. Needless to say, we weren’t happy about that and our energy waned throughout the day. Don’t take advantage of your volunteers and make sure they are well taken care of. You might want to recruit them for another event and if they weren’t happy, they will not join you again. Also, a small thank you gesture is always appreciated. A thank you note, small trinket or even an event t-shirt creates goodwill and makes a volunteer feel valued. That person is more likely to convey a positive message about your group out into the world. Don’t cut corners when it comes to your volunteers!
A good resource for finding volunteers can often be through corporations. Some have programs set up so that their employees can help make a positive impact on their community. One example is the Disney VoluntEARS program (http://publicaffairs.disneyland.com/voluntears/). Some corporations even have volunteer programs which promote volunteerism amongst their employees by providing paid time off to them for volunteering.”
Q: What tips do you have for us working as an event coordinator and producer?
A: “Make sure you follow up with every vendor so they know all the specifics of your event that pertain to them and that they have the right directions. Be very specific about location – which entrance, what cross streets, the exact time, etc. Be super detailed about pre-production. Give very detailed instructions. Confirm everything in writing. When sending emails, add “Please let me know that you’ve received this information.”
Try to have back-up for everything you plan. If you’re planning for an exterior event, have a rain alternative even if it’s in Southern California. Treat it like a wedding – the event will take place no matter what. Get a backup caterer for food if you can. Find out ahead of time where can you order 50 pizzas quickly if needed if the caterer can’t get to you, for example.
Try to do as much as you can prior to the event. Decorations – do them ahead of time as much as possible instead of expecting people to work the night before. Gift baskets for auction can be assembled weeks before the event. Programs that have to be rolled up with a ribbon can also be done ahead of time if they are back from the printer. Allow enough pre-production time and get as much as possible done well ahead of your event.
You should have meetings right before and right after an event. Meetings prior to the event should always have a very clear agenda. This keeps you organized and shows that everybody’s time is valued.
Having a “de-briefing” meeting with your team immediately after an event enables you to discuss what worked and what didn’t work. This is a great way to make improvements. Don’t wait until the week after or longer. Document everything about vendors in an excel spreadsheet so you have the information handy for future fundraising events and you won’t have to start from scratch again trying to find vendors with a good reputation.”
Q: What’s important to know when booking entertainment or talent for an event?
A: “Make sure you have a person (talent coordinator) to help you who can deal with any type of personality, is very detailed, and patient with people. Someone who can hold their own if things don’t go as planned and who is politically savvy. Some talent and publicists may be ‘divas’ and the coordinator needs to be able to deal with them with grace and dignity if that should occur. Additionally, most often the talent is taking time out of their own busy schedule to appear at an event without any compensation and that should be respected.”
Q: What do you think the first step should be when trying to decide on vendors for an event?
A: ”Get personal recommendations for vendors whenever you can. And definitely check for any reviews online. Ask potential vendors if you can possibly stop by an event they may be working on so you can take a look at how they work. Seeing an event in progress will give you a first-hand account about how well organized the company is and what quality and type of equipment and supplies they use. What do their tables look like? What is their workers’ dress code? Afterwards check with the people from the event for their feedback.
Always have a plan B. Try to have a backup for everything if possible. Expect the unexpected. If you have 25 volunteers signed up and 6 show up, what do you do? Always sign up more people than needed. Have a surplus. Even if you have to account for extra food, in the long run you will be glad that you are covered.”
Thank you so much Teresa for sharing your expertise with us!
When she’s not busy tending to her roses, photographing them, and writing for her blog at RosesDelight.com, Teresa volunteers as 2nd Vice President/Membership for the nonprofit “Santa Clarita Valley Rose Society.” She also manages her husband’s social media sites, and his blog at JerryMathers.com. Jerry is the actor best known for his iconic role in the television series, “Leave it to Beaver.”