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Thoughts on creating community within a large, international alumni association

I had the opportunity last fall to attend the Association of Yale Alumni’s annual Assembly* in New Haven, CT.

As an alumna and an AYA volunteer, and especially as a meeting planner and association manager (I do event planning and contract association management for a couple of regional associations in the Pacific Northwest); it was an exciting opportunity to see the inner workings of a large, international, global association encompassing more than 160,000 members around the world.

The theme for the event was “Creating Community at Yale” and attendees came from all eras, from The Silent Generation to the newest “Gen Z”ers from Yale’s graduating class of 2017.

The entire 3-day conference was packed so full of activities, I hardly had any time to document, but I did put together this short slideshow to give you a glimpse of what attending the AYA Assembly is like:

AYA Assembly 2017
Click for Flickr Slideshow


And how do you create community in such a massive organization, spanning so many age groups, interest groups, and regions? Certainly the answer can’t be contained in a short blog post, but I’ll try to cover a few points that I saw being discussed at Assembly:

  • Recognize Shared Interest Groups (SIGs) and give them a voice at the Assembly
  • Survey the membership for their preferences in what the AYA should be delivering to them; report on the results of the survey, and allow it to inform decisions moving forward
  • Acknowledge the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and create a Task Force to study the issues and challenges of D/E/I at Yale and in the AYA

It was a great experience for a first timer to see the massive operation that is the AYA. I’m hoping I can take a lot of what I learned that week back to the other associations that I help to manage and coordinate conferences for, and see if any of these ideas about creating community also apply to other organizations.

*(For the Yalies out there, I was officially an alternate delegate from the class of 1995, and unofficially representing the Yale Club of Oregon and SW Washington in order to accept the “Outstanding Mid-Size Cities Award“.)

The New Elopement: Planning a Small, Mini-, or Micro- wedding

Elopements don’t have the same social connotations as in days of yore: a rushed wedding, kept under wraps for various reasons; family drama. Nowadays, elopements are becoming a popular choice for couples who don’t feel a big, traditional wedding suits them. Modern elopements, rather than being just the couple running off together, now often include a small number of close family and friends.

destination wedding planning
photo: Altura Studio

What makes it a modern elopement?

  1. The couple is often going to a destination wedding location rather than marrying in one or the other’s hometown, or their current place of residence
  2. There are less than six months of planning involved
  3. Some traditional wedding customs may be left out such as a lavish wedding cake, printed invitations, or an elaborate dress.

What items are we still seeing being “left in” the elopement that are like a planned wedding?

  1. A lot of thought is still going into the wedding clothing and for the couple to look their best
  2. The location is very important, since without a lot of wedding traditions, the location is the centerpiece and more important than decor. The location IS the decor.
  3. Wedding photography is not getting skimped on! In fact, many elopement weddings we’re seeing are able to afford a skilled professional photographer, because they aren’t spending so much on having hundreds of guests in attendance.

What are the pros?

  1. Can save a lot of money. Reducing guest count is the number one way to reduce the cost of a wedding.
  2. Simplifies arrangements. By not using many wedding traditions, the overall planning becomes simpler. Elopement planners can be used to help find the location and negotiate contracts, and may set everything up; but once you walk down the aisle, you may not need the full services of a wedding planner. Asking a wedding planner about their elopement package for a group of 20 guests or fewer may result in surprising savings.
  3. Could reduce stress. If you are introverted, or just don’t like the fuss surrounding a traditional wedding with a large dance party and hundreds of guests, a small wedding or modern elopement can feel perfect.

What are the cons?

  1. Some people could feel left out. If it’s common in your family culture to have large weddings, those not invited could feel snubbed. Check with the elders of your family if you think this could be the case! Be diplomatic and use the 25-year-rule.
  2. Does not always mean a great reduction in cost. We have seen modern elopements where wedding guests are included, quickly turn into destination weddings. These type of events can quickly grow to a $5,000-$10,000 price tag for 20-50 guests. As long as you have set your budget and planned carefully in advance, you should be able to get the type of wedding you want. A wedding planner can be helpful in this respect, especially those who do a “Kick-Off Consultation”.
  3. It can be hard to find just the right location for a modern elopement. A couple searching on the internet for a place to get married can often easily find the flagship or traditional wedding venues in a destination, while the quirky, unusual, or unique locations are harder to find. For this reason it can be helpful to work with a wedding planner who is familiar with your destination, has traveled there before, and can possibly offer a different angle from what you would see on traditional wedding websites like TheKnot and WeddingWire.

Whichever direction you take your wedding planning in, there are a lot of great elements that we can take from smaller, intimate weddings and elopements.

What is GX? – Guest Experience

You can’t swing a cat (god forbid! we don’t actually swing cats!) in Portland without knocking over a UX (User Experience) engineer or designer. There are entire conferences dedicated to thinking about the online user experience. People are super concerned about UX, and discussions of UX are everywhere.

Bride and Groom at the dinner buffet reception
photo by FritzPhoto

But what about the offline experience, when you are in the face-to-face? I call this GX, or the Guest Experience, and I think about it all the time as it relates to events.

It’s so easy to forget about GX as we are planning our events and I wanted to put the terminology out there and make it as well-known, cared-about, and prominent as UX. After all, if you have a great online experience, but then get to an event in-person and have a bad experience, the best online design in the world can’t help.

Here are four elements that cause event creators (CEOs, wedding couples, trade show organizers, etc.) to overlook GX. I’ll use a scenario of  “the client says they don’t want chairs at a wedding ceremony” as a common example of forgotten GX.

1. Personality type. For example, a “Free Spirit” personality may think it’s fun to do a standing ceremony without chairs in a forest clearing.

2. Budget – A client may think it would save money not to rent chairs for the ceremony.

3. Haven’t reviewed the logistics. A client may think chairs are not needed, since the ceremony timing seems short.

4. Making assumptions based on a narrow experience (“I’ve never needed to sit down at a wedding, so I don’t think we need chairs”).

But you as the event planner know that there are a lot of issues with foregoing chairs at a wedding ceremony (or any event requiring an audience to be at long focused, formal attention). Here are five complementary ways we as planners and coordinators, or employees tasked with helping with an event, can step in and bring the focus back on GX:

1. Appeal to the event creator’s personality type. Again, sticking with our example scenario, if they are a “Free Spirit” type, for example (see this link for some examples of negotiating with personality types), then appeal to their sense of creativity by showing all the things people can enjoy in the wedding venue when they aren’t fatigued from standing during the ceremony. Offer creative solutions, such as hay bales or picnic blankets, that allow them to express their creative streak while still solving GX issues.

2. Show budget data and analysis. Going back to our scenario example, I would show that certain items as a percentage of budget have a disproportionate effect on GX and guest happiness. So while yes, you can cut the budget by not having chairs at the wedding; if the chairs are $2.75 each and there are 100 of them; and the total cost of the wedding is $25K (this is actually on the lower end for designed weddings in the Portland area), the small percentage of budget (1.1%) being spent on chairs will have a relatively large positive effect on GX; while getting rid of them will have a large negative effect on GX while not having a very big effect on reducing the budget.

3. Review the logistics with them. While a wedding ceremony as written can seem short, only 10-15 minutes, remember that guests usually arrive 30 or even 45 minutes before a ceremony, especially if there are out-of-towners visiting who aren’t familiar with the area. Then it takes a few minutes to get everyone in place for the wedding and send people down the aisle. There are usually a few minutes at the end for the recessional and perhaps a receiving line as well. All in all, that “short fifteen minute ceremony” usually winds up being about 30 minutes long and 30 minutes of pre-ceremony waiting. Does the client really want their guests to be standing for a whole hour?

4. Educate, educate, educate. As the event organizer or planner, it’s your responsibility to educate the event owner so they can have good GX. Again, going to our example one last time, you could educate them about possible movement, accessibility, or ability issues that guests could face. Older guests may require a place to be seated. If it’s a corporate event, you could remind about the Americans with Disabilities Act and making sure you provide accessibility and accommodations for different abilities. Once you start providing seating for older guests, it becomes awkward for those who don’t have a seat. Overall, it may be best to provide seating for everyone, and hopefully you can convince the event owner.

This is just one breakdown of the GX process as seen through the eyes of an event planner. I hope it illuminates a little about GX, guest experience, and how we plan events.

On the Move! Our wedding and event blogs are NOW ONE!

portland bike friendly wedding planner
photo: Taran Nadler

We finally finished a major move here at EJP Events: the 2 blogs we have written since 2007 (!!!), one of which was hosted on Typepad (Portland Wedding Coordinator), the other which was hosted on Blogger (Portland Event Planner) have now been merged. You’ll now see new event planning and wedding content all in one place at http://ejpevents.com/portland-event-planning-blog/.

Couples getting married can check out the Wedding Planning and related categories, while #eventprofs in the event business can get an earful in the Event Planning categories. I’m looking forward to adding a category covering Guest Experience (GX) as well. Excited about the blog refresh and connecting here with you!

 

{ Real Oregon Weddings} Kristin and Jason at Lewis and Clark College

portland wedding planner at lewis and clark college
photos by Joe Riedl

Kristin and Jason were married last July at Lewis and Clark College in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel and their reception was at Smith Hall in the historic Albany Quadrangle on campus. Many thanks to Joe Riedl for the photos of the day.

We enjoyed working with the following great companies to make their day truly special:

Chefstable Catering
Sammy’s Flowers
The Party Place
Continue reading “{ Real Oregon Weddings} Kristin and Jason at Lewis and Clark College”

This just in….Wedding Giveaway!!

We just heard from our friends at Jupiter Hotel that they are giving a way a free wedding at their new hotel Jupiter Next!

The @jupiterhotel is gearing up for the opening of their expansion, Jupiter NEXT, and to share the love they are GIVING AWAY A WEDDING! Enter to win by posting an Instagram video using their handle @Jupiterhotel AND the hashtag #loveatnext to tell them WHY you want to get married in Portland and why, specifically at the Jupiter NEXT. Winner will receive a wedding package valued at $8k. The lucky winner will be announced on 3/13. Check the link in their bio for more details!

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:
Jupiter NEXT Wedding Giveaway!! Enter to win by posting an Instagram video on your profile using the handle @Jupiterhotel AND the hashtag #loveatnext and tell us WHY you want to get married in Portland and why, specifically, at Jupiter NEXT.

Package Value: $8,000
Includes:

  • Entire Second Floor Event space (8 thousand square feet) which includes:
  • Ballroom
  • Garden
  • Cocktail Reception Space
  • Extra Room (used for whatever you see fit including photo booth area etc)
  • Parking
  • 1 night in a Suite
  • Bottle of bubbly in the suite

{ Portland Wedding Venues } Planner’s Roundup – 5 sites that allow outside catering

For so many couples, the food is THE most important part of the wedding celebration. I often hear from them: “The food HAS to be good”…”We like the Portland food scene and want to integrate it into our wedding”…”We want to give our guests a taste of Portland and the Pacific Northwest”. Often, they already have a caterer in mind when they start their venue search, and are challenged when they keep running into venues that have strict exclusive lists.

That got me to thinking. What Portland wedding and event venues allow unrestricted outside catering? Here are just a few as of December 2017. Policies do change, so check with the venue first before making any plans or appointments. Know any others? Please share in the comments below!

Horning’s Hideout

Hornings-hideout-portland-wedding-venue

Horning’s Hideout is a great outdoor venue in North Plains, Oregon, only about 45 minutes from downtown Portland. The venue has covered pavilions, a relaxed vibe, and the ability to use any caterer you like.

Continue reading “{ Portland Wedding Venues } Planner’s Roundup – 5 sites that allow outside catering”

Save the Date! The Portland Tweed Ride will be on Sunday, April 8, 2018

I often have the opportunity to work with some really fun public events around Portland. This year I’ve been involved with the Portland Tweed Ride organizers’ group and had the opportunity to help them produce some promotional media for their event, starting with a Save the Date card.

 

We were able to secure the wonderful Evrim Icoz Wedding Photography to shoot the photos, and Event Cosmetics to handle the hair and makeup. Nea Posey, one of Katherine Sealy’s Event Cosmetics clients, and Jeanie Whitten-Andrews, who had worked with Evrim before, stepped up as models. Event Cosmetics also secured the indoor venue, Oregon Historical Society, for us. Luckily, I owned a great deal of the props and attire in my personal collection, so it wasn’t hard to put together the shoot!

Continue reading “Save the Date! The Portland Tweed Ride will be on Sunday, April 8, 2018”

Vintage and tweed styled inspiration shoot – with a little shot of velvet

I often have the opportunity to work with some really fun public events around Portland. This year I’ve been involved with the Portland Tweed Ride organizers’ group and had the opportunity to help them produce some promotional media for their event, starting with a Save the Date card. It seemed like a great way to do some vintage and tweed inspiration for a possible wedding style board. With the way velvet is trending for 2018, I thought it would fun to throw a bit of that in too.

Portland Wedding Photographer Evrim Icoz

We were able to secure the wonderful Evrim Icoz Wedding Photography to shoot the photos, and Event Cosmetics to handle the hair and makeup. Nea Posey, one of Katherine Sealy’s Event Cosmetics clients, and Jeanie Whitten-Andrews, who had worked with Evrim before, stepped up as models. Event Cosmetics also secured the indoor venue, Oregon Historical Society, for us. Luckily, I owned a great deal of the props and attire in my personal collection, so it wasn’t hard to put together the shoot!

Continue reading “Vintage and tweed styled inspiration shoot – with a little shot of velvet”

{ Photo of the Day } Blank slate wedding venue Union Pine

Going through old photos of site walks and I came upon this great one I took while venue sourcing for our dear client Kat. Even though she wound up choosing Castaway as her wedding venue, I still love Union Pine and can’t wait to do another wedding here.

9197620494_50c27ce661_o

There’s just something about this space that I really love! Below, a photo of the venue all set up with our client Rachel and Justin’s wedding (Photo by Bryan Aulick Photography):

Union-pine-wedding-Bryan-Aulick-541

Isn’t it gorgeous and also so simple? What wedding venues in Portland are you loving right now? Happy hunting this engagement/holiday season, to all who are looking for a site! (Maybe we can help?)

Continue reading “{ Photo of the Day } Blank slate wedding venue Union Pine”