It’s the moment Event Chairs look forward to the most – the “turning off the lights” as their latest fundraiser comes to a close. Exhausted, they reflect back. The guests had fun. The event was a success. Lots of money was raised. Now it’s time to relax until the planning begins for next year’s event. HOLD ON! NOT SO FAST. There’s one more step to go.
Just as important as the event’s pre-planning and execution is the debriefing meeting. Preferably this meeting should take place within 3 days of the event – but never more than 2 weeks. Remember, the earlier the better. This way everyone’s memories of the event are still vivid and wouldn’t have begun to fade with the passage of time.
Knowing what went right and what went wrong during an event is crucial to building even more successful fundraisers in the future.
So, it’s also very important for those involved in the event to write their thoughts down on paper – both positive and negative – within 24 hours of the event and then to bring those notes to the debriefing meeting.
These thoughts should span the time frame from before the doors opened until the last guest departed. Every element of the program is fair game. That includes the registration process, the cocktail hour, the silent auction, the dinner, the live auction, the entertainment, the checkout and the valet line.
As a guide to help you along your way – and to keep the conversation civil and on topic – I’m happy to present the format your debriefing meeting should take, how it should be conducted and who should be involved.
By the way, the debriefing meeting should be scheduled weeks prior to the actual event. This way everyone associated with the fundraiser has it on their calendars and know when it’s going to occur.
To reiterate, the debriefing meeting should take place within 3 days of the event. Under no circumstances should it ever take place more than 2 weeks after an event.
Now, as to who should attend the meeting…
Well, the debriefing meeting is actually a two-part event. Before the major debriefing meeting where anyone can participate, there should be a pre-meeting via a conference call. Those on the call should be the auctioneer, the Event Chair and a few high-ranking staffers, and next year Event Chair(s). This meeting should be limited to 3 to 6 people.
For the record, I personally do not attend the regular debriefing meeting, but I have already conveyed my thoughts, observations and recommendations to the person facilitating the meeting.
The purpose of the pre-meeting is to get a jump start on what will likely be discussed during the full meeting. Consider it a mini warm-up. Those attending the pre-meeting should discuss the event in its entirety – what went well – what needs to be improved upon – and what actions might be taken in the future to make next year’s event better.
This pre-meeting should be as efficient as possible as to respect everyone’s time.
Immediately following the pre-meeting, the regular debriefing meeting should begin with the full auction committee. Interested Board members and vocal critics should also be invited to attend. Remember, nothing defuses a vocal critic more than letting him or her know what happened and what is planned to remedy it.
Now, onto the meeting itself
The facilitator of the meeting should thank everyone for coming and then add, “Let’s keep comments positive today. We’re all here to assure our next event is even bigger and better.”
The facilitator should go on to say, “As some of you might know there was an initial debriefing meeting prior to this meeting. This pre-meeting included the Event Chair, Auctioneer, and top staff, and let me tell you, here’s what we already know we need to work on for next year’s event.”
The idea is to get the known negatives out in the open first.
The facilitator then continues, “But here are the areas we were pleased with and wish to further advance next year. Now, with that said, what other issues did you find – positive or negative – about our event?”
By the way, the meeting facilitator (who is often the Event Chair or Top Staffer), will run the meeting. Keep in mind, this person runs the meeting but is not a participant. They will have already shared their ideas with another attending member who will do that for them as the meeting progresses.
Only one other person needs to be assigned to the “head table” – and that person is the Recorder. It’s this person’s responsibility to write down the participant’s ideas or thoughts – about the positive and negative occurrences at the event – and then place those comments on a large poster board for all to see. I find that huge sticky notes made by 3M work perfectly here.
These comments, written on the large sticky notes, should be very short – just a few words. And you always start with the positive comments. Here are some examples – always in bullet-point form:
- Registration was great
- People felt welcomed
- Food was delicious
You then go to the negative comments or “deltas”, keeping them short and as bullet points. Again, a few examples:
- Welcome line too long
- Bartenders too slow
- Silent auction tables in poor locations
Keep in mind – you are only drawing up a list of the positives and negatives that occurred. While creating either list, solutions SHOULD NOT be discussed. By doing so will cause the group to lose focus and get off topic.
After the positive and negative lists are on-the-board in bullet-point form, the next step is to see which of the items could be combined as a way to reduce the list which needs to be worked on.
A good example of this would be: The registration table was slow (and) There was a long line out the door at the start.
Once all positive and negative comments are out in the open and the list reduced due to duplication – then and only then does the topic of “Solutions” come up.
From my experience, some attendees want immediate “solutions to the problems” that were discussed at the debriefing meeting. It’s true, some of the negatives that came up might have an easy solution. But more often than not finding the right solution will take time.
So, before thanking everyone for coming and adjourning the meeting, it’s crucial everyone knows there is an action plan in place and the solutions to any negative aspects of the event, if not decided that night, will be addressed during the planning stages of the next event.
At no time should a negative issue that arose during a past event be allowed to creep in and fester during the upcoming event. Be sure to open the doors to your next major fundraiser with a clean slate.
In conclusion, if your organization conducts the debriefing meeting in this facilitative-leadership style, the meeting will be so much more efficient and so much more effective.
No one likes a long meeting, but everyone likes to voice their opinion – especially the critics out there. So by conducting the debriefing meeting facilitative-leadership style you’ll be getting to the heart of the matter and find out what will really be helpful in making next year’s event a whole lot better.