Agendas, Agendas, Everybody’s Got an Agenda

Agendas, Agendas, Everybody’s Got an Agenda

A fundraising auction requires myriad volunteers, vendors and staff, all working on their individual pieces to create a greater whole. Every individual working on an event always has their own personal agenda. Successful events manage to get every individual to buy in to a larger goal, and bend their personal agendas towards the “greater good.” It is when personal agendas begin driving decision making that events run in to trouble.

Everyone defines a successful event differently: some want to throw a great party, some want the food to be memorable, others want the decor to be the talk of the town and some will define success by the press coverage they garner. If it is a fundraising event, the ultimate success should be defined by how much money we can raise, and therefore how many lives we can change. All of the other components of a good event are important – we want people to have a good time, we want the food to be good, we want the decor to set an appropriate tone – but they are not so important that they should take precedence over raising money.

This may sound obvious, but it is surprising how often it gets lost when a personal agenda overrides the greater good. As a professional fundraiser I am able to maintain a perspective that is detached from my personal ego; I accept the fact that people will talk and drink all throughout an auction, knowing that it is important for people to be able to have a good time as well as be able to tune in and bid. Getting other individuals or vendors to buy-in to accepting such trade-offs is sometimes more work.

I recently did an event at a country club in North Carolina, and the floor manager was more concerned with the Feng Shui of his room than the success of the auction. There were massive gaps between tables in one section of the room – potentially creating a divided feel among that part of the crowd – because it felt better in his eyes. I had requested that no tables be placed without a line-of-sight to the stage, and he placed two tables directly behind a pillar, making them invisible to me. He did this because he wanted those tables to be close to each other and “feel better.” He even argued with me about which side of the stage I could place the stand for my notes and water.

Long ago, when I first started doing fundraising events in San Francisco, one of the largest caterers in town would take offense when I recommended that a particular event hold the auction during dinner. They wanted their food to be the highlight of the evening (which I understand), and didn’t want to see an auction take away from that experience. Over the course of hundreds of events together we’ve managed to build a solid working relationship, built around the agenda of making the most money possible for each charity. As one of their managers said to me one evening, “It’s not the ideal way we’d do a regular event, but we understand that we’re all here to help raise as much money as possible.”

And that is the goal: to get everyone working on an event to agree to one agenda, one common goal. Establish a prime directive for your event, get everyone to agree to that goal, and have all decision making flow from it. Not every decision has to map directly to it, but every decision should be a conscious one, made with an understanding of what the give and take is.

“Wait until after dinner to hold an auction, many people will get up and leave before you get to your fund a need. Hold your auction during dinner, the food loses its placement as the focal point of that part of the evening.”

If you are working on an event, learn to recognize when someone is bringing their own personal agenda into play, and then find a productive way to address that and try to get them to buy in to serving the greater good. It is, after all, why we are all here.

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