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Event 360

Let's do it together.

Let's do it together.

The first three months of Plenty have been a whirlwind. It is hard for me to believe that we've only been around since the end of November, because in only a few short months I've learned so much from the fantastic team here.

It wasn't easy leaving Event 360, the company I helped found eleven years ago. Event 360 specializes in event fundraising. Through our work we raised nearly a billion dollars for charity. As the CEO, I was responsible for strategy, for presenting a great deal of our client-facing work, and more than anything, for helping drive the values of the company. Event 360 was (and will always be) my baby, and I'm tremendously proud of what I helped accomplish there.

And yet over the last few years I found my goals and aspirations changing. In particular I became increasingly interested in the philanthropic mechanics behind events -- a mechanic we call peer-to-peer fundraising. As my time and attention steadily turned towards constituent analytics. multi-channel approaches, and overall nonprofit strategy, it was harder for me to devote time to large-scale events.

When I finally talked to my partners at Event 360 about leaving, I found willing friends. They saw my evolving interests and supported my desire to do something new.

To say that I started Plenty from the ground-up would be a complete fabrication, because of course no one does anything worth doing by themselves. And in my case I was very fortunate to have six compatriots join me in the launch. From the beginning, we have tried to put as much emphasis on the foundations of our young firm as we have on the compelling work we do with our clients. We wrote Plenty's values together; we picked the brand together; we assess our performance together. 

I was reflecting on all of this while I was at the Run-Walk-Ride Conference in Atlanta last week. In a lot of ways, RWR was our coming-out party. Run-Walk-Ride is a tremendously important conference for the peer-to-peer space, and I've been lucky enough to present there for many years. But this year was the first time I attended with a business card that said, "Plenty."

It was fantastic to see the Plenty team share their expertise and energy throughout the sessions. Our group contributed in so many ways, and it was hard not to be struck by the sheer amount of competence and commitment the team brings to the table. But they bring something else, too. They bring a spirit of inclusiveness -- an eagerness to enlist others to create something bigger than themselves.

In the lead-up to the conference, our team was talking about something we could do at our conference booth. If you've ever staffed a sales conference, you know that "the booth" can fill even the most hard-core salespeople with dread. Working at the booth can be tiring; it can be nerve-wracking; it can be mind-numbingly boring. And so coming up with "something for the booth" is the trap of every trade show. It is easy to talk so much about SWAG and tchotchkes that you miss the core purpose of the booth, which of course is to engage with others.

In any case, we were kicking around ideas and a steadily escalating array of giveaways. Finally, someone on the team suggested we do something very basic: Hand out Post-It notes and ask passersby to write down what they are "Happy to have plenty of." It seemed like a corny idea, but no one had a better one, so we went with it.

You know what happened? People walking by the booth were interested to be asked to contribute. They stopped what they were doing and turned towards us. They would laugh and write a silly thought, then pick up another slip of paper and write something more meaningful. It's funny -- often in our desire to connect with others we forget to ask them to engage with us. We forget that they are the most important part of the conversation.

By the end of the conference, our board was covered with notes about abundance and reflections of gratitude.

I can't think of a better metaphor for my first three months at Plenty. We decided, "let's do something meaningful, together," and that was the most important step. 



The Way Out

This article was previously posted on Event 360's blog. Read more here.   

It has been a hectic year at Event 360. We’ve launched three new projects and a new training series – each with its own set of accomplishments and challenges. Further, we have seen this theme of challenge transcend our own company as we’ve partnered with one of our key clients to right-size a major project in response to their changing needs. And most importantly and closest to home, we’ve been tragically reminded of our mission through the loss of one of our team members to cancer.

All in all, it has been one of those quarters that seems to have stretched on for months. Our team is resolute but tired. We’re trying to keep our bearings in a changing landscape.  

Most of us have been through times like these at various points in our lives – times when what we think we know is rapidly replaced by a new order. Some of us are better at recalibrating than others. The ones who can adapt to a new deck of cards are crucial for the team, because they help lead the way for others. At the same time, during periods of intense change it is more important than ever to have people who are still holding onto the old deck; people who remember where we are and how we got there. In times of change we need equal parts respect for the past and willingness to innovate into the future. 

I am a huge fan of quotes and over the years I’ve collected thousands of them. Perhaps it is the poor person’s wisdom; maybe I’m too simple for philosophy and too distracted for genuine literature. Nevertheless, there’s something comforting and inspiring to me about advice that is distilled into a sentence.

One of my favorites is a line from Robert Frost’s A Servant of Servants: “The best way out is always through.” We can worry, and complain, and stress ourselves to pieces. Or we can stick out our chins and keep walking. The way out is just ahead.

It is tempting to think that life is like a video game, or perhaps a television show. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just change the channel? But there isn’t an “off” button for existence. We can all be grateful for that.

We’ve had a hectic quarter, but we’re walking on, and in so doing I’m reminded of why I started walking in the first place.

Over the next few months I look forward to sharing more about what we’ve learned. Some of the themes will be familiar, but I think others will be surprising – and helpful.

Until then, my best to you and yours for a wonderful summer event season.

Eulogy for Bridget

Eulogy for Bridget

Bridget Spence, a long-time Event 360 team member and committed soldier in the war against cancer, lost her fight late last week. I was incredibly humbled to be ask to speak at her funeral. Several of you have asked that I post my words. Here they are.

I'm humbled to address you on behalf of the hundreds of team members who worked with Bridget and the thousands of participants who were changed by their relationship with her. 

Danny told us that he thought we might have a unique perspective to offer the family. But we'd venture to guess that we knew the same person that you did. Take the humor and kindness and strength and sass you knew and put it in an event fundraising firm. That was how Bridget lived. She was real. Authentic. She was the same person to us as she was to you, and we mean that as the deepest compliment. 

But we’re sure you’d appreciate more detail than that. So we want to share three main thoughts.

The first is that although Bridget died of cancer, and dedicated her professional life to fighting cancer in all its forms, that is not how she was defined by us nor how we will remember her. Nor will she be remembered for her volunteer work with Susan G. Komen or Dana-Farber.

She will be remembered as a friend with an infectious laugh and a warm, easy way. She will be remembered as a thoughtful speaker and a brilliant writer. She will be remembered as someone willing to challenge her managers and her peers. That is, as a leader. She will be remembered, as Event 360’s Teri Yoder has said, as a wise soul. And we will forever be grateful, as Event 360's Molly Fast has said, that for someone who was given so little time, she chose to spend so much of that time with us. 

The second thing we'd like to share is not what we know about Bridget, but what knowing Bridget has taught us about all of you.

We say in our family that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, so we know Dottie that you are loving and kind, the way Bridget was. We know Billy was caring and committed. We know you both possess a deep reservoir of strength. 

Danny, Patrick, and John, we know you helped shape the person Bridget became, and we know she shaped you. Maybe more than you would have liked! So we know you three are energetic and driven the way that Bridget was. We know you are strong and passionate.

We know Bridget wouldn't have chosen to marry someone who wasn't exceptional in every fiber of his being. And so Alex, we know you are warm and patient, imbued with quiet confidence and resolute fearlessness. 

Finally, as most of you know, Bridget worked primarily on our 3-Day project, a three-day, sixty mile walk that raises money for breast cancer. Some of you have probably participated in the event yourselves. Knowing Bridget, most of you were probably approached to donate to her at some point. 

Like many things in life, walking sixty miles is a lot harder than it sounds. And when you are walking the event there comes a point – usually in the middle of the second day, when your bones are starting to creak, and your feet are fighting back at you, and you realize that you still have more than halfway to go – that you are faced with your biggest obstacle: Your own willpower. 

And at that point, you have a conversation with yourself – about why you didn't make more time to train; about how ashamed you'd really feel if you stopped; about what you'd say to your donors if you quit and took the bus to camp.

And then, you have a choice. You have to decide if you're going to get up and start moving again.

The most important thing we can share about Bridget is that throughout our time with her, Bridget never stopped walking. 

Bridget, you made it to the end of the day. You finished your route; you fought the good fight; you kept the faith. 

Now, the rest of us have a choice. How can we know the way? We can hear you telling us to get up and start walking again. We'll meet you at camp. 

Averages and outliers

Averages and outliers

My head is still bursting from last week's excellent Run-Walk-Ride Fundraising Council Conference. This year the conference was more vibrant than ever.

One reason was that this year's gathering was the largest ever; more people mean more opinions, more interaction, and more overall passion. I think there was something else, though -- as economic conditions slowly improve, I get the sense that nonprofits are ready to get moving again. It has been a slow few years, and there's a healthy impatience in the air. 

Event 360's Suzanne Mooney has written a nice recap of the conference on our blog. And as usual, we've published a fantastic infographic of this year's results; the astute reader will note some interesting trends as compared to last year. 

For my part, I was grateful for my annual opportunity to address the entire conference. This year I pulled back from my usual tactical advice and outlined a larger imperative I see: The imperative to start swinging for the fences again. After five years of playing it safe, it is hard to see the continued benefit of conservatism. Our most powerful advocates, like the most powerful ideas, are on the fringes -- and so playing to the averages isn't going to get it done.

I have a chance at this year's NTEN Conference to expand on this theme in a lot more detail, and I'm looking forward to doing just that at the somewhat-awkward time slot of 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13. I hope to see you there.

What I've learned about business after ten years in business.

Somehow, unbelievably, Event 360 – the company that I founded with two of my most loyal friends – turned ten years old today. It is amazing to me, and for one of the few times in my life I find myself at a loss for words. 

I woke up this morning early so I could head downtown for a meeting. It took me a few minutes to remember what day it was, but it hit me while I was fumbling around the coffee maker. When I remembered, my first thought was to call a few people to say "thanks" and "happy birthday." My second thought was about my long to-do list. And maybe that's the sum total of my advice: Recognize the people you work with, and keep plugging away. 

Frankly, I feel like I should write a long, thoughtful post about all the hard lessons I've learned. But as I sit down to type, I realize I don't have that list. My list is pretty short. 

Here's what I've learned about business after ten years in business:

  • Love what you do.
  • Love the people you do it with.

That's it.

Wait! I know it sounds trite, so before you move on let me offer a bit more exposition. When I write "love," I don't mean it as the kind of passive, reactive, "I hope I fall into it" love that we often think will come and seek us out in our lives. I mean LOVE in the sense of a powerful, active choice we each can decide to make every day. 

To all would-be business owners, entrepreneurs, leaders, and change agents, let me tell you this straight up: What you're trying to do is going to be hard. If it weren't, you wouldn't need to do it; someone would have already solved the problem you're trying to solve, or created the product you're trying to create. Nope, let's be honest and say, wow – it's going to be hard.

And so I've learned to make an ongoing, passionate, persistent, proactive choice to fully engage with what I do. You have to choose to love your work, particularly during the challenging times. Otherwise you're going to be employed at best and miserable at worst. You're too good to just be busy. Decide to be passionate.

More importantly, you have to choose to love the people you do it with, because without them you're sunk. I know they have their faults, but let's be honest, you have plenty too. Nothing, zero, zilch gets done alone. If you can set yourself up to be the least important person in the organization, then you've achieved one of the great accomplishments of leadership. 

I'm grateful for what I do and who I do it with. I wish you the same. It's onwards and upwards from here.