By Molly Fast
Earlier this year on a glorious visit to New England, I was walking with my friend Amy when she told me about a Festival & Event Planning course that her friend was teaching at the college I attended more years ago than I care to admit. She had mentioned that her friend (and instructor) Kate was always looking for people in the event planning business to speak to her students. I filed all of that information away as interesting but didn’t think more about it. Until…
A couple of weeks later I heard from Kate, following up to see if I would, in fact, be willing to speak to her class. Because the school is located in New Hampshire, and I live on the other side of the country in California, I would have to give my presentation via video. I wasn’t wild about the idea, but I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone. And I wanted the chance to give back to my alma mater, the University of New Hampshire (UNH), in some small way and share the experiences I’ve had working in this industry.
My career began with a very brief stint in the world of high-tech public relations (imperfectly timed with the bursting of the “dot-com bubble” in 2001), I left that world (read: was laid off) and moved to Los Angeles in search of a job in event planning. I had participated in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day (back then it was the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day) and was so moved by the experience that I knew I wanted to work on the event in whatever capacity I could. Now more than 17 years later, I’m still working on the 3-Day, in the wild and crazy world of event planning. I knew I certainly had plenty to talk with the students about and had advice I could impart.
Kate and I chose a date. Unfortunately, the date that worked best with my schedule was the last day of class. And in some cases, the last class that her seniors would ever take at UNH. No pressure! We talked about what previous speakers had done and I was left to my own devices to determine how I’d use this precious hour. I took some time to consider what I could bring to the discussion that they may not have heard from other speakers and decided to key in on the two topics that I felt I had a unique perspective on: the lifecycle of an event and my experience as a fundraiser and a participant.
I’ve had the good fortune of working at the same company for more than 15 years and working on the same event for more than 17 years. Because of this, I was able to show and tell the class about the changes in the event planning industry over the years and, in particular, the history of the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. I talked about how time and competition and the explosion of events in the nonprofit space has changed participation numbers and overall results for an event that’s been around for more than 20 years. For people who are just about to break into event planning, I wanted them to know that events that have been around for a long time have unique challenges. And I wanted them to know how much things change within the same event over time.
We also talked about the importance of being personally invested in the work you’re doing. I am inspired every day by the incredible staff I work alongside. Not only do they give of themselves by helping participants meet their fundraising goals, but they also set aside time in their personal lives to contribute to these causes as well. They truly walk the walk. They fundraise and participate in events and become part of the community by showing up aside from the professional obligations they have. I have done this for many years as well by participating in the 3-Day and also in Cycle for Survival (something I’ve blogged about a few different times). I was proud to tell this group of eager college students that I’ve raised nearly $200,000 for rare cancer and breast cancer research over the years. I wanted them to know that what I’ve learned as a participant has impacted me on a professional level. I’ve taken what I’ve learned on the front end and used it to enhance and educate those around me on the back end, it’s made me better at my job. And I wanted these students to know that it would make them a better and more valuable employee as well. I wanted to show them that seeing an event from a different perspective and experiencing an event through a different lens will help them in any job they have.
Apart from those two big topics, I gave them the high points of working in the world of fundraising events:
- It’s hard
- It’s meaningful
- It’s constantly changing
- It’s all about wearing many hats
- It comes down to the bottom line and numbers
But the last thing I left them with is what I love the most about the work we are privileged to do in the event planning industry. I saw this sign during a client meeting at Susan G. Komen Headquarters in Dallas; it stopped me in my tracks and the tears came to my eyes easily:
Of all the things I wanted to impart on this group of students, this is what I wanted them to know the most. In this crazy, unpredictable, inspiring, hard, frustrating, fun, exhilarating, tiring, meaningful and life-changing work, it’s important to know that above all, we are in the business of saving lives. One event at a time. And we are so very lucky to be able to do this work.
Even on the hard days.
Especially on the hard days.
I had a great time talking with those students and hope they walked away from that hour feeling excited at the possibility of breaking into and working in this business. I reminded them how lucky they were to have classes like this available to take (these kinds of courses weren’t offered when I was in school!) and wished them well in whatever came next. I know they’ll all go on to do great things and look forward to the ways in which they’ll enhance the world we work in!
Molly Fast leads the company’s local operations for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day series and is privileged to work with Event 360’s participant-facing team. For over 15 years, Molly has been fortunate enough to combine her love of fundraising with the ability to make a difference in the work she does focusing on exceeding expectations and delighting participants along the way. When not roaming around Ireland, Molly can be found taking photos, exploring hidden stair cases or talking to strangers in Santa Monica where she lives with her husband. You can find Molly on Twitter, LinkedIn and her favorite social media tool, Instagram.