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Planning Committee's Most Common Mistakes
by School Programs USA

Planning Committees are responsible for a variety of events and programs in all levels of schools from elementary through college. These committees may include PTA, PTO, ASB, Home & School, Student Council, Student Activities, Boosters Associations, Programming Boards or committees for specific events such as Homecoming/Spirit Week, Prom, Post-Prom, Grad Night Celebrations, Family Nights, Orientation, Parents/Siblings Weekends, Rush Events and many more.

These committees are directly responsible for the planning, execution and overall success of these such events. The role of the planning committee is of crucial importance. Planning is a cooperative effort of many members with varying duties that will culminate in the final outcome. While many of these committees consist of student, faculty or parent volunteers, these committees often operate within a restricted set of resources, budgets and guidelines. It is for this reason that in order to achieve a targeted, well attended, successful program or event, committees must operate efficiently and intelligently while trying to avoid the common mistakes, pitfalls and setbacks that can often occur.

The vast majority of the time (we would estimate 95% of the time) the lack of success can be directly as a result of the actions (or lack of actions) of the planning committee.  Many times you will hear of another or perhaps several area schools that had a similar or nearly identical program or event as yours that was an amazing success, yet yours fell short of expectations. It didn’t achieve the numbers or results that were anticipated. Why? We often look for reasons or excuses. Looking at the other area schools with similar programs, the venues are nearly the same, the timeframe or dates were nearly the same, the program or entertainment was the same, as were other factors including pricing, potential number of student/parents attendees, offerings, activities, attractions, etc. So why such a difference in the final result? In our experience of working with planning committees on all school levels for over thirty years, the answer is the one varying entity, the planning committee. Not necessarily the committee itself or it’s individual members, but the actions and decisions made by the planning committee are often the intangible varying factor.

It’s the perspective, mentality and dynamic of the committee and it’s execution, that may not necessarily be seen or noticed from the outside but can make the difference in an event. Not all committees operate the same.

We have found through working with hundreds of planning committees nationwide there are some important steps and points to consider in order to receive the best value for your committee dollar, while helping to assure a well-received, successful program or event.

Many times planning committees fall into the habit of falling back on the same typical offerings and mentalities as previous committees or other committees. More and more committees are finding that repeating the same or previous efforts can often fall short each time due to it’s familiarity and feeling of the “same old thing”.
(Of course the exception are those highly successful events, programs and events that may have evolved to become an ongoing tradition at your school.) Try to use the creative efforts of your committee and even other area committees to create programs and events that would be different and unique to your school. Learn not only about the elements of the event, but the mentalities and perspectives to gain a full understanding of the entire process and execution. Understand that audiences are attracted to something unique and different as long as it offers the many commercial and mass appeal elements of attraction. Take the time to understand the dynamics that make a program or event successful. Many times it is a combination of factors that may not easily be seen or understood, that when combined create the overall appeal.

Knowledge And Experience
When seeking programs, presenters or entertainment for special events be sure you to find those with professional experience for your individual situation.  Just because someone is a “professional” does not necessarily mean they have experience in student or family audiences, or more specifically of a certain age level. Find the perfect match for your target audience and event specifications. Understand that not all programs and presentations are created the same. Take the time to gain personal insight into those you are considering. Ask questions, learn any intricacies that may play a factor in your event or it’s success.

Not Just Looking Locally
Another common mistake that planning committees regularly make is looking only locally for programs, presentations, entertainers or fundraisers. The basic mentality is that since they are local they will be more accessible, affordable and probably more familiar with your area. Does this necessarily make them more familiar with your needs? No, not really. Many times searching only locally also adds to the lack of uniqueness as more than likely what you find may be overexposed or previously seen by your audience. Unless your audience has been completely intrigued and impressed, they will more than likely feel it is not as of much interest to see or experience it again. Many times, not always, most local programs or performers are part-time or semiprofessionals with minimal experience and appeal and may not be strong enough to be the key attraction or element from which to create a successful event.

A common misconception is that looking outside of your local area, such as regionally or even nationally, you will not be able to afford these types of programs. While this may have had some truth to it at one time, this is not true today. Many planning committees are actually surprised that they can take their programs, events and fundraisers to the next level by working with this caliber of programs, presentations and entertainment. Through programs such as cooperative block booking you may be surprised to learn that many times you can host a regional or national level program for nearly the same or only slightly more than a local one. These often are more experienced, professional offerings specifically created for your type of event and audience that offer much greater appeal and interest to your target audience, ultimately delivering much greater results than a local program. 

Take the time to learn more about non-local programs, presenters and performers and how they can work directly with you in this area of specialty. You will be surprised at the level of ease and professionalism available when dealing with this caliber of program and how it can often make your job easier while creating a fantastic event.

Trying To Save Few Dollars By Cutting Corners And Sacrificing Quality
One area in which planning committees often make unfavorable decisions is in the area of spending costs. There are areas in which cutting costs can be inconsequential and there are other areas where cost-cutting can directly impact quality and potential success of a program or event.

A recent story in USA Today featured a newlywed couple discussing how if they had to plan their wedding and reception again with the knowledge they had now experienced, they would have done things completely different. They explained how they focused and put their priorities and emphasis on things such as decorations, the location, the food and the cake. They had spent $17, 000 on all of these things. The Disc Jockey they wanted was $1,500.00 which they felt was too much for a DJ and settled for another at $1,100.00. They explained that now eight weeks later, few of the guests remembered the decorations, the flowers, the centerpieces, the cake or even what they had for dinner at the meal. All of their guests comments and feedback were about the entertainment which was mediocre at best. The DJ, while performing as promised, simply didn’t have the personality, audience control and overall performance to keep the guests dancing and having fun all night. What ultimately happened is the majority of the guests left shortly after dinner. By 8:30 p.m. of the 180 guests only 46 remained and most of them were immediate family and friends and out of town guests staying at the hotel.  The newlyweds now believed that trying to save $400.00 in the entertainment, greatly impaired the overall success of their receptions. All because of trying to cut costs in the wrong places.

They expressed some hindsight knowledge that could directly relate to school planning committees. Know where it is possible to cut costs and where your budget should properly be spent. View the event from the perspective of your targeted guests. Is it appealing? Is it worth the price they will be expected to pay? Is the event student or family appropriate? Is the event, program or fundraiser unique enough to be a true attraction or generate the interest needed to meet your expectations?

Just as the bride and groom in the above story mentioned, they were only viewing the event from their perspective, not that of their special guests. The same holds true for event, activity and fundraising planning.  If you are uncertain about the key factors discuss this amongst your committee members and maybe even conduct an informal survey of your target audience to see their interests or how they respond to your ideas and concepts.

Quality Vs. Price
When planning any type of program, event, entertainment or fundraiser you must carefully factor quality vs. price.  This is a balance that is often difficult to understand or achieve, but is essential to your overall success. Do not compromise the quality of a program, presenter or entertainer to save a few dollars. Instead focus your efforts on getting the best program possible, then approach the price.  There are many things that can often be done to reduce the price of programs from different booking strategies and techniques, to simply trying to find the additional funding to cover the cost of a program through sponsorships, multiple bookings, multiple performances, or incentives.

One of the greatest mistakes a planning committee can make is shopping based on price alone. Many other factors should be considered such as professionalism, experience, credits, extras, references, materials and resources, add-ons, guarantees and other features and benefits.

Some programs are self-contained and include everything that is required in one inclusive price. At first glance it may appear to be more expensive, but when you stop to figure other expenses that may be incurred by a potentially less quality program, which is truly better value? Approach quality and price separately and weigh the differences and overall value.

Know What Your Committee Is Capable Of Achieving
What are your expectations? Is your committee able to truly achieve the goals and expectations you are presenting. Can you obtain your expectations? It is great to know in advance exactly what your planning committee is striving for, while measuring the progress and results as you execute your program. Set your goals to be realistic and obtainable. Strive to over achieve, but make sure you can deliver and fulfill your expectations. A very common mistake made by planning committees is setting unrealistic goals or not clearly defining the proper goals and plan of execution. The proper planning, division of responsibilities and clearly specified goals will easily keep your members on track.

Using The Right Person For The Job
Appeal to the strengths and abilities of your committee members. I coordinate hundreds of events a year for schools across the country. A recent planning committee we worked with had a professional corporate event planner on the committee. She works each day with Fortune 500 companies planning conventions, trade shows, training and education events and seminars, and closing ceremonies and banquets. At a recent fundraising event the committee chairperson put her on making the cotton candy. This lady regularly coordinates sponsors, schedules, activities, guest speakers, entertainment and much more, professionally each day, and they used her in a far less capacity. This is an example of not utilizing a committees strengths or maximum potential. 

Take the time to learn about each of your committee members and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Play to these strengths and avoid the weaknesses. By doing this you will operate at a much higher level of potential, while allowing committee members to work within their comfort zones. The results will be quite noticeable.

This is an area that can be the difference between a well executed committee operating in harmony, or a committee comprised of a variety of independent personalities and thinkers all functioning in their own worlds at their own pace. Teamwork is part of a well functioning committee and the first element of teamwork is the understanding and communication with each member. Communication will keep the entire committee in tune with each other while remaining focused on your common goals. Committee leaders should be at the forefront in keeping contact and direct communication with all members, making this a priority at all times. 

By following these points you are positioning your planning committee for success. Committee members enjoy being part of something special and successful. They take pride in your overall accomplishments and are more likely to remain involved and be an active member of your committee in the future.