Event planning is a piece of cake – if you’re referring to ‘mille-feuille’, French for ‘a thousand leaves’. What we’ve learned over the past five years is just how extraordinarily fortunate we’ve been to enlist competent supportive individuals, and develop solid partnerships. Professionalism, artisanship, reliability, availability, generosity, and willingness all matter.
EHC’s fashion event fundraisers are held on Sunday afternoons and therefore reflect a more relaxed, but no less sophisticated event. As a small private vocational school, our reliance on volunteers is quite significant. The love of doing it, donated time and expertise, or taking an opportunity to gain experience and exposure, are all motivators.
Here are 13 things that we’ve experienced.
1. We’re extremely fortunate to have a culture of volunteerism in our city. Organizers need to take good care of their volunteers, a large portion of them are made up of skilled and willing individuals. Everyone generally functions better when they know what to expect and what is expected of them, so providing volunteers with an itinerary full of relevant details a few days before the event is effort well invested.
2. Choosing the right venue, space for staging and seating are obviously essential. Often technicians and other behind the scenes people struggle with tight spaces, no place to sit down, few to zero refreshments, poor lighting and insufficient electrical sources, not to mention accessibility issues and parking near the venue is overlooked – don’t forget them in your plan.
3. Start planning early, as far as a year ahead of time. Set the date first, decide on the theme, book the venue and secure it with a refundable deposit. Get the photo shoot done for the graphic work and marketing. Book the photographer/videographer, musicians, staging people and caterers (some might require deposits at time of booking). Compile your own sponsorship package to initiate the sponsorship drive.
4. Choose and book your preferred hairstylists and makeup artists early. They are probably in high demand and appreciate advance requests whether they are working full-time or are free-lance operators. Free-lance doesn’t imply free time any time; it means they have chosen to work according to a schedule outside the norm.
5. Interestingly, the fun part of the organizing a fashion show comes late in the process. Choosing the looks, the garments, the models, the music and the menus can be done a couple of months to a few weeks before the event. Printing up final guest lists and programs is usually done only hours before the event.
6. In your show day schedule, allow 1 to 1 1/2 hours preparation for hair and makeup for each model. Provide healthy option, small portion nosh, and plenty of drinking water for the stylist and models as they are usually at the venue for very long hours. Strictly avoid sticky foods and foods that are prone to staining fabrics. You’d be appalled at how often simply providing refreshments for models and stylists, (and volunteers) is overlooked at fashion events.
7. Provide private space for hair stylists, makeup artists and models. Some natural light, plenty of electrical outlets, layout space for equipment for each stylist to work on a seated model, are musts.
8. Don’t forget racks for garments to be spaced and hung properly. Forget the iron, and go for a steamer if you must. Not all dressers are familiar with fabric characteristics and can inadvertently cause disaster trying to help. Garments should be properly pressed prior to the show and transported with care in zipped garment bags long enough for the entire piece to hang freely at the hemline. Shoes should be transported in clear plastic shoe boxes to identify them quickly and protect them from potential damage. Insert all accessories in labelled zip lock bags, one for each model per look for the dresser to handle and track.
9. Have one dresser per model, and if possible have one assistant per dresser to re-hang garments and replace accessories after each look is shown. A lot of damage caused to garments, lost earning backs, and misplaced items, happens during the frenzy of undressing, rather than the dressing. Pack an emergency sewing kit with thread, needles, thimble, scissors, safety pins, clear nail polish, and band-aids.
10. Set up a storyboard (runway lineup) that is clearly posted with a photo in order of appearance each of model name and accessories per look where the models, dressers, and stage manager can all reference it. A personable and firm stage manager is invaluable!
11. Another insider tip to working these events is that they are all ‘hurry up and wait’ affairs. The venue is set up quickly, with various experts assembling in sequence. Be sensitive, helping hands are extremely useful when needed and a bit of a nuisance when surplus to immediate requirement.
12. Everyone needs a break and people do go missing during long wait breaks, but they should enlist a temporary replacement during their absence, or at least be tethered to a mobile phone switched ‘on’ as common courtesy. There is nothing more frustrating to a team leader than a member who goes AWOL. Unfortunately the reputation of those individuals is not easily forgotten.
13. One of the finer points is to say thank you, be thankful and let your team and supporters know that they are appreciated. If you are genuine, it is perceived as such.
The other side of fundraising events is the marketing, contacting sponsors, obtaining donations, gathering gift certificates, procuring door prizes, hosting raffles and silent auctions, and a complete mystery to me best handled by our event partner. Having a great partner is like having a right hand; for maximum efficiency, you need both a right and a left. I’m a believer, so I’m saying we’ve been ‘Blessed’ with a great partner. Nonetheless – for best results managing efficient and effective communication is crucial to success.
One final note is to have a Plan B. It isn’t mandatory to have a completed Plan B, but making notes and keeping options in the back of your head is. At each event something will go wrong at some stage. One year our photographer couldn’t make it, once our key speaker cancelled at the eleventh hour, one year extreme cold with a huge snowstorm slowed everything down, another year our modular display wall got lost in transit never to arrive, and people do become ill at the last minute. So, keep your contacts updated and your relationships healthy.
No matter how well it all turns out, someone will lose their car keys during the cleanup. Cheers! J