If you’re like me, September feels like the real new year. So many things begin, or renew.
We live in a wonderfully diverse country and throughout the year see many new year celebrations, including January 1. Although these various dates mark important times for remembering traditions, pausing to reflect, and making plans for the future, September is the one point in the year that all of us say goodbye to the slow days of summer and resume usual routines. If you are a volunteer or staff person in a nonprofit, you’re quickly accelerating into one of the busiest times of your year.
So, if the tradition at new year is to pause and reflect, and then make plans, I encourage you to do that now. There are many good reasons. Chief among them: to manage panic. I’ve been there. Labour Day is over, and everything seems behind. Our brains, sensing danger, start screaming “run, get moving!” Over the years, I’ve made many mistakes at the beginning of a new year. I now share what I’ve learned from them.
No One’s Memory Is Perfect
My father was an investigator. When he had to piece together the sequence of an accident, he interviewed witnesses. Those accounts were frequently wildly different. Scientists have been studying the phenomenon of false memory for over 100 years and the evidence is clear: our recollections of experiences can be remarkably inaccurate.
It’s September, your event committee hasn’t met since June, you’re in a bit of a panic because deadlines are looming, and when the group gets together, progress comes to a stop because everyone has a slightly (or vastly) different take on what has already been decided. If you wisely kept notes at previous meetings, you can get planning back on track. So, first thing: review those notes at the meeting. Do not send them out before. Almost no one will read them. Yes, maybe they should, but wise event planners don’t rely upon wishes, they deal in reality. Reviewing the notes together will, I promise you, take half of the time you would spend trying to find consensus in a group with differing memories. Sadly, however, even if the notes are crystal clear, some will not believe them. The science proves it. We all – at one time or another – get stuck in the stubborn certainty that our false memory is correct, even when shown the facts. Expect that you will be re-visiting some decisions. It’s frustrating. But lack of trust is the key reason why teams fail. Bulldozing over people that aren’t sure isn’t wise. The good news: re-visiting a decision often results in improvements.
Excellence Takes Time
I’m the first to admit that I have often left important work undone until just before the deadline. I’ve managed to, mostly, avoid failure with a mad flurry of activity just in time. But I’ll admit that the goal changed from producing excellence to making deadline. Those who consistently perform at the top of their game, are never content to just avoid failure.
At the beginning of this new year, re-visit your event goals and give yourself time to produce excellence. Easy to say, difficult to do, I know. Every event planner has too much to do, and too little time. But, if you’re like me, you become intimidated by daunting goals and freeze, thus making things worse.
There is a solution. Put milestones into your work plan -- times when you’ve committed to briefing a committee, or even just calling a friend to report on your progress. These false deadlines will quickly, and remarkably, become real to you. You will likely still do a mad dash to achieve them, but because they’re not the true end point, you’ll be on – or ahead – of schedule. That gives you the time to achieve the excellence that will makes you proud of your work and not just relieved that you didn’t fail.
One final note, as this real new year begins. Don’t burden yourself with ridiculous, unachievable resolutions. Save those for January 1, if you must. How do you know if you’re being too hard on yourself and setting impossible objectives? Tell your best friend, or mentor, what you’re thinking. If their eyes get very large and they can’t think of a thing to say, be kind to yourself and drop that idea.
May this new year mark the beginning of 12 months of excellent events and great pride!
Denny Young just retired as Coordinator of the Humber Fundraising Management Post Grad Program. He is now entering the third act of a 40-year career in nonprofit management. In the next few months, Denny will be launching new training and coaching programs designed to prepare managers to move into senior roles and achieve success under rapidly changing conditions. Watch LinkedIn and dennyyoung.ca for coming announcements.