Dear Sustainable Living Association;
Ya know what I love about Fort Collins? There are certain things you can count on.
1. Drunken Fratboy Fest several times a year.
2. Dog shit on the sidewalk.
3. People in cars turning right at the intersection almost running over you as you cross the street with the walk sign.
4. Begging. Pretty much every day of my life someone is begging for money. Logging onto Facebook is like tuning in to a PBS pledge drive.
The Sustainable Living Association didn’t disappoint. The rain was still falling. Homes being destroyed. Roads washed out isolating people and communities. You printed up t-shirts and held a fund raiser.
I get it. If you want money from people you have to strike while the iron is hot. People have short attention spans and with the flooding you will be competing with everyone else who is asking for money. You have to move fast.
But could you have taken some time to communicate with the people who had already given you money?
On Thursday you posted on Facebook “Rain or shine the Fair will go on. Setup is going great so far!” I like confidence.
- It’s raining like crazy.
- Flood warnings are being issued.
- Your event is outdoors in what will soon be a mud slick in a potential flash flood area.
- People and vehicles moving through the mud will destroy the ground vegetation.
Was this a good idea?
Twenty-four hours later the fair was cancelled. There were a slew of people set to swoop in and set up their booths, volunteers ready to arrive and start working. At 7:43am you posted on Facebook that the fair was cancelled. I suppose that meets some minimal requirement for letting people know what’s going on.
I wonder if the conversation went something like this.
“Should we contact all the volunteers, support staff and exhibitors to let them know not to show up? After all they would be out in the rain in a potential flash flood area walking or driving around in the mud doing damage to the surface vegetation. We should use the email and phone number database we compiled to send an email and text message to everyone involved with the fair and notify them in case they aren’t checking our Facebook page on a regular basis.”
“The one we put together so that if there were some emergency we could quickly spread the word to everyone.”
Sound of crickets.
“Shouldn’t we let the people who paid for booth space know not to show up because the event is cancelled?”
“We already have their money.”
The next day you finally notified Up A Creek Without A Booth that the fair had been cancelled. Good thing UACWAB didn’t trek out on Friday to set up a booth. But let’s not focus on unimportant things like using cell phones and internet to communicate accurate and timely information to people who paid you money to be part of the fair. Let’s focus on important things. Like asking for more money.
You swung into action and organized a fund raising event right away.
I wonder if the conversation went like this.
“We need money. Let’s hold a fund raising event. We can get people to donate more time, services and goods. We can ask people to bring items for the silent auction. And we can print more t-shirts.”
“T-shirts! Brilliant idea!”
“What about all the people who paid for booths? Should we include them in this event? Maybe we could make some opportunities for them at upcoming events we host to showcase their products and services?”
“Which part of “we already have their money” do you not understand?”
“My bad. Float on!”
Let me see if I got this right. Printing up t-shirts is a priority. Notifying paying customers the fair was cancelled was something that could wait 24 hours.
I get it. You need money to sustain the Sustainable Living Association. In order to do what exactly? I had a conversation with a friend of mine who volunteers with the SLA and it went something like this.
Me: “What does the SLA do other than the fair that cost them money?”
Friend: “I don’t know.”
Me: “What do they do other than the fair?”
Friend: “They host workshops.”
Me: “Do the workshops cost them money or is the space and instructor time donated?”
Friend: “I don’t know.”
Your website says you are “Educating people and communities to make healthy sustainable choices.” Is having an organization which depends on one event a year to receive all of it’s funding sustainable?
Additionally if you are going to put all your effort into one event per year to get all your funding you might consider event insurance. The kind that covers the event being cancelled.
You are going to accuse me of hating the Earth and not understanding how important your mission is and so forth. But attacking me isn’t going to placate grumpy exhibitors. In fact I’m like Darth Vader. Your hate will only make me stronger.
What should you take away from this experience?
1. People who pay you money should receive some consideration in return. For example accurate and timely communication about the services they paid for.
2. Begging for money might be more effective if it’s not done while floods are still doing damage and if people have some idea of what you need the money for.
3. Sustainable isn’t just about . . . whatever you do ’cause I still don’t know . . . it’s about how you run the financial side of the organization. Save up some money each year. Invest money in something that returns a profit. Set up multiple opportunities to raise money. Making money once a year only works if you sell fireworks, Halloween items or Christmas trees.
4. Organizing an event means you are responsible for everything and everyone involved. Yes you have to provide for yourself when things go wrong but you also have to look out for everyone else when things go wrong.