Over the course of my 15+ year event career, I have taken on a number of roles for a wide variety of clients. My true love in the event world has always been non-profit events. I love big events that benefit charities or other type of community groups. Working with these passionate people is energizing and inspiring. You realize that what you do can actually change someone’s life. Not that weddings don’t change lives and aren’t important but there is just something different about giving back to your community. The people I have met through my various volunteer roles and projects have opened my eyes and showed me how to be a better person.
For the past 6 years, I have been the event director for the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life. This has been an interesting time for fundraising events. People are experiencing donor fatigue and in Ottawa between April and the end of October there are upwards of 120 runs/walks for local charities. Everything has changed, from the way we advertise – we have moved from print advertising to pushing social media as the main medium, even the way donations are coming in – most donations are receipted online immediately versus people bringing in cash the day of. This has made me and my colleagues look for ways to bring new energy to the event to try and set it apart from other events taking place. Not an easy task especially on a limited budget.
Planning begins in January/February of each year. We have to pick a date within a time frame that is specified by the national office, and it always falls mid-September. This may work in some cities, but here in Ottawa we end up competing with the Terry Fox Run, and the Army Run – two very established events, and with the back to school rush at the start of September – this is not the ideal time for us but we do our best to make it work.
We kick-off the weekend of the event with a media launch and BBQ. It was cold but there was sun, I was trying to stay optimistic despite the 70% chance of rain forecast for walk day. I had bigger things to worry about then the weather on the last business day before the event. We have fantastic community partners who help make the event a success, but like anything working with governing departments can be a challenge. At 12:05pm on the Friday (less than 24 hours before the event is scheduled to start) I get a call from one group association about permission to walk on their street. Apparently, the emails and voice mails and faxes I had been sending since the start of summer must have gone to his junk mail or were buried in his inbox and we couldn’t walk on the route that had been submitted to the city. Thankfully, I had a plan B since I had my doubts if we would get any reply from them. I walked out of the media launch, took a second to breathe, internally freaking out, and then started emailing and calling my city contacts. They were incredible and helped me reroute and re-permit the event on a Friday afternoon.
Saturday morning I am up before the sun, load the truck and get to our plaza/parking lot just before 8:00am. It is freezing for mid-September but the event is rain or shine so I just bundle and deal with it. Just before 11:00am, when the volunteers are arriving, and we are debating if the inflatable obstacle course can safely be put up, it starts to sprinkle. Then it starts to rain harder, and then harder. I was so wet I was ringing out my tuque and scarf midway through the event. The live band had to keep dumping water that had pooled on the top of the tent to avoid damaging their equipment.
Thankfully everyone was in relatively good spirits, although incredibly wet. It’s funny that although I do check the forecast, I truly don’t care about it. It is the one thing I have learned to let go of, short of a sun-dance, there is absolutely nothing that can be done about the weather. It is what it is. This particular weekend it was bad, my fingers are still slightly pruned and numb from Saturday’s event. Despite everything there were still between 200-300 people that braved the downpour and walked to support the cause.
Event planning is not a typical career, there are no guarantees, and there is never a regular day. I love what I do (most days – though if you have seen me lately I may look a little bit burnt out), I guess event planning is not for the faint of heart!