28 March 2013

Pull off an event in your spare time :: The Tools

In an effort to give away all my best secrets about how to pull off a large-scale event in your spare time, I thought I'd share with you today some of the tools we used in putting together All Dressed Up.

There are also a couple things I wish I'd realized from the start. I'll share those, too.

From the very beginning of planning All Dressed Up, I had a desire to run efficiently, not wasting the time of my super-talented committee members.  That's the spot where most of the my tools were born from - a desire for efficiency, increased communication, and a "headquarters" of sorts, for our tasks and goals.

Here's the skinny:

1. Teamwork Project Management: I checked with a friend of mine, who's a certified Project Manager, for an free online resource where my committee could track their individual tasks as well as our committee's overall tasks. I also needed a place to house documents like our sponsor list, important contacts, meeting schedule, and every other crazy microsoft document you can think of.  In the past, the committee has used a huge spreadsheet on Google Docs, which did the job, but wasn't particularly easy to navigate, so I was sure there was a better way. My overall opinion of TeamworkPM is that for a trained Project Manager, it's probably perfect, but for a novice and her junior league friends - probably not the best solution. Again - this is probably a very good system for a professional project manager.  For this regularish gal, however, it wasn't my favorite.


  • It did have a spot to house our documents, but it wasn't all that easy to figure out what had been updated most recently
  • It allowed us to track "milestones", such as media deadlines and committee meetings
  • It was free


  • The interface was not intuitive - even the "dashboard" didn't really show me what I needed to see most
  • It didn't have a nice way to "complete" tasks without making them disappear altogether
  • I don't know what's up with their tech support, but one night I needed to login to the system during a committee meeting (a major key to using the system), and couldn't get in. When I tried to reach tech support, I found that they were located in Australia (or something), and were likely deep into REM sleep during our committee meeting.  How could they abandon me in my time of need?

2. Eventbrite: Somewhere along the line, I was invited to an event where the host used Eventbrite to manage their ticket sales and attendees.  It was simple and easy to use from the end-user perspective, so when our committee decided to try online registration for the first time for our 2012 event, my first suggestion was Eventbrite.  As a side note, we also used Eventbrite to manage our volunteer shifts.  We have some things to learn due to the uniqueness of our volunteers' needs, but it works quite well in that capacity, too. Overall, Eventbrite is OUTSTANDING. I would recommend it a hundred times.  In fact, I think I will.  Use it. You won't be sorry.


  • Tech Support: This is HUGE.  There is free tech support TWENTY FOUR HOURS PER DAY, SEVEN DAYS PER WEEK, AKA 24/7.  When you're not (ahem) working on the project during your normal work hours, and end up with a major problem at 10:47 on a Tuesday night, the ability to reach knowledgeable, professional support representatives is really important. I learned this one by doing it.  
  • It was free.  Since we're a non-profit, there was no charge for us to use their outstanding service.  
  • The system's robust reporting capability gives you the information you need when you need it.  At one point in the registration process, we were curious where we stood compared to the registrations last year at the same point in the process. We pulled up last year's event, ran the report, and found out that we were exactly on track with where we'd been the previous year.  Pretty nifty!  
WHAT I DID NOT SO MUCH LOVE:  In all honesty, the only non-glowing thing I can think of about Eventbrite is that ticket design is not 100% customizable. For instance, we couldn't force the system to have multiple time slots available, but then also have it so girls could only get one ticket per time slot.  Additionally, we wanted to limit the number of tickets that were available per email address, and couldn't figure out a way to do that, either.  Again, however, it was free.  Beggars can't be choosers, baby.  

    Other tips and tricks:
    • Start paying attention to the money right away at the beginning. Know where you can spend, and where you'll need to scrimp.  The money-related decisions will come at you quick as the event draws near, and that's also the time everything else is coming at you quickly. Make sure you're paying attention the dollars at each step.
    • If you can, set a schedule early on.  Junior League makes this easy, because when you're chair, you're chair for just one year.  You know how much time you have to accomplish your project, then you're on to your next commitment.  For the sanity of your committee, do what you can to set your meeting schedule at the beginning. This will help them plan around family commitments, arrange childcare, and plan appropriately for having their goals met in time to report back to the full committee.

    WHEW.  So that's what I learned.  Check out the tools, if you'd like. They really can make all the difference.

    I'll be back soon with a full recap of the event. You're going to be so excited for those stinkin' adorable prom-goers.

    26 March 2013

    My Inner Foodie (vlog)

    It's Girl Behind the Blog time again!

    Following along in a reader? Check out the video HERE.

    Here are links to the recipes I refer to in the vlog. Enjoy!

    Pastor Ryan's Salmon
    Pioneer Woman Simple Perfect Chili

    And one more for good measure…
    Pioneer Woman Thai Chicken Wraps (dang gina these are so good)

    21 March 2013

    A Day in the Life

    Every day is different, right?  Thank goodness for that.

    Here is one of mine… A Tuesday, in fact.

    I have taught myself to wake up early.  My saving grace in the endeavor has been this sleep app, which tracks my sleep, and wakes me when my body is most ready to be awoken, within the time period I determine. Looks like my sleep last night could have used a little TLC.  Lots going on, I guess.

    Morning tradition = coffee + quiet time.  Plus I love this mug.

    There need be no argument on the perfect coffee / cream ratio. 
    The proof is in the pudding coffee, and it should look like this.


    I am a creature of habit, and I eat eggs every. single. morning.  
    PS. That plant in the background is dying a slow death. 
    It's really very sad, and I swear I tried to revive it.

    Like my new iPhone case?

    I work for a financial services firm, where this is what meetings are made of. 
    Riveting, I know. As a sidebar, who needs spell check?

    Pre-meeting stop at the bucks for a latte and my new re-usable mug.  

    See the guy in the bright green walking away? 
    I just talked him out of giving me a parking ticket.
    "Yes, well...I was only in starbucks for like two minutes, grabbing this latte…."

    Meeting with clients + their attorney.  

    After work spinning class.  Yeow.

    Holy full-circle. 

    Link up below.  And don't forget to visit my co-hostesses. 

    Jennifer \\ Meg \\ Tammy \\ Amber \\ Mary \\ Rebecca

    Can't wait to see all your days!

    20 March 2013

    How to pull off a huge event in your spare time

    I've been talking a lot lately about All Dressed Up, my most favorite event that also has taken up a big bundle of my time, and the majority of my spare brain space.  

    If it's on the brain, it's on the blog, people.  

    In case you missed it, here's the skinny on All Dressed Up:

    Collecting over 1000 formal gowns from the community
    Local dry-cleaner cleans all dresses.  For free.
    Area high school gals come.
    Get a prom dress. For free.
    And an accessory (or three!). For free.
    Seamstresses provide alterations on-site. For free.
    Happy prom-going girls. Totally awesome.

    Pulling off an event with so many moving parts takes a TON of commitment from a TON of people. If you want to start something like this in your community, here's where I'd begin:

    Community Vendor Partners:
    Our league is very fortunate to have had a long-standing very good relationship with a number of community vendors.  They love the event, and what it means to the young women of our community. And we love them because they play a huge part in helping this event happen.

    1. Dry Cleaners: Our dry-cleaner partner has been with us since the beginning, nine years ago.  They host our dress drive at their stores around town, then clean all the dresses that are collected.  This year - we collected 1015 dresses.  And they laundered 1015 dresses.  Holy cats that's a lot of satin.
    2. Venue: Our local community college has hosted our event for the past handful of years - for free.  They rent all kinds of pipe & drape and stage components and other things I don't even know exist.  Their campus is right on the bus line, making it easy for our girls to get there. 
    3. Movers: Each year, we have more dresses donated than what we can get rid of on event day.  Those dresses have to be moved from storage to venue to storage again.
    4. Storage: Clean and dry storage is a necessary component to keeping the dresses clean and ready to be shopped.

    Coupled this year with local hair stylists, makeup artists, nail techs, the best DJ in town, professional ballroom dancers, a huge jewelry donation from a local retailer, and a group of awesome seamstresses, our attendees were in for a major treat.  As I perused the responses from our attendees' exit surveys, I was struck with the impact the extra touches made.  Our girls said that they felt special, cared for, thought of.  

    Committed Volunteers
    Any event of any size requires a major commitment from the people who can make it happen. All Dressed Up 2013 required nearly 200 volunteers. This is not a joke. That is *a lot* of human hours represented.  It's incredible what can be accomplished by some regular folks who really want it.  They care, they see the impact, and they're committed to making it happen.  

    Aside from the necessary people taking care of the logistics, the magic, I think, of All Dressed Up, are our Personal Shoppers.  Each attendee is paired with a personal shopper to help them find their dream dress.  They take time to listen - really listen, form a relationship, and do their darndest to find. that. dress.

    Such fun, right?  Don't you just want to run right out and start gathering up prom dresses??  Cool.  Good.  You should.

    Of course I learned a zillion things as I worked with my committee on this event.  I'll be back on Friday to share the tools we used - and what I'd use again given the chance. Make sure to check back!

    What are your best tips for pulling off an event? Have you ever found yourself in over your head?

    18 March 2013

    Day in the Life - A Link-Up!

    Greetings earthlings!  I'm so excited to be co-hosting a little link-up this week with some of my favorite online gals!  We hope you'll join us THIS THURSDAY MARCH 21, as we share thoughts and photos showing A Day in the Life! You will be riveted to your computer screen.

    We hope you'll join in the fun.

    To join in the fun, go visit any of the other gals behind the linkup:

    Jennifer \\ Meg \\ Tammy \\ Amber \\ Mary \\ Rebecca

    14 March 2013

    On Finishing Well

    If we're being honest, I had no idea how crazy this week would be, putting the final touches on an event I've been anticipating since a little over a year ago.  This weekend is All Dressed Up.  If you want to know more, you can read here or here.  

    Things are coming right along, but there are a million details to cover.  I am literally writing EVERYTHING down.  Partially because I'm afraid I'll forget something, and partially because of how good it feels to cross things off.  Sometimes I'll think of something I already did, write it down, then cross it off immediately just because it feels good.  TELL ME SOMEONE ELSE OUT THERE DOES THAT.

    This week was supposed to be #protip week, and I'll tell you what I've been a #pro at: not sleeping enough, and eating at crazy times.  I also had a short stint with a box cutter for this hilarious high heel piƱata, turned raffle ticket receptacle.  

    And there have been a number of unexpected delays, such as the fact that I come up with brilliant ideas that I haven't' thought through how I'll manage.  It's a real adventure being me.  

    I told a friend tonight I feel like I'm running out of steam.  Though that may be how I feel, my brain and heart know it's important to finish well.  And so that's what I'll do.  

    Can't wait to tell you all about it.

    11 March 2013

    What's Happening :: All Dressed Up

    I apologize for the unplanned hiatus around here.  I promise, though… I'm working on something IRL {in real life} that's so much fun. I can't wait to share with you all the details.

    Our Junior League puts on an event each spring that allows young women the opportunity to shop for a prom dress for free.  The event is called All Dressed Up, and this year, I'm the chair, making for one busy lady.  All Dressed Up is this Saturday, and things are really starting to chug (and by chug I mean I am having a reeeeeeealy hard time keeping up) .  I can't WAIT!

    This year marks our 9th annual event. We're expecting 350-400 young shoppers.  We collected 1015 dresses from our community, and a local dry cleaner laundered all the gowns.  Our local community college donates the space for the event, and a really awesome moving company transports the gowns back and forth from our donated storage space for us. Area seamstresses are on hand at the event to provide alterations, and while the gals wait, a local DJ will provide entertainment and introduce our professional stylists, who will do on-stage hair and makeup demos.  HOLY CATS.

    It's the longest weekend of my life, but the reward of seeing those beautiful young ladies march out the door with a dress in hand and a smile on their face makes me want to do jumping jacks.  Makes it worth it. In fact, I'd do it again the next weekend.  Don't quote me on that.

    This week, I'll be sharing my #protips, because some of you might want to do what we do. And you should, because it's awesome.  Or maybe you do a different event that's pretty large scale, and could use some new tools or new partners to help you make it happen.  I'm all about sharing, because it's not about me - it's about them.  

    Come back and join me, will you?

    06 March 2013

    What about me?

    Today I'm hanging out with the lovely ladies of the Influence Network for a little get-to-know-me goodness.  

    If you're new here -- welcome! I hope you'll stick around for awhile.

    valentines ice skating date.  presh.

    My name is Cammie. I run the show here at Polka Dotted Peony.  I've been blogging for about nine months.  I know. Still a newborn.  I so enjoy the creative outlet it provides in my professional world of not-all-that-creative.

    And just to make things interesting, here are three bits you may not have known before:

    1. I love love love gift-giving.  I wish me giving other people gifts could be their love language.  
    2. If I had to choose just one spot to enjoy forever, I'd choose a lake in northern Wisconsin where we've been going since my mom was a baby. {And by we I mean I was just a star.}  It's the best spot on earth, and I'm not kidding.  I learned to waterski there and I got baptized on its beach by my grandfather.
    3. I once sang backup for Shania Twain. Yes, that's right.  Please wipe your jaw off the counter.  Super-stardom here I come. 
    this is THE lake. see why i love it so?
    Another reason blogging is such a joy for me is because of the ladies I've gotten to know. Relationships are huge to life, aren't they? We share and bounce off ideas and laugh and grow and earn.  It's beautiful the way it works.

    The Network is chock-full of fantastic ladies that I'd love for you to get to know.

    Make sure you pop over and say hello to Jennifer.  Send my love to Meg, and make sure you meet Tammy.  You will also love sweet Amber. High five Mary when you see her, and make sure you swing by to meet Rebecca.

    01 March 2013

    {gotta get down on friday}

    Friday. Offdah.

    1. A little fashion show for myself in my sister's super cool glasses. I want to copy her.
    2. It was a sister-visit weekend, and that translates to eat froyo whenever possible. We did, but I'll tell you what… that bowl is lying.
    3. Road trip supplies.
    4. We visited a cute boutique in the Chicago 'burbs. Such fun gems and jewels. And it was a fundraiser for a local cause. And they were serving wine. Amen and amen.
    5. Have a great weekend! Give yourself a break. 

    PS. It's almost spring.