5 Ways Celebrating Can Strengthen Your Organization

5 Ways Celebrating  Can Strengthen Your Organization

How do you use your Celebrations? Do you celebrate enough? I think there are many park leaders that need to hear this.  

I also realize that this may not be the right time to be talking about getting together and having celebrations because of COVID19; however, I would encourage you to think about how to creatively have celebrations and begin planning for them now.

Celebrations can be time-consuming, unpredictable and sometimes expensive. But if done right and with the right purpose they can and should be something you do often.

We all like to celebrate.  By the end of 2020 I think many of us will just start inventing reasons to celebrate!  

In the park world we often forget to celebrate.  So often we forget to celebrate our small victories!  We get caught up in the next project or simply just not having enough time to plan something formal.  It is certainly easy to worry about the details, the speaker list, who gets recognized, do you serve food or drinks, what about the weather, do you have audio-visual, a microphone, what about access to the site, what about parking, will anyone really show up, do you need a PR firm to arrange it.  Believe me, I’ve been there, I have battled through many of these questions with my own team, with myself, and my bosses. The answer to these questions can easily be “no” we shouldn’t do it for lots of very good reasons.  It does take time and planning for sure.

I want to challenge you to think of celebrations in a different way.  When I was working on the TN Riverpark project I had the opportunity to work with so many great leaders.  One of them was Jim Bowen. I interviewed Jim about his early work on the Riverpark, and one of things he talked about was the importance of celebrating often. He said they would plan the groundbreaking of one phase while cutting the ribbon on another. He said he felt like every year they were kicking off or opening up a new section of the now beloved Riverpark. He said that it gave them momentum both financially and politically, because people would show up to the event.

As I mention in the 9 Lessons Learned document that you can download on my website,  you have to have Consistent Celebrations.

Elected Officials Cutting a Ribbon

I have planned celebrations for breaking ground on a new section of greenway in the dead of winter and it was awesome…. in its own way!  We had a tent and our contractor had some dirt and shovels ready for us to get great pictures, and guess what?  We had a small turn-out and   about 15 people showed up.  But we had the Mayor, we had our team, and we had a couple supporters.  We had good pictures, we had a story in the newspaper and our team was excited and inspired. One of my personal favorite events was the grand opening of Stringer's Ridge Park, where 100’s of people showed up.  The mayor, a major funder, and one of our community partners all spoke.  We provided guided hikes and a National Park historian was on site to talk about the historic significance of the ridge. It was an event!  You have to think about the audience: Who is this celebration really for?  The celebration may be more for the politician and to get a headline or picture in the newspaper.  On the other hand, you may need to have a massive showing of community support and a large crowd to show the funders and politicians that you have strong and deep support. In some cases, it is okay for them to be small and intimate.  However, in some cases they need to be planned way in advance and need to be a community wide event.  

So here are the 5 things that you need to do at your celebrations to make them worthwhile. I hope these will help you think about celebrations differently.

Five Must-Do’s at Your Celebrations:

  • First - Inspire. Even if this is a ground breaking for a small section of greenway, you must use this opportunity to share the big vision for the entire greenway system.  It is a time to inspire and dream.  Do not assume that everyone has heard your vision. There may be someone in the audience that has never heard or seen your vision.  Share your vision and talk about how this section is a critical piece of the entire vision.  Even if they have heard it before - they need to hear it again.
  • Second –  Team-build. These celebrations are for your team.  Your staff, your volunteers, your board need to walk away motivated, inspired, and excited! This is hard work and one of your goals of the celebration is to be intentional about your team.  Call them by name! People love to hear their name! You have to make sure they leave the celebration fired up to come back to work the next day.  On a personal note: calling people out by name is scary for the speaker and I speak from experience. I made a huge mistake at one of our events and called out some names from my team and I forgot the main assistant that led pulling the event together.  Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson to have names in writing and in front of me - even if it is my own family!
  • Third - Recruit. These celebrations are great opportunities to recruit supporters, funders, and team members.  Be intentional about inviting people to sign up, get involved and find out more.  You can do this through asking people to sign up at a table, leaving their email address or have a special link at a web address.  One time we printed maps of a section that was going to be built because it was a little confusing about how it was going to connect up to the rest of the trail system.  We of course, put a website and sign up information on that handout.  Use this celebration to recruit support.
  • Fourth- Politics.  In some ways you have created the parade for the politician to get in front of.  That is perfectly fine.  You know that you and your team have done the majority of the work, but you also need the elected officials on your side.  Thank them for their support.  Thank them for asking good questions and making sure these types of investments are made in their communities. Thank them for being a leader in this arena. Let them know that you will be coming back to them for more support.
  • Fifth - Funding.  As you talk about your vision and your dreams it is ok to talk about some details regarding costs and managing those expenses. The funders need to hear that you are not only using their funding wisely but that you will be back for more funding.  They need to know that you are making progress, that you intend to keep moving forward and that you intend to grow support.  It is a great time to talk about next phases and to thank the funders for consistent support.  Remember a private funder’s goal is usually to make impactful investments in the community. Thank them specifically for making an impactful investment.

Whether it is a Ground Breaking or a Ribbon Cutting, an announcement about receiving a grant or a special visit from the Governor’s office, it is critical to celebrate major milestones along the way.  You are showing the public that you are constant and that you are moving forward and you have MOMENTUM!  Celebrations are more than just big scissors and cutting a ribbon.  Use these 5 items to make your celebration meaningful, worthwhile and a catalyst!

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