5 Keys to A Great Event Design

Planning for a “perfect” event?  Make sure your event design includes these five critical elements.

A great party, a great event, a great wedding – all include the following elements in their design:

  • Lighting
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Movement
  • Scale

First among these is lighting. No other element can transform a boring space into a wildly spectacular one. LED up-lights for the walls can brighten the room and, when paired with your theme, begin to take your guests to the place you’ve envisioned. Gobos – your logo or graphic elements from your invitation – can make your dance floor or your backdrop exciting. Bathe the entire room in color – blue for a soothing effect or red for a Cirque feel. Use your imagination so your guests walk into your space and say Wow!

Hand-in-hand with lighting is Color. Don’t be afraid of it - use it to evoke the mood you want. Bold colors for a Latin themed event are perfect. Pastels for a wedding say romantic. Black and white says Old Hollywood. What would a Valentine event be without red?

You can bring texture into your design in a number of ways. The most obvious is your table scape. Your table linen and napkins, whether they be polyester, jute, brocade, or sequined, will give your guests a feel for your theme. A beautiful wooden table topped with succulents bring an entirely different texture to your event. Your centerpieces should complement your theme and your table.

Nobody wants to sit still for 3 or 4 hours. Plan your party with movement in mind. Your guests enjoy a cocktail hour or silent auction in the first space they enter. Plan something fun to move them into the dining room – a conga line, a flash mob, percussionists – all inviting guests to follow them to the next space. Schedule an interactive audience element during the program – a salsa or Charleston lesson. Have guests use the flashlight app on their phones (most everyone has one) to wave during a particular song. And finally, move your guests to the dance floor.

Lastly, choose your event venue carefully. Does the space have low or high ceilings? Is it too big for your guest count? Will you need tall elements to fill a large space? Will you have to section off a portion of the space to make it less cavernous? Although it seems counterintuitive, for rooms with low ceilings, tall plants and arrangements of boughs or other organic elements will draw your eyes to the plants and not the ceiling.

Take these five key elements into account next time you plan that special event and sit back and witness a much more impactful result or let the professionals at Your Great Event take all that burden away from you to guarantee you an unequivocally-successful event. 

Branding Your Fundraising Event with Graphics That Make an Impact!

The goal of your fundraising event is to attract attendees and sponsors to help raise money for your cause
and organization. You want your fundraising event to not only attract a lot of donors, (yes!), but, equally as important, showcase your organizations’ mission within the community, and raise awareness as to its good works.

Great graphics can bring attention to both your event and your mission!

Artistic and meaningful design can enhance the stature of your event, enticing the very attendees and sponsors you wish to attract! It promises your guests fun and excitement and a sense of what the mission is, all dressed up in a beautifully designed presentation.

The event design should sparkle, intrigue, and make an impression! 

Choosing a theme and carrying it out graphically throughout your key artwork and collateral pieces lends
cohesion to your marketing. It begins to brand your event in your potential donors’ minds. 

Always hire a professional designer. The event company you have wisely chosen to produce your event will have recommendations. Listen to them.

Good event design begins with your theme. The designer will take your ideas and design the concept artwork.
The primary goal: to make it a signature special event that shouldn’t be missed!

1. Development of theme and key art. Generally, two concepts are presented. Working with a professional designer can help to develop and produce a polished vision for the event. The designer should be practiced in professional design, budgets and deadlines, and empathetic to the larger cause of the organization.

Once the final art is approved, it is now branded into the following collateral pieces used at each stage of the marketing campaign.

2. Event logo and header: These initial graphic elements are used in all your early solicitation efforts. This will start to create a visual connection to the event for potential guests and donors.

3. Save the Date/Digital Eblast: This piece, whether a printed postcard or in a digital format, announces the event well in advance of the event date to start building interest, and get the date marked on people’s calendars.

4. Invitation package. This signature piece presents the event details in an attractive and well-designed presentation.  And also, importantly, delivers the sponsorship opportunities and donor levels, as well as the RSVP. The invitation can also include an insert with the “sponsors to date”, to spur others to donate as well. This is generally the most impressive and important piece of your event marketing.

5. Program Book: This is the journal that commemorates the event!  Within its pages there is valuable information about your organization, your event sponsors, advertisers, and vendors. This item goes home with the attendees. This can be a selling point for contributors and advertisers to the program. A PowerPoint sponsor loop during the event, and additional advertising both before and after the event also carries the brand to the audience.

A fundraising event can and should be branded from the original concept design, throughout the marketing and solicitation stage, and on to the event itself. Exciting and interesting graphics work in tandem with your organizations fundraising effort to create excitement for potential attendees and donors.

After all, your signature fundraising event plays an important role in raising money for your organization, and in
developing relationships with new and returning donors that carry into the future.

Impactful professional graphic design can brand your event.  This in turn enhances the success of your organizations fundraising, ensuring that your event is both successful and memorable! 

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 By Elizabeth MacFarland -  Graphic Design  

By Elizabeth MacFarland - Graphic Design 

Fundraising Events are not for everyone

The perennial conversation around non-profit organizations’ board tables is “how can we raise [more] money?”  It feels like that question has singularly become the “raison d’être” for many non-profit organizations.  However, in some cases, the non-profit organization’s belief that a fundraising event is an effective way to raise money may be misguided at times.  This may sound counterintuitive.  Let me hasten to clarify: Some non-profits fail to do their homework and factor in the direct (venue rental, food, décor, entertainment, etc.) and indirect (staff, board and volunteer time) costs before they embark on holding a fundraiser.  Without due consideration of all the factors involved, it would be folly to take on a time-consuming and intense fundraising event.  Engaging a professional event planning company with solid expertise in working with non-profits can lighten the load and ensure success.

Some non-profits shy away from engaging an event planning company on financial grounds: “We can do it ourselves and save the cost”.  This couldn’t be further from the fact.  Numerous studies have shown that to be successful in holding a fundraising event, using a professional event planning company with proper credentials is paramount.  An event planning company can become your catalyst for success in your fundraising effort.  It brings to the table a discipline that is often lacking when an organization tries to carry out such an undertaking on its own.

Here are areas that an event planning company can guide you when embarking on a fundraising event:

1.     Identify your stakeholders:  In an age when so many non-profit organizations are competing for limited funds, knowing the universe of your donors and other stakeholders is a critical first step.  Your event planning company should help you identify the pool of possible donors depending on your cause and devise outreach strategies to “recruit” as many as possible.  The donor outreach program should also entail educating the prospective donors about the organization, the cause and its relevance to them—directly or indirectly. 

2.     Engage your donors:  Once you have identified and educated your donors, you still have a hurdle to overcome: To get the donors engaged—and keep them engaged.  Engaged donors make for life-long donors.  Much like everyone else, donors want to make a difference.  Your event planning company will help you devise strategies to create fulfillment for your donors.  The company should be able to come up with creative ways to make the need for donation a source of personal fulfillment for the donor.  In an age of social media frenzy, it’s relatively easy to reach out to a wide range of committed donors/stakeholders and create a lasting—and rewarding—following. 

3.     “Donors are forever:”  There is always the risk that an organization may view their donors only in the context of the event at hand.  Your event planning company should help you formulate a long-term strategy for keeping your donors engaged—and how a one-time donor can be converted into a life-long donor.  In fact, if your resources allow, you may want to consider to have a dedicated function for “donor relations”—much like many universities have an alumni department. 

4.     Fundraising with a purpose:  Fundraising events are not only about fundraising: This statement may sound oxymoron. However, a sustainable fundraising effort must be based on solid foundations. The organization’s mission, its goals and its cause are critical to the success of your fundraising—not just once, but on a recurring basis. Your stakeholders will need to remain engaged.  You need to devise a plan on keeping them engaged.  To do so, you need to have a multi-year action plan to “evergreen” your cause.  Your event planning company can help you with your “cause marketing.”  In the end, fundraising is about more than fine dining at a ritzy venue with top-rated entertainment.  It’s about engaging a collection of interested individuals and converting them into a group of committed ambassadors for your cause.  Only thus can you have a sustainable roadmap to long-term success.       

The Roadmap to Successful Fundraising Events

Non-profit organizations often live off fundraising events.  However, fundraising events can only be successful if important steps are followed.  Here’s an 8-step roadmap:

1. Visioning:

The organization must first decide what the purpose of the intended event is: Just fundraising or something broader (such as outreach or cause marketing)? The purpose affects the nature of the event.

2. Financial Goals:

The amount of funds an organization hopes to raise determine the kind and nature of event.  Realistic goal setting is paramount in the success of an event.  Your professional event planning company should assist you in this important step.

3. Organization:

No event—corporate or non-profit—can ever succeed without proper structure.  The event planning company can only be held accountable if the organization has put in place proper lines of authority for every aspect of the event.  Ambiguity breeds chaos.

4. Target Audience:

Define your ideal audience.  Targeting the right audience is the only sure way to success. 

5. Event Logistics:

Don’t leave your event logistics to volunteers.  Too much rides on your success.  Trust it to professionals—whom you can held accountable.  But remain vigilant. 

6. Event Marketing:

Events’ success depends to a large degree on how a fundraiser is marketed to the target audience.  There is considerable competition for any event—and for any cause.  You are vying for a limited resource—funding.  You need to convince your target audience that your organization and event are worthy of their time and money. Ask for a detailed and professionally-done marketing plan from your event planning company. 

7. Role of Volunteers:

Non-profits are often blessed with having many dedicated volunteers—regardless of the cause.  Volunteers can be invaluable resources if they are provided with adequate guidance and leadership.  To avoid confusion and properly use this valuable resource, put your event planning company in charge of how and where to use the volunteer staff.   running smoothly.

8. Post-Mortem:

It’s critical that a post-event meeting is held with all the stakeholders to evaluate successes—and shortcomings, if any.  Your event planning partner should provide you with a detailed final report outlining how everything unfolder and funds raised (against the goal) and lessons learned.  Your future successes depend on learning from the past.  

5 Ways to Spice Up Your Traditional Golf Classic

5 Ways to Spice Up Your Traditional Golf Classic

We recently produced a golf classic for our friends at Five Acres. Rather than a typical golf classic execution including a day of golf, auction and awards dinner, we introduced a touch of plaid!  Here are five ways we spiced things up for Five Acres.

Event Theme

Golf Tournament.jpg

Encourage guest engagement by adding a theme. This year, we created the “30th Anniversary and Five Acres Mad for Plaid Par-Tee!” Everyone arrived in their best plaid and embraced their inner Scot!

Creative Catering

Don’t get stuck with the same old F&B! Include themed meals and interactive food stations!  Our reception and dinner menu included a nod to Scottish fare and the family-style bread pudding was simply mouth-watering!

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Signature Drinks

Everyone loves a signature drink.  Spicy cocktails are on trend and add a little heat to your cocktail receptions.   

Décor & Live Entertainment


To round off our Mad for Plaid Par-Tee, we transformed the club house into a Scottish tavern that included an authentic Scottish/Irish Band, Scottish Dancers and rustic tavern decor. 

Looking to spice up your next golf tourney?  Let Your Great Event help theme your next guest experience!  Your Great Event is a leading event planning and production company serving the needs of non-profit organizations throughout California. 


Managing Volunteers at Nonprofit Organizations

Nonprofit organizations rely very heavily on the dedication of volunteers.  Volunteers are the backbone of many nonprofits.  To benefit from this potentially-vast resource, nonprofits must have a “volunteer management system” in place.  Much like employees, volunteers expect their work to be truly engaging and rewarding.  There are strategies that can elevate the volunteers’ experience and help with volunteer retention while allowing the nonprofit organization attain its larger goals.   

1.     Organization’s Goals

By nature [and applicable statutes], nonprofits are purpose driven; and are thus expected to have more focused goals.  An organization’s overall raison d’être is what draws volunteers to one nonprofit as opposed to another.  Volunteers must relate to and embrace the organization’s primary purpose to feel a sense of lasting commitment.  Harvesting the volunteer force also requires a set of distinct goals of its own.  Volunteer management must be carried out in a disciplined and focused manner to create a harmonious interconnection between volunteers and the organization.  The more organizational involvement for the volunteers, the better the retention rate.       

2.     Volunteer Recruitment Plans

Nonprofits rely heavily on the availability of volunteers for many of their essential tasks.  Few nonprofits can afford to do away with volunteers or replace them with paid staff.  How does a nonprofit go about finding and recruiting suitable and qualified volunteers?  One possible pool is the donor list.  With proper coaching and inspiration, many non-volunteers could be prospective candidates as volunteers.  In general, by seeing all your organization’s supporters as potential volunteers, you’ll be able to develop deeper relationships with passionate individuals who really consider themselves a part of your nonprofit as a whole.  By ignoring donors or members as potential volunteers, a nonprofit could be inadvertently shutting out a heavily-impactful group.

3.     The Role of Technology

Technology has permeated every aspect of our lives.  Managing the volunteer program (recruitment, onboarding, retention and recognition) is no exception.  There are simple and complex purpose-driven applications for any and all aspects of volunteer management as are more generic CRM software that can be adapted to help an organization in this important task.  The right volunteer management software can help the organization to store volunteer data and empower it to amplify its understanding of volunteer management.  In its core, even a simple volunteer management application should have the following important attributes:

  • Time-keeping capabilities. Staying on top of volunteer hours can be a major burden without the help of a proper tool. With the right application, a nonprofit should be able to more accurately capture and track volunteer activity (and view/retain it in one centralized location).
  • Detailed volunteer profiles. To help the volunteers succeed in their roles, it’s important that the organization understands their personalities and needs. The right software can enable the nonprofit to maintain all volunteer data, including communication preferences, contact information, volunteer history, and relevant skills or interests—and retrieve same when needed.
  • Volunteer communications. Automate and send individual or batch emails directly through the right software.

4.     Volunteer Recognition Program

While volunteers give of their time and expertise because they believe in the cause, it does not mean that the organization should take their involvement for granted.  To retain and earn the loyalty of the volunteer workforce, an organization must develop a systematic practice of showing proper gratitude to volunteers for their services.  While thanking volunteers every time they serve is a good gesture, the organization’s gratitude must be shown in as many ways as possible to result in lasting loyalty and retention.  Like everyone else, volunteers want to know that they’re valued.

To go beyond verbal or written thank-you notes, an organization must invest in an engaging appreciation program including:

  • Social Media. Social media makes it easy to connect with volunteers. Consider posting regular volunteer announcements on your organization’s Facebook or Twitter page. Or, dedicate a full page on your nonprofit website to highlighting your volunteers as a whole.
  • Broadcast. What have your volunteers done for your organization? Broadcast it! Share how specific volunteer involvement has impacted the world around them, in small or large ways.
  • Volunteer appreciation events. The internet is a great place to extend gratitude to your volunteers, but there is also value to in-person events. Recognize your volunteers at purpose-planned and exciting appreciation events.
  • Developing an effective volunteer management can be a challenging task.  However, it is imperative for nonprofits to have an appropriate program to be able to manage and benefit from engaged and enthusiastic volunteers—a potentially vast, valuable—and free—resource.

Your Great Event is a national event planning company dedicated solely to the needs of nonprofit organizations.  Let us help you put in place an effective volunteer management program. 

Make Your Groundbreaking Ceremony Extraordinary

We’ve all seen photos of groundbreaking ceremonies—smiling faces cutting a ribbon with a big scissor. How about making your groundbreaking ceremony into a cutting-edge ceremony? Something people would like to see. Something they will remember.

Invite your guests—supporters, customers, employees—to a buffet lunch—on the ground you are breaking! You can put up a tent with clear side walls so your guests can see the actual first shovel hit the dirt without worrying about wind and dust.

Design a program to thank supporters and sponsors and encourage your guests to mingle. Keep it short and simple; but be sure to include information about the purpose of your expansion—or the new building—or a second location.

When you are ready, you can still cut the ribbon with big scissors if you want. Give the invitees assigned to hold the ribbon hard hats to make the photo opportunity special.

Your Great Event can help with any groundbreaking—or any other—event you may be contemplating.

Amazing Holiday Race

So, you have to roll out a holiday party for 15 board members and their guests. You’ve secured the venue, the menu is chosen, the room is decorated for the season, and you’ve hired a popular jazz quartet. Here is your challenge:  Your client wants her guests to have fun, to play a game that encourages them to interact with each other, and she has an idea! She wants you to create a game and call it the “Amazing Holiday Race.” What do you do?

We divided guests into 6 teams of 5. We set up the room with 6 stations with easy, inexpensive tasks for the team to complete. Client staff supervised each station. We wrote rules for each contest and made sure the players understood them.

Everyone played the games, all of them laughed—hard, and all of them were filled with holiday spirit – even the losing teams.

Here are the games we chose to play.

  1. Client knowledge – come up with 15 questions about your organization. Each group gets one answer sheet. Don’t make the questions too easy.
  2. Penny stacking – each member of the group must stack 25 pennies using only one hand.
  3. Mascot Game – you’ve probably played this before yourself. Download the 36 well-known company mascot quizzes from the web. Each group gets one answer sheet and they are not allowed to use their cell phones to look up answers.
  4. Red Cup, Blue Cup: put at least 20 red cups in a stack with a blue cup at the bottom. Each team member, using alternate hands, restacks the cups until the blue one is back on the bottom.
  5. Map of the World:  put a 50-piece puzzle together. We used a map of the world.
  6. Decorate your Ornament: each team member decorates a plain wooden ornament with paint pens.

The game materials cost $200! The winning team each received a $25 gift card. You can spend more if you like, but the fun is in the doing not necessarily in the winning.

Do you have an idea for an unusual Holiday Party? Let Your Great Event help you put it together.

Not the Same Old Venue

Not the Same Old Venue

An event in a non-traditional venue can produce surprising, unusual, and innovative experiences for guests. Your Great Event can produce your event in some unique venues. How about the Dodger Stadium? 

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Angelenos are rightfully proud of Dodger Stadium. From its central location to its magnificent views, from its beautifully-manicured grounds to its perfectly-maintained stadium seats, from the skill of its vendors to the taste of a Dodger Dog, the Los Angeles Dodgers do everything right. And that means protecting the natural grass that covers most of the playing field. In order to have an event in the outfield, a sub-floor will need to be laid over the grass and carpet laid on top of the floor. Roped stanchions must surround the entire cocktail reception and dining area to keep guests off the grass—and the infield.

Dodger Vision can display your logo. The scoreboard will welcome your guests with a continuous scroll of their names.

You can separate the dinner area with free-standing candle walls covered with flowing fabric. Put baseballs on the shelves of the walls. Later in the evening guests can be invited to take one of the baseballs and have your honorees sign them as a memento of the evening.  In the dining area, you can set tables with silver chargers. Beautiful and delicate orchids of varying heights can be your centerpieces. Instead of table numbers, guests can be assigned to tables named after a famous Dodger Baseball Star.

Dodgers Stadium Event.png

A garden-fresh salad can be pre-set. Waiters can carry out each meal on individually-covered plates. As the covers are removed, guests can be treated to—what else—Dodger Dogs accompanied by gourmet broiled tomato and roasted asparagus. The meal can be a perfect blending of traditional and fun!

And what would a Dodger event be without Roger Owens, aka “The Peanut Man,” who can toss, just as he does at Dodger games, bags of peanuts to guests.

One extra bonus for guests will be quickly evident:  Guests can be invited to use the restrooms in the Dodger Dugout Club. To get there, they walk along the third base line past the Dodger Dugout. Throughout the entire evening, you will look over at the dugout and see someone sitting on the Dodger bench while someone else takes their photo.

What is your fantasy location?  Let Your Great Event help you organize your next event at a venue with an authentic wow factor. 


Site Visits are About More Than the Site

Sure, you’ve done your research and you’ve chosen three different venues to show your client. You know that you can fit the 350 estimated guests and a dance floor in the ballroom. (For purposes of this writing, we’ll assume that you are showing hotels to your client. The steps described below apply to all kinds of venues, so keep reading even if you want your event on a rooftop.)

Have you done your homework? Have you asked the right questions so to know if the venue fits within your client’s budget? The last thing you want is your client falling in love with a space he/she can’t afford.

  1. Have you determined what dates are available at the hotel for your event?
  2. What is the F&B (food and beverage) minimum for the night you’ve chosen for the event?
  3. Do you have the menus for the event and will you meet or exceed the F&B minimum?
  4. Are there charges for the bars and bar tenders you need? Based on consumption? Based on sales? Can you have a cash bar at the event?
  5. What is the administrative service fee percentage that will be charged on everything the hotel/venue provides?
  6. What AV provider does the hotel/venue use? Is their use mandatory or can you bring in your own vendors?
  7. What kind of parking is available and what rates are charged?
  8. Does the hotel offer discounted room rates if guests want to stay overnight?
  9. Is the location in an area that will fit your event demographic? If it isn’t, is the venue so spectacular that your client might be interested anyway? (Remember, a little push, a little shove, a little stretch for something different, when presented carefully, can mean that the client sees your creative contribution in a meaningful light that takes your relationship to a deeper place of trust.)
  10. During the site visit, be sure to point out any special features that the hotel/venue has to offer – features that made you want to show the location to your client. This could be special chandeliers, or spectacular views, or a spacious lobby, or a waterfall in the foyer. Let your client know that you’ve done your research so that they know that you can create an event that they will love – and that works within the budget they envision.

Your Great Event always works within a budget approved by the client. Let us show you how we can make an event sing on any size budget.

To Hotel or Not to Hotel?

To Hotel or Not to Hotel?

Not all events need to take place at a hotel.  Given the nature of the celebration or the audience, certain events require some creative thinking when choosing a venue. You might consider a street, a rooftop, a courtyard, an event venue, or even a parking lot to create the proverbial Wow factor you want.

Glendale Community College is celebrating its 90th Anniversary this year. To showcase the college and make the celebration of this special anniversary an event to remember, we decided to host our 400 guests to a seated dinner, on the campus outside under the stars. The reception was held in a space separate from the dining area and included a large silent auction.

Reaching for the Stars was the theme for the gala. The theme was carried out throughout the evening from the colors used to decorate the space, through the names of the menu items and the star shaped hors d’oeuvres. The expanding universe of stars was displayed on the blue carpet that led guests from the reception into the dining area and on one of the buildings surrounding dinner tables.

And the entertainment was provided by student stars—including a dance flash mob that signaled the end of the reception and enticed guests to follow the dancers to the dining area.

This event was both a financial success and a memorable event. But it did require the development of an extensive budget and timelines for the both the entire event, the days before and, of course, event day. Close inspection of rental orders, catering orders, staffing orders, volunteer responsibilities, and campus capabilities all come in to play. A kitchen was created for the caterer and coffee, water, and ice needed to be brought in. Bar service was provided by a catering company that specializes in providing alcohol. No hotel means no hotel staff.

Your Great Event can provide the expertise you need your own wow factor—even the out-of-the-box events you fantasize about.


Photo: Ken Allard/El Vaquero

Full Media Coverage by the Los Angeles Times, click here.

Your Great Event Produces Cirque Fantastique!

Your Great Event Produces Cirque Fantastique!

Glendale Memorial Health Foundation’s annual fundraiser Wine and Roses celebrated its 30th Anniversary this year with an evening of excellent food, spectacular entertainment, and a very special award presentation.

As a part of the “Human Kindness in the Making” initiative, the Glendale Memorial Health Foundation’s goal is 5 million dollars over five years. We are proud to say that the 2017 Wine and Roses gala, recently held at the Langham Pasadena, raised more than $340,000 toward that goal. Led by committee co-chairs Dr. Kathleen Dennis-Zarate and Haig Youredjian, Wine & Roses started off with a delicious dinner followed by the posthumous presentation of the Human Kindness Award to Edwin “Eddie” Johnston. Eddie was a well-respected businessman who supported Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center for many years. His family accepted the award in his behalf. 

Interspersed throughout the evening were performances by cirque artists including, Michael Raymer whose signature trick is spinning a McDonalds cheeseburger on an umbrella. Joining Michael were Sofie Dossi, contortionist extraordinaire, Marawa who holds the world record for 200 hula hoops at once, Maya Kramer, world renowned aerial artist, and Chris Crabber who balances more than 20 feet in the air on 9 chairs. The audience danced the night away to the music of Splash, a group of talented performers who have entertained at the Oscars and the Emmys.

We were excited to, once again, produce Wine and Roses for the Foundation. We’ve been creating events for them since 2006.  They took a risk by changing it up with a new theme, new entertainment, new start time, new everything. But these changes paid off by in a big way. At Your Great Event, we believe that our clients should experience event excellence – and be a guest at their own party.

We can replicate the same magic that was created for Wine & Roses for your event. Contact us today!

The event was also covered by the Los Angeles Times. Read more here.

The Crescenta Valley Weekly also covered the event. For the full article click here.

 Dinner Set-up at the  Langham Huntington Pasadena Hotel    

Dinner Set-up at the Langham Huntington Pasadena Hotel


 Silent Auction at the  Langham Huntington Pasadena Hotel

Silent Auction at the Langham Huntington Pasadena Hotel

The Delicate Balance in Managing Nonprofits’ Boards

Are you in the dark about what your board of directors is supposed to do?  You're not alone. Nonprofits’ board responsibilities are often poorly understood and/or badly communicated.  Board duties fall into two categories: legal responsibilities and “moral” duties.

Legal Responsibilities of the Board of Directors

A nonprofit is incorporated in the state where it is headquartered and is governed by laws of that state. Many states have laws governing the broad functions of the board of directors of nonprofits and the conduct of board members.

The board of directors of a nonprofit is charged with overseeing the nonprofit organization's operations to make sure that the staff and volunteers act legally and ethically. Some key functions of a board of directors are:

  • To make sure that the organization follows the law.
  • To approve all key contracts.
  • To hire and supervise the executive director/president.
  • Make sure the organization remains financially solvent by evaluating financial policies, approving budgets, and reviewing financial reports. 
  • States often use the following principles to guide the conduct of the nonprofit organizations’ boards:

Duty of Care:

A board member must be active and prudent in organizational planning and decision making. Board members must exercise reasonable care when they make a decision for the organization.

Duty of Loyalty:

A board member must never use information gained through his/her position on the board of directors for personal gain; and must always act in the best interests of the organization. Board members must avoid conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts.

Duty of Obedience:

A board member must be faithfully committed to the organization's mission.  He or she cannot act in a way that is inconsistent with the organization's goals. The donors trust the board to manage donated funds to fulfill the organization's mission.

To strike the delicate balance between the needs of a nonprofit organization and the board’s conduct, it’s incumbent on the executive director or the chairman of the board to make sure that each and every member of the board realize the seriousness of their duties when they agree to serve on the board and commit to the cause.  Some organizations have formalized this process and have a ready list of board responsibilities for the incoming board members.  This is best if it is coupled with formal training at which the new directors learn about the organization’s history, mission, bylaws, activities, and more.  Depending on the size and nature of a nonprofit’s operations, a new director may find it very beneficial to have a tour of facilities, meeting staff and observing a program in action.

Areas that could particularly benefit from clarification are:

  • What a nonprofit organization is
  • how it is different from a for-profit corporation
  • the role of staff versus board
  • potential conflicts of interest
  • and/or how nonprofits get their funding

Match Board Members to Your Organization's Needs

Your board can be a powerful source of pro bono expertise in areas that you may need expertise –but can’t afford professional help.  For instance, your board members could have skills in:

  • finance
  • public relations
  • legal and human resources
  • social services, education, religion, etc.

Put Fundraising Front and Center

Some nonprofits are reluctant to mention fundraising to their board members. Yet, helping to raise funds has everything to do with making sure the organization remains financially sound.  Finances are not just about overseeing the budget. It is about understanding how the organization is funded, how fundraising works and taking an active part in it.  

So, do consider the fundraising potential of every board member before inviting them to join. That doesn't mean that every board member should be wealthy. However, they are expected to set an example by donating to the organization; and, more importantly, by soliciting other contributions. Every board member should participate in giving in the way that they can; but more notably, they should all act as catalysts in this vital function.

Many nonprofits require a donation to the organization from their board members.  Although this should not be critical in deciding whether or not to invite a prospect to join the board.  Far more important is the commitment to the organization’s cause.

In the end, board members should be comfortable with fundraising. In fact, the most successful nonprofits have active and engaged boards who take an active part in the organization’s fundraising campaigns.  So, when a new board member is recruited, fundraising duties of the board should be made very clear. 

Make a list of ways for the board to help with fundraising.  Board members should be able to identify and reach out to potential major donors. If auctions are part of your fundraising exercise, ask that board members solicit items from businesses for the auction. 

In summary, keep board members active. No one should get a free pass. Just showing up for board meetings is not enough!

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