Positive change sounds great. But what does that look like, exactly?
Everyone I talk to about my EventsForChange initiative says it sounds like a great idea. But then, I can tell that their brain immediately switches to “what does that mean, exactly?” mode. The concept sounds fine, but the implementation isn’t always obvious.
What kinds of “good” can we accomplish? In his book Saving The World At Work, Tim Sanders says that a “good” company is “one whose mission is to improve the lives of everyone in its footprint: employees, suppliers, customers, supporting communities, and the planet.” In Corporate Social Responsibility, Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee write that social responsibility is “a commitment to improve community well-being through discretionary business practices and contributions of corporate resources.” So when we’re talking about events, I think it’s useful to think in terms of improving individual lives, the local community and maybe even the planet. It all boils down to a simple question: how can we leave this world a little better place than before our event took place?
Now here’s the thing: YOU get to decide what kind of change you want to promote. As the great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra said, “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” According to Yogi, it all starts with being clear about our objectives. And once you have an objective in mind, it’s time to design an event experience that will produce the results you’re intending. Here are a few targeted changes that can be built into any event experience:
- EDUCATE & INFORM: you can take the opportunity to raise awareness and concern about a cause, an initiative or a political issue. Information is power and you have the means to inform many while you have everyone gathered together in one place. Support a behavior change campaign. You can help bring about changes in both attitude and behavior by creating an engaging experience that alters people’s perspective.
- COLLECT RESOURCES: The most obvious example here is: any kind of fundraising strategy. You can raise money through donations from attendees or by padding the admission or registration fee to supply a little extra. Vendors and exhibitors could donate a portion of their proceeds. Sponsors can provide in-kind contributions of goods or services that they provide, often for a fraction of the retail cost. And if you design a truly engaging experience, you will inspire them to give even more. Much of this is not any different than you normally do when executing the core elements of your event–you’re just directing some of the resources to another place, spreading the wealth.
But it’s not just about money. You’re also in a position to recruit people who can provide time, expertise, problem-solving abilities and even brute force for accomplishing a task or re-shaping the physical environment. You’ve got them right there; now it’s just a matter of creating the conditions where their money, goods, ideas or efforts can be focused on a specific task that will somehow improve lives.
- ORGANIZE & INSPIRE ACTION: You know this: it’s not enough to get people’s attention and deliver a message. The only way you produce a lasting impact is if there is some change in behavior, and often that won’t happen unless someone champions the effort and facilitates the process of moving people to action. While everyone is here, let’s get something done!
Get a commitment from folks to go out and spread the word to 10 others after the event is over, or to distribute materials. Vote through a policy or rule change. Organize an email-writing campaign to your legislators. Build something or do something to improve the physical environment. Back in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention, a dozen or so people from the Vermont delegation carved out a few hours one afternoon, went to a local school, and built them a new playground structure. All it took was for someone to spot the opportunity, collect tools and building materials, and build it into the program. Attendees, staff, presenters, sponsors…all of them can be organized to leverage their time and talents while they’re there.
Of course, if you’re planning or executing the event, this doesn’t mean you have to do all of these things by yourself. Delegate to a staff member, if you can. Make it part of your agreements with vendors or venues. Or there are plenty of cause-related or non-profit organizations that would be more than happy to have a stage for spreading their message, collecting money, recruiting volunteers or organizing action. Your power ultimately comes from pulling together multiple stakeholders and from accessing available resources. It’s just a matter of finding partners that match well with your audience and the change that you’re interested in supporting. The key here is to recognize the unique opportunity that occurs when you gather an audience together and to use it while you have the chance!
So if you’re an event planner, I have a question for you, while you’re here: can you offer an example of how you’ve used any of these methods to flex your event planning muscles and create a positive change? How did you go about it? Share your story in the Comment section below.