The day I landed my dream job of planning “distinguished events” for the American Cancer Society (ACS), I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement—and nerves. I knew that planning parties of this caliber was going to be a lot of fun, and it is…but that it was also going to be very difficult. So many logistics to coordinate, dollars to raise—and above all, people in need of ACS’ services that are funded through these events. Ever since that day, my life has been consumed with to-do lists. ’Cause let’s be honest, with all that needs to be done, if it’s not on the list, it’s not getting done.
Now, before I bring you behind the scenes of planning our annual Red, White & Blue Party at Saratoga National—i.e., to see what my to-do list looks like in action—I want to remind you of what I remind myself of on days when I get totally overwhelmed trying to check things off this seemingly never-ending list: This is who we are and what we do. We fight cancer. Passionately, intelligently, consistently. We do this because we know that when we bring the community together as one at these events, we are enabling the ACS to charge at cancer from multiple fronts, breaking it down bit by bit with our compassion, commitment and courage, until we all stand victorious against this disease. And just like that, I’m ready to conquer any to-do list, no matter how long, challenging or ever-changing it may be. So, let’s take a look at what goes into planning ACS’ all-American-themed Saratoga summer extravaganza, the Red, White & Blue Party.
Yes, we start planning for the event the month after the previous one ends.
★ Thank everyone who helped make the year’s event possible.
★ Collect as much feedback as possible from sponsors, guests and volunteers who were at 2017’s event (and be prepared to take criticism; it will make next year’s event even better!).
★ Host the committee wrap-up meeting and party! (Have you thanked the committee members again and again?)
★ Start recruiting more volunteers to participate in the planning committee. Remember: The more volunteers we have helping us, the larger our circle of influence will be.
★ Reevaluate sponsorship opportunities—and make any necessary changes.
★ Remember: Make the event look pretty—but less is always more. Don’t make it too confusing or difficult for people to understand. (Not everything needs to have sparkles.)
★ Secure a venue/date and make an indoor plan, even though it won’t rain like it did last year.
★ Get contracts ready to go and send them to ACS’ legal team for approval.
★ Work with the planning committee to determine the night’s honorees.
★ Create a budget and remember to check it every day.
★ Set goals for the event, including sponsorships, ticket sales, auction and night-of donation goals.
★ Check expenses for the venue, decor, food and drinks, printing and photography; make sure the expense ratio—the annual fee charged to our stakeholders—stays under 25 percent. Remember: One less decoration purchased could mean one more ride to treatment for someone in need.
★ Start securing sponsors. (No, it’s never too early; making our mission a reality wouldn’t be possible without these generous people and their organizations!)
★ Shout out to our presenting sponsor, saratoga living! Not to mention our other distinguished partners for 2018: Anthony Ianniello, Putnam Place, SEFCU, Prime Companies, The Lia Family, Bouchey Financial Group, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and DeCrescente Distributing Company!
★ Schedule one committee meeting per month from now until the event.
★ Start planning the auction: How many items should there be? (Seek quality over quantity!) Draft the auction letter, forms and donor lists. Update the website with ticketing information, add sponsorship opportunities, logistics, logos and everything else. (Thank SM2 Dev a million for our beautiful website!)
★ Start working on the design for our vision. (Hey, Lauren Childs, you’re amazing!)
★ Hold a status meeting with the planning committee: Where are we at? What’s our plan to get to where we want to be? Who’s responsible for what? Go, team!
★ Secure the entertainment. (Get on Funk Evolution’s calendar ASAP; start looking for dancing shoes!)
★ Stay up to date with sponsorship opportunities and the auction.
★ Hold a committee meeting to figure out never-before-seen revenue enhancers for the event. What do we need to do to make this sort of thing happen?
★ Keep up with sponsorships and the auction: Don’t send too many reminders. Think of new people. Who else might want to support us?
★ Schedule a committee meeting and begin planning how to incorporate ACS’ mission into the event. (Make sure people leave knowing they made a difference, but don’t make it too sad.)
★ Start uploading the auction items to prep for online bidding. (Don’t put this off until the last minute, because it takes forever, and you’ll regret it during crunch time!)
★ Start designing the invitation. (Send Lauren nine million emails so she knows what needs to be included!)
★ Schedule a committee meeting and launch personal fundraising pages for each of our committee members.
★ Launch our media plan: social media, radio, TV and print. (For 2018, that equals getting everyone else thinking “red, white and blue.”)
★ Stay on top of sponsorships! Who are we forgetting to invite and/or partner with?
★ Order all the equipment needed for registration, mobile bidding and everything else.
★ Hold a committee meeting to review the event’s progress and brainstorm ways to fill in the gaps. Secure vendors, a photographer, a photo booth, a videographer and an audio-visual crew. (Get all the contracts to legal ASAP!)
★ Secure the members for our honorary committee (and double- / triple-check the spelling of all their names).
★ Don’t forget about sponsorship requests, meetings and follow-ups.
★ Hold a committee meeting to discuss the event’s day-of experience: menu, signature drink, activities, etc.
★ Figure out all of our setup and rental needs, and place the requisite orders to secure them.
★ Make sure our social media and website are up to date.
★ Follow up on our honorary committee and sponsorship requests; print deadline is next month!
★ Hold a committee meeting; the print deadline is fast approaching! Do we need to confirm any invitations? Who’s picking up what auction items?
★ Secure emcees; work on the program layout and start writing scripts. (It should be short and sweet!)
★ Organize all the information needed on the invitation, copy edit it thoroughly and send it to our designer.
★ Order the awards for our honorees (and make sure everything’s spelled right on the awards when they arrive).
★ Start pushing ticket sales!
★ Hold a committee meeting to discuss day-of sponsorships and the auction details*.
★ Pull mailing lists and make sure all the addresses are up to date. (Goal: no return-to-senders!)
★ Get a proof of the invitation. (Have someone else edit it before approving it!)
★ Print the invitations and mail them. (Woo-hoo!)
★ Confirm the evening’s scheduling; make sure everyone who needs to know, knows.
★ Assign volunteers their roles for the night of the event and train them so they know what to do.
★ Sell, sell, sell tickets!
Eleven months ago, we began planning the event, and we’ve finally reached party month!
★ On June 1, start checking the weather—today and every day until the event, because it’s outdoors. Knowing what the weather will be will make all the difference.
★ Schedule a committee meeting and begin crafting the big night! (Try not to spray-paint Mom and Dad’s garage red, white or blue or break their sink this year.)
★ Start collecting our sponsors’ names and uploading them into our system so they’re available at check-in; make sure our sponsors have everything they need and know all the details of the night.
★ Send all of our night-of signage needs to our designer and printer.
★ Schedule a venue walk-through, confirm the set-up day, make sure the Wi-Fi works and attend to all the other minutia.
★ Remember: Sleep!
★ Tickets: Sell, sell, sell! And ramp up media: record radio PSAs, do on-air interviews, etc.
★ Make a packing list: Organize and get everything in the storage room ready to pack (registration materials, decor, auction items, set-up supplies and more). Plan how to get everything to and from the venue.
★ Prepare the auction: Upload the items and open mobile/online bidding; package all of the physical auction items to make them look nice. (Buy more bows and baskets!) Make display sheets that include item descriptions and values, donor names and photos. (Get each one in a frame before the event; you won’t be happy if you’re doing it the morning of the event again!)
★ Make PowerPoint presentations for all of the event’s screens. (Test them all to make sure they look good on the big screen and that nothing’s spelled wrong.)
★ Get more sleep! (Get a notebook to put next to your bed for all the things you wake up remembering to do in the middle of the night.)
★ On June 20, start checking the weather hourly, not daily; try not to call the local meteorologists again to ask them about the weather.
★ Schedule a logistics meeting with all ACS staff and volunteers; make sure everyone’s comfortable in their role, and remember: People can’t read your mind, and won’t know what to do if you don’t tell them.
Friday, June 29
(Day Of The Red, White & Blue Party)
★ 9am Start setting up, and don’t panic when it looks like it’s a mess (Mazzone will make everything better and look amazing).
★ 1pm Go home and get ready.
★ 4pm Return to the venue and get all the audio-visual aspects sorted out.
★ 5pm Volunteers arrive for dinner and training.
★ 6pm PARTY TIME!
★ 11pm Party’s over; start cleaning up.
★ 12am Go. To. Sleep.
Saturday, June 30
★ Wake up at 9am feeling sad that it’s all over—and email the photographer to ask if he or she has edited all the photos yet. (Just kidding…kind of!)
★ Start thanking all the talented people who contributed to our big ACS celebration.
★ Start brainstorming ideas for next year’s event.
Now, three years in, whenever I have a spare minute to think about my career, I still feel the same overwhelming mix of emotions. It’s one of those jobs that doesn’t get easier as you go—you can’t plan the same party every year or everyone will get bored. However, one thing this job has that all the others don’t? A goal of bringing the community together for an incredible evening with the sole purpose of eliminating the pain and suffering caused by cancer. And that’s why I feel so incredibly grateful. Thank you to of our volunteers, sponsors, party guests and community partners who make this possible!