Archive for the ‘Business’ category

Lessons from a benefit dinner

June 5, 2018

I was nervous planning my first benefit dinner for our nonprofit organization. I’ve planned a few events before (family parties and a wedding, exhibit tables and trade shows), but never something that was supposed to raise money. I felt a lot of pressure to make the event memorable and successful.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to start from scratch. I could follow the event plan from previous events, with a few updates. The event taught me a lot about fundraising, planning, and expectations.

Here are five things I’ve learned from planning a benefit dinner:

Start planning earlier than you think you need to. The biggest thing I learned is that there is never as much time as you think. If you’re hosting a benefit dinner, you need to start “selling” tables, finding a Master of Ceremonies, and booking entertainment six to eight months in advance. We waited too long – not because we were over-confident, but because we had so much to do and limited staff. By that time, any organizations and groups already had plans, or could not make a commitment in such a short time.

“No” is not personal. At first, I was uncomfortable asking for silent auction donations. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t asking for me, I was asking for my nonprofit. It was hard to learn that “no” (or no response at all) isn’t personal. I won’t lie – it was never easy, but it got easier to make the ask.

Make a connection between donors and beneficiaries. I was really anxious about making a short speech, and I spent a huge amount of time writing and re-writing it. I knew that I didn’t want the speech to be about me or the organization. I wanted to focus not on our organization’s achievements, but on how our donors and supporters make our work possible.

You can’t thank people enough. It was really important to thank people for supporting us. We thanked donors and sponsors in the welcome speech and in the dinner program. We also took some time to do a thank you video. We asked each of our staff to say a few words, and put it together in a short video. It was a nice way for staff members to remember why we were there that night. And after most people went home, I surprised our staff and volunteers with a small handmade gift to show my appreciation.

Expect that not everything will go as expected. Event planners follow checklists, make schedules, and plan for contingencies. But at some point, you have to expect that not everything will go as expected. And that’s okay. For example, our silent auction was successful – everyone paid, everyone went home with the right items, and no one was angry. Only I knew that it didn’t go as smoothly as I planned.

At the end of the night, we cleaned up, packed up, and headed home. I knew that I couldn’t rest yet – small nonprofits can’t take breaks – but I was thankful that we came together as a team, pleased our guests, and made a positive impact on our beneficiaries.

Have you attended a benefit dinner or gala event? What are the most memorable and enjoyable fundraisers you attended? What do you wish more fundraising events would do?


Sparking joy at the office

April 24, 2018

Two years ago, I started a new job, and I felt the need for some decluttering inspiration. After following her advice in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I was happy to find that organization consultant and author Marie “KonMarie” Kondo wrote a follow-up book, “Spark Joy: Al Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up” (2016), translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.

“Spark Joy” is “a comprehensive and wonderfully simple compilation of the KonMarie Method. It is based on the idea that we should choose those things in your home and life that spark joy.

Slowly, between daily tasks and projects, I applied some of the tips and ideas in “Spark Joy” to my workspace and the office. I cleared the desktops and countertops, getting into the habit of putting folders away before I go home. I learned to file papers right away, so that piles of paperwork don’t accumulate. I labeled cabinets and drawers, so that other people could find things – and so that we could all put things back in their place.

I even labeled the magazine racks. I know it sounds fussy, but I read that every decision we make takes energy. So where to put magazines on the rack was one less decision I had to make.

Then I added pictures of my family to remind me about why I work.

Sparking joy at the office made me I feel calmer and more in control.

When my workspace was more organized, I looked around at the counseling rooms at other locations. I listened when my co-workers complained about sweltering rooms, poor lighting, and old furniture. Then I brought my concerns to my boss.

Asking for help. As a nonprofit organization, we searched for grants from organizations that might help us with office renovations. Grants are very competitive, and most organizations want to fund programs directly, rather than office renovations or operating costs. So we also looked for businesses willing to offer goods in-kind – such as flooring, rugs, or furniture.

Furniture merry-go-round. When he retired, a generous partner donated gently-used furniture. We looked for furniture in good condition and furniture that was better-sized to our rooms. We accepted what we could use, and then passed on the furniture we previously had, so that nothing went to waste.

Clean, comfortable spaces. On a small budget, we gave our offices small make-overs that had a big impact. The darkest and oldest room has been transformed with fresh paint, hardwood floors, gently-used furniture, and new artwork.

Kondo also offers sensible advice about living with others – and their stuff – that also applies to the office: “You don’t have to make yourself like someone else’s things. It’s enough just to be able to accept them.”

I learned to ignore clutter in someone else’s workplace. I gave a co-worker a designated filing cabinet and vowed that I wouldn’t open it or try to file anything. I can live with the clutter I can’t see.

 How does your workplace make you feel when you walk in the door? Is your workspace organized or cluttered?

2018 Hawaii Legislative Watch: Business and Economy

March 20, 2018

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature is in full swing, with an overwhelming 4,948 current 2017 and 2018 Bills (2,621 House and 2,327 Senate) up for discussion and debate. There are just 60 legislative days to effectively read, discuss, re-write, absorb testimony, and vote on these bills.

For the past few years, I’ve read through the bill summaries to find out about the bills being proposed that affect our money, education, and rights. I rely on these summaries to accurately reflect the legislators’ intentions. This year, I decided to highlight a handful of bills covering different issues that I think need the most consideration and debate.

Over the last two weeks, I highlighted significant tax and education issues to watch. This week, I’m highlighting three bills in the 2018 Legislative Session that could have a huge impact on Hawaii’s business and economy.

 * The Good: Attracting international sports events. We need to continue to attract sports events and other industries to Hawaii, so that we decrease our dependence on tourism and the military. I think that Hawaii is well-positioned to host statewide sporting events as well as international sporting events and tournaments. We could attract an international yacht race or mountain marathon. I am uncertain about whether it’s worthwhile to attract national sporting events like the Pro Bowl or National Football League preseason game, because of the distance and expense involved, but that’s for the Hawaii Sports Task Force to decide. I’m also not sure there needs to be a separate Task Force, instead of the Hawaii Tourism Authority working with Aloha Stadium, but maybe it’s a reporting issue.

* The Bad-Ugly: State jobs for everyone. Some legislators want to establish a task force to study the “feasibility” of creating a “public option” to provide jobs for all in the State of Hawaii. HB1992 attempts to address the complicated issues of unemployment, under-employment, and discouraged workers. It would examine whether government could guarantee Hawaii residents over the age of 18 a job with the State government.

I have serious concerns about this proposal. Can we afford it? This year, legislators are raising taxes, even though there is a budget surplus. Will it solve a problem? Giving everyone who can work a job may lower the number of people who are unemployed, and improve Hawaii’s unemployment rate, but it will create a host of new problems. How would a guaranteed job affect students’ motivation to learn and employee’s motivation to work? Can we maintain it? We might be able to maintain it by cannibalizing private sector jobs. But hiring more public employees means finding more work for those employees to do, which means passing laws that increase the size and scope of government.

* The Debatable: Minimum wage. Every year, the legislator proposes multiple bills that adjust the minimum wage. Some bills increase the minimum wage incrementally, like SB2013 raising the minimum wage by $1 every year for five years until it reaches $15 per hour. Other bills increase the minimum wage all at once, like HB5, ripping off duct-tape, raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2021.

Here’s a thought experiment: What do you think would happen if there were no minimum wage? Imagine that the State of Hawaii repealed the minimum wage in 2019. Would businesses dramatically lower the hourly wage they pay employees? Would businesses quickly renegotiate salaries? Would there be no change to the hourly wage? Or maybe no change in 2019, but no pay increases in the next few years – or ever? Would employees quit their jobs or go on strike? Would businesses lower their prices (okay, probably not) or increase prices less frequently?

The 2018 Hawaii Legislature adjourns on May 3. Please think about these issues and how they may affect you, everyone around you, and future generations. Whether you have concerns or feel strongly about an issue, speak up, talk about it, and be part of the discussion!

Planning a benefit concert on a budget

December 12, 2017

Earlier this year, I helped plan a benefit concert. It was a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization, and in the beginning it seemed like a straight-forward event. We had a dedicated volunteer with a lot of energy and drive. We had performers. We had a venue. We even had a grant to cover concert expenses, like the invitations, program, security, and parking attendants.

In the end, we pulled off a successful event. We had a respectable number of attendees for a stormy night. The attendees, performers, organization staff, and venue staff were pleased. We raised more money than we expected. There were no problems or “uh-oh” moments.

It’s the middle part of event planning that was stressful. There’s more involved to planning a successful fundraising event than sending out invitations and waiting for people to show up.

You can find comprehensive fundraising checklists and event plans online, but here are a few insights that I learned from planning a benefit concert on a small budget.

* Build a trifecta of partners. For a well-planned event on a budget, you really need a trifecta of strategic partners: an expert (someone with knowledge, talent, content, or connections), a venue (someone with a good location), and a media outlet (someone with print, radio, television, or website reach). A donor or sponsor (someone with money) is nice to have, and can let you expand the event; but without the three key partners, it’s hard to keep to a modest budget.

* Budget more time than you think you’ll need — you’ll need that extra time. Event planning consumed a lot more time than I expected. Even adding extra days to our timeline wasn’t enough; we were constantly running behind, because we can’t control how other people use their time.

* Show them a glimpse of what’s to come. Share a short rehearsal video online to encourage people to attend the concert, inspire volunteers, and energize performers. It doesn’t have to be polished – in fact, releasing a candid, behind-the-scenes video can give acquaintances the feeling of being insiders.

* Find volunteers – early. I waited until the last weeks before the event to look for volunteers, and it was a scramble to assign tasks. You can learn from my mistake, and ask for volunteers early on. In fact, over the last few weeks before the event, you can email weekly updates to keep concert performers, staff, and board members informed and excited.

* Add something unexpected. Show your appreciation for concert attendees, as our volunteer organizer did when he created a songbook to give to attendees after the event. And show your appreciation for event volunteers, before, during, and after the event. Our volunteer organizer shared his enthusiasm through a songbook that was given to attendees after the concert. You probably can’t afford an honorarium, but if you have a hobby (like knitting, pottery, or jewelry-making), you could create small, hand-made gifts that have more meaning than a store-bought gift. Plus, you can spend time doing something you enjoy.

One final thought: People attend benefit concerts for many reasons. They may simply enjoy music, or want to spend time with other people, or know the performers, or feel loyalty to your organization. But the most important reason is to support the children, individuals, and families who need a helping hand.

Which events or fundraisers impressed you with something well-coordinated or surprising (in a good way)? Have you ever planned a corporate event or fundraiser? If yes, what worked well – and what do you wish you had known?



Artwork courtesy of

Writing next year’s annual report

November 7, 2017

The end of the year is fast-approaching. In addition to holidays, gift-giving, and resolutions at home, I’m also thinking about annual reports at work. I don’t think it’s too early to start summarizing our accomplishments over this year, and what we hope to accomplish next year.

Last week I wrote about mock-exit interviews, and how they could help identify and address existing problems in an organization. The mock-exit interviews made me wonder how businesses and organizations can make positive changes today – not just put out fires, but build something better.

Then I remembered a TEDTalk I watched recently – “How to gain control of your free time” by Laura Vanderkam at TEDWomen 2016. She offers a strategy for figuring out our priorities: writing next year’s performance review.

She says, “So I want you to pretend it’s the end of next year. You’re giving yourself a performance review, and it has been an absolutely amazing year for you professionally. What three to five things did you do that made it so amazing?”

This is it, I thought. This is one way that companies can set their priorities and make positive changes: writing next year’s annual report. When you “look back” at this year, what does your organization hope to accomplish? What will be the highlights of this year?

By envisioning your future successes, you can make a realistic plan for the coming year with confidence – because you already pictured it. By envisioning your future challenges, you are more likely to spot problems before they occur – because you are on the look-out for them.

In addition to financials, here are some of the things I want to read in next year’s annual report:

  1. Just the highlights – with graphics. What three accomplishments did your organization achieve? How do they align with your company’s mission or goal? What have you learned from them and how will you improve on them?
  2. People, not programs. Who are some of the people or communities that were positively affected by your organization? Tell a personal story about a customer, partner, donor, and volunteer. How did you gain their support? How did you show your appreciation?
  3. Put a face to the organization. Who are some of the people who made a difference in your organization? I don’t mean just the executive management, but the people who interact with customers, who look beyond their department, and who accomplish something great outside of the organization. What can you do to help these employees deliver stellar service? How can you recognize their efforts?

Professionally, maybe we all need to write next year’s performance review for ourselves – and next year’s annual report for our workplaces.

How does your organization set goals for the coming year? What do you look for in an annual report?


Clipart courtesy of

Keep your best people with mock exit interviews

October 31, 2017

I work for a small, local nonprofit. One night my husband asked me, “So your company is doing okay?” It was the kind of routine question someone might ask, and neither of us was prepared for the response that came pouring out. I answered not with “I guess,” but with the biggest challenges (in my opinion) that the nonprofit is facing today.

I hadn’t even realized that these issues had been bothering me so much. I wondered if I should talk to my boss about my concerns, but I felt hesitant. My boss is nice, informal, and understanding, but I still felt uncomfortable bringing up these issues. It’s a conversation I would feel more comfortable with during an exit interview.

But why would I have to leave my job to talk about my honest concerns about the company? I had a “eureka” moment…

We have mock interviews to help people get the jobs they want. Maybe we need mock exit-interviews to help companies keep the people they need.

Mock exit-interviews would give employees the freedom to be honest about their opinions, and give companies the chance to make improvements and retain their best people. They could be held once a year with random staff members, so that it doesn’t feel as if anyone is being singled out. They would be separate from performance reviews, and conducted by non-managers. Co-workers could even take turns doing a mock-exit interview for people in other departments.

Questions could be centered around three principles:

  1. People. Who are the top contributors to the organization? Who needs our help to be better team members?
  2. Purpose. What does the organization do better than other organizations? What do other organizations do better?
  3. Process. What three things would you change about the organization today? What one thing can we do to build stronger relationships between staff and partners?

So what the biggest challenges facing our nonprofit?

A year ago, I would have said that we need to improve our fundraising (raising money and persuading donors) and name recognition (most people in Hawaii have never heard of us or what we do).

Today, I think it’s more fundamental than that. The biggest challenge we face is people. We need to engage staff who have the time, interest, and experience in reaching out to new clients and the community; and attract board members who have the energy, community connections, and willingness to fundraise.

What challenges does your business or organization face today? Have you ever talked with your boss about a problem or concern? What was the response and could it have been resolved better?


Image courtesy of


Expos for introverts

October 3, 2017

It’s been a while since attended a trade show or expo as an exhibitor, so when my company signed up for a local expo in Honolulu, I was both excited and nervous. Excited, because I sit in an office all day and it’s nice to meet new people. Nervous, because I’d have to meet new people.

I’m a shy person, and it’s hard for me to talk to new people. Sometimes it’s even hard for me to talk to people I know! I’m comfortable with quiet on my own, but in a social setting, the quiet can become loud and tense.

I did everything I was supposed to do to setup and plan our booth. I confirmed the budget, checked on furniture, wrote a press release, printed brochures, designed a poster, found a banner in storage, and organized booth shifts.

Faced with long hours of talking with people, introverts like me have to do more. So here are three tips for introverts and one idea that I wish we had done.

* Give something away. Introverts won’t usually stand in the aisle and bring people to their booth, so we need an inexpensive way to draw them in. A prize wheel was too expensive and a small game (a bean bag toss or mini golf) didn’t seem appropriate, so we chose peppermints. I even put stickers on them that said, “Take a mental health mo-mint” and our logo. Most people came just for the mints, but they smiled at me and made me feel less invisible.

* Ask a question. Someone stopped by our booth and took a mint. They don’t look particularly interested, and they’re ready to walk away. What do I say? Could I get them to stay a little while? To avoid this awkwardness, I created a poster with an easy question and brought a stack of sticky notes and pens. Since everyone is an expert in their own lives, I chose a question that anyone could answer: “How do you keep young?” People actually stopped and wrote advice, like “Exercise” and “Keep young friends” and “Stay away from toxic people.” Other people stopped to read the notes on the board. And I had a reason to talk to people.

* Meet the neighbors. Who works the same hours at the expo and is a captive audience? The staff at the nearby booths. When there are lulls in expo traffic but you can’t leave your booth, talk to your neighbors. I met a man who built a treehouse in his backyard and a woman who used to do pottery and a few people who “crossed the aisle” to meet us. “Did you come to the expo last year?” and “Do you think it’s busier than last year?” are good introductory questions, if you’re not sure what to say.

* Make a meeting. There are times when staff are alone at the booth, and the booth looked empty. At the next expo, I would ask staff and coworkers to make appointments with clients, partners, vendors, and donors – and meet them at our booth. We could have short meet-and-greets in an informal setting, and even meet their family. Longer conversations could move outdoors or to the concession area. Admission was free at this particular expo, so it wouldn’t cost anything.

Which trade shows or expos do you attend? Do you find expos exhilarating or exhausting?