Running your First Rotaract Club Event Print
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Written by Corina Mihaela Paraschiv   
Tuesday, 10 February 2009 23:52


If your Rotaract Club is holding its first event, be it a fundraiser, a gala, or a social outing for members, you might be concerned about the turnout.  And right you are.  So to get you started, here are some guidelines.  We'll have a look at what aspects of the event organization makes it hard to deal with an unpredictable turnout, we'll see how we can work things out with those constraints, and we'll see how to manage waiting lines and how to decrease no shows.  Armed with this new knowledge, you'l have the confidence and knowledge it takes to successfully run your first event.


Underlying Issues

Now there are some underlying issues with the event you're running.  An event isn't tangible, it's a service, and so with that comes two characteristics that are very unique : your service is perishable-- you can't "stock" extra hours of volunteering in reserve for times when you might need it later.  Once you called Rotaractors to help at an event, they're there, and the time they commit cannot be recupperated if you realize you don't need it, stored, and reused later.  On top of being perishable, your service also has a characteristic called "inseparability".  See when you go to the store and buy a tootbrush, for instance, the time at which you purchase the toothbrush and the time at which you use it can be two different moments.  But with events, it's not like that - when people come to your event, the moment they pay their ticket for the fundraiser at the door, for instance, and the moment they receive the service (ex. restaurant, or comedy evening, etc.), is simulteneous.  This again means that you need volunteers to be there and assure the service as things unfold.  There is no time lag.


Now a service does have constraints.  For example you may have a certain amount of time you're running the event for, or the equipment or facilities you can have can give you some restrictions in terms of how many people you can accomodate. 


So all this leads to say that you have a certain number of volunteers who must be available at the time of your event (inseparability) and whose presence can't be stored for later if you realize you don't need their help.  This will be one step in determining how many people can be served, along with the capacity constraints (such as time, equipment, building, etc.). 


At this point you're probably saying to youself, yes I realize that, so where are we going with this?  In fact I'm trying to get at a very fundamental concept. which is the "fluctuation in demand"- that is how many people you can set up your event for. 


How Many People Will Attend?

As you've probably figured out by now, there's a maximum number of people you could accomodate when holding your event.  However, this may not be the wisest thing to do. When you run at a maximum capacity, although you could raise more funds for your fundraiser or have more ambiance with more people at your first social, you also risk decreasing the quality of your service and interactions at that point. 


However, you also want to have enough work to keep everyone busy.  If you invite so few people that half of your club members are standing around doing nothing, that is wasting your Rotaractors' time of course.  Worst yet, if you go under a certain treshold and invite or have too few people show up, you run the risk of sending the wrong signals out (that your club isn't popular or worthy of attending). 


Part of your mission is to figure out the optimal level of participants for any given event (use your common sense, this isn't the hard part) and to meet that level (that's the hard part and this is what this article will help you achieve).  As you guessed it, too, the number of people who show up to your socials can vary from month to month, which is something unpredictable, whereas the people who bought a ticket for a dinner and show up are considered a predictable demand.  You handle those differently (we'll see how in a moment). 


Scenario 1 : I can't change the number of volunteers attending


This scenario really has two sides to it.  Either you have enthusiastic volunteers who are decided to commit their time and you don't want to turn any of them down even though you suspect half of them might end up having nothing to do at the fundraiser, OR you don't have enough Rotaractors in your club to accomodate a huge event and you're worried about having too big of a turnout.


What do you do then?  By transforming the event you are holding, you can affect the turnout of guests for your fundraiser.  Look at how the following changes to an event can increase or decrease attendance at the fudnraiser:


  • Modify the event: Our club was considering doing a swing dance night.  Since it was the committee's first event, we were worried about finding a room that could accomodate many people and to have the number of Rotaractors necessary for the event.  However, after some planning, we realized we had a lot of Rotaractors to help out and could probably run something larger scale to get everyone involved, so we changed the swing night to a Salsa night, knowing that type of event would attract a bigger amount of participants in our University.


  • Modify the price: Similarly, on one of our other fundraisers, the Comedy Night show, we had 100 spots to fill.  Because 100 people was difficult to find by selling at a very high price, we decided to sell the tickets at 10$ each, a rather low price for the entertainment, knowing we'd increase the turnout.


  • Modify the Promotion: For one of the online trainings I gave recently, we were trying to get a feel for how trainings could work via chat for the first time in my district.  I knew that, had I phoned every single club president and spoken to him or her in person, the turnout would have been greater, but because I knew I would not have the capacity to run a big event, I only sent out an email to recruit participants.  There was a show-up of 5 people which was a very good number for that kind of pilot project.

  • Modify the Place: By changing the venue where you are holding the event to be more accessible or less accessible, or more fitted to one type of public than another, you can also ilimit the number of participants to your event.


Other things you can do is to communicate with your guests prior to the event to warn them about the times where there might be less preferable for them to arrive.  By letting people know that, should they come in early for a cocktail instead of right when the show starts, they'll avoid cueing, you might be able to manage the flow of guests that arrive and make it more manageable for your volunteers to assign a place to each guest.


Scenario 2:  I can't change the number of people who will be attending our event 


If you've already got many people who are interested in your event and can't turn them down (either because the tickets are already sold or because you don't want to upset some guests by denying them entry), or if, alternatively, you find out you were able to sell as many tickets as you were supposed to, there are many things you can do, don't worry.


  • Adjust the capacity : We're organizing a Speed Dating fundraiser in a few days.  The Club is very excited about the event, but we have no way to know how many people will be attending before the said day as we do not sell tickets, but rather run this on the spot at a local pub.  So what will we do if we find out that we have less attendents than planned?  We'll simply shorten our program to account for the fact there are less people to talk to during the speed dating event. 


  • Another way in which capacity could be adjusted is if we served more guests per hour.  Say we only had the pub reserved for one hour and we turned out with twice the number of ppl we had planned for the activity, we can shorten the time participants were meant to speak to someone by two, to allow everyone to meet everyone, even though we can't rent the room for more time.  Another thing we would have to do, then, is to bring in additional chairs to accomodate everyone that's participating.  Be resourceful, and don't pannic! 


  • Aligning capacity with demand fluctuations: If you see that you won't have enough people attending to justify all your Rotaractors showing up to volunteer, you can create shorter shifts for volunteers so they can still each get involved, but by demanding less of their time to give everyone a chance to volunteer.


  •   If on the other hand you were running a LobsterFest fundraiser and you see you're running out of volunteers because your event is so successful, you can do serveral things.  You can train Rotaractors to be able to perform a wider array of tasks (for instance, how to write a tax-deduction receit for a guest at the event, how to serve the lobster and how to cook it) ensuring that during the event you can ask Rotaractors to switch from one role to another as needed (not all roles happen at the same time typically).  You could also "outsource" by inviting another Rotaract club or other association in your community to help you out and land a hand.  Or you could reconfigure the room you're using by placing tables closer to the kitchen so it takes less time to deliver the food when it's ready (allowing perhaps the kitchen people to run in with the plates quickly), or by putting a self-service table in a corner for instance for people to serve themselves, reducing the amount of work you have to do.


The Day of The Event


There are two things that will come up the day of the event  First, some people who will have told you they'll be attending won't show up, and second, the people who do come will most likely all arrive at the same time and create an overload of things to do for your Rotaract volunteers.  How do you handle each of those situations? 


No Shows

A study was made regarding reservations for appointments.  In the first case, the secretary ended each phone call with the following request : "Please call if you have to change your plans".  Three people out of ten did not show up even though they had been asked to advice the secretary of their change of plans.  In the second phase of the experiment, the same secretary made a similar request to people but using another formula: "Will you please call if you have to change your plans?" and paused for the client to respond "yes, i will".  This reduced the numbers of no shows by one third; only one person in ten did not show under those circumstances. 


You can try the same when you plan your event.  If you are organizing an event where you must hire staff, purchase ingredients and cook the food, and make many preparations that depend on the turnout, you may want to have a policy of selling your tickets in advance only and collecting in the money when the ticket is sold.  However, especially if holding this type of gala event for Rotarians in a geographically large district, collecting the money before incurring these expenses might not always be possible. In this case, phoning the people or emailing them to ask whether they will contact you in the event where they cannot show up can help you decrease no-shows.


 First Encounter

Here are some tips about how to deal with the sudden flow of people you're facing.  First off, remember this golden rule : "If [guests] sit down in a good mood, it's easy to keep them happy.  If they sit down disgruntled, it's almost impossible to turn them around.  They're looking to find fault, to criticize".  So the first impression you're giving is going to determine to a large extent the success of your event.  This is why it is extremely important that, in addition, to assigning volunteers to all the tasks necessary to run the event, you also have a few Rotaractors ready to greet the guests and to respond to any inqueries or requests that might show up early on.  You'll be busy coordinating, other volunteers will be busy with their takss, make sure there are a few Rotaractors who have nothing else to do but take care of keeping guests in the good mood they arrive in.


Waiting Time

I remember our first gala event and what a catastrophy that had been: we had not estimated the number of volunteers that would be needed in the kitchen to accomodate for the incredible number of people who did show up, and as a result, all our program, which was supposed to happen as the dinner unfolded, was pushed back as we rushed to help the cook and try to serve everyone. Some meat plates had been undercooked, some speakers had talked so much past their allocated time we had to cut the last speaker, and the list of things that turned sour went on...  So in the interest of sparing you such an experience, have a look at the following propositions from David Maister (1984) so that you'll be apt to take the right decision if things do go wrong and you find yourself in a bottleneck. 


  • Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time, so have people fill forms, read magazines or talk to you while they wait to kill time


  • People want to get started - so even if you can't serve them the meal straight away, having them sit at their table makes them feel like you've begun serving them


  • Anxiety makes wait seem longer - so when you reassure your guests that things are under control and let them know about the delay it'll seem less long to them


  • Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits - which means if you give them an accurate estimate of how much longer it'll take before that meal of their is cooked you're better off than not saying anything (people do notice when you're running behind schedule, trust me!)


  • Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits - so again, communicate with your guests and tell them what's going on and what they're waiitng for


  • Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits so try to respect the first come first served rule and try not to make exceptions (if you do, explain why, as mentioned in the point above, so that it may seem fair to the other, too)


  • The more valuable the service, the longer the person will wait- which means that if they don't really value the event or the club that's doing this event, their patience may run short and they might wlak out of the waiting line for instance, and not buy your ticket and go to your event


  • Solo waits feel longer than group waits- common sense really, but if you see some people came along, maybe have one of your Rotaractors introduce them to people nearby or at their table so they don't feel like the wait is all on their shoulders, alone


Now you know the basics to manage the people attending your very first event.  Greatest luck in running it and, remember, you can contineously learn from your experience!

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 February 2009 01:25 )