We’ve talked about pivoting events and going with the flow. Venue not available? Let’s find a new one! Is your AV team not available? Start makin’ phone calls.
Sometimes huge change (like a pandemic) calls for you to make some tough decisions. For example, you’ve worked with a great auctioneer/host or Emcee for years; everyone is coming to your event to see Jamie Amazing host or raise funds for the tenth year running. Jamie Amazing has been a huge draw for your donors and high bidders and they expect to see Jamie at your next event. Jamie has created a huge legacy with your organization and is really part of the family.
But Jamie is unavailable this year; maybe they retired, or they’re dealing with family and health issues, but they’re just not able to keep up their commitments. We’ve had this happen to clients before, and for one such client, a beloved auctioneer who was a staple in their community and their organization passed away unexpectedly. Our client had to pivot their event and hire a new auctioneer, all while trying to stay positive and process their grief. So what do you do in a situation where grief or loss of a major and beloved member of your event community becomes the thing you feel like you can’t pivot from? Let’s have a tough discussion before we need to. Here’s what to do:
Fill that role ASAP. Depending on how close your event is, get someone new onboarded as soon as possible, and make sure you rework your night-of scripts to take out any inside jokes or anecdotes that will fall flat with the new Emcee or auctioneer. It’s important to give Jamie’s replacement everything they need to help your event succeed and that includes accepting that your new host, MC, or auctioneer is going to come in with a smile, bells, and whistles. It’s their job to keep the crowd engaged and raise money.
Make introductions if you have time. Set your new host/emcee/auctioneer up for a successful event by introducing them to board members and high-level donors in your community before your gala so that the face on stage isn’t just a total stranger to some of the people in your crowd.
Keep an eye out for Eeyore. It may be hard to remember at this point that your event is not about the loss you’ve all experienced, but about your organization’s hard work and mission. It may be hard to stay on mission, but it’s important to keep the tone of the room up and excited. You might have new donors or bidders in the audience who didn’t know Jamie Amazing and are suddenly confused that they may have accidentally interrupted a memorial service. It’s the new auctioneer/Host’s job to keep the momentum going and keep the crowd engaged and excited.
Include a memorial giving level. I’m going to assume that Jamie Amazing loved your organization and its mission, so pick a mid-level giving amount, or ask donors to match or give in Jamie’s name. By no means do we want to take advantage of any situation, but it makes Jamie part of the evening in a joyful and meaningful way. Remember that while Jamie was important to you and your team, Jamie’s family may not be comfortable with having them so prominently highlighted during the event. This is when we put on our Professionals In Tough Times hat and reach out kindly in regards to the family’s wishes before memorializing Jamie during the event.
Memorialize Jamie privately with your team at a later time if you don’t feel right about addressing anything during the event. You can celebrate Jamie’s contributions and friendship privately with your team in whatever way you choose.
Two things can be important at once; the loss your organization is feeling and the event you have to put on. Ultimately, you can create a warm and welcoming environment for the host/auctioneer while still honoring the person you’ve lost. You need to keep the focus of your event on the people you serve. At the end of the day, the person you’re missing wouldn't want their absence to hinder your mission or fundraising. They loved your cause, so let that inspire you to move forward.