Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to be a Productive Member of the Community without Losing Your Shirt

Have you ever been in charge of a sheva b’rachos? Have you put together a sports team? Have you ever needed to lay out money for an event and need to chase down people months (or even years) later? Frustrating, right? For some reason, people get lax about paying back money when they power a friend.

Throughout the past few months, I have been a part of/helped organize/ran various events that involved many different people and somewhat significant amounts of money. Unfortunately, the organizer (s) of such events often lose(s) money. I, myself, have come out as the loser. I used to lose between $50-100 each time. I chalked it up to the “well, that’s the price you pay for being in charge,” or “being a nice guy,” or my personal favorite “well, that’s my gift to them.”

“No more,” I said. (Literally, I said that out loud.) I decided that just because I am in charge doesn’t mean I have to lose money. And if you have fallen victim to the same issues when organizing an event, here are some helpful tips for you to follow so that it doesn’t happen again. All of these rules are obviously for situations in which it’s clear that the costs will be split equally amongst those invited.

1) Lay the Groundwork Early
Have two separate dates. The first is to reserve a spot, and the second is to receive the money. If either one of these terms aren’t met by an individual, he/she cannot be guaranteed to be involved.

2) No Guarantees
Make sure you use the term “can’t be guaranteed.” You don’t want a situation where a person didn’t meet one of the requirements and you told them that they wouldn’t be allowed to come, and then change your mind. That does not do well for the future. Leave yourself some wiggle room in case his/her accommodations can be met. (Good rule to live by: don’t make false threats.)

3) Over Charge
The major mistake everyone makes is that they forget to take something into consideration when setting the final price. When it comes to a sheva b’rachos, you may get a deal for $20 per person from a takeout place, but that doesn’t include drinks or utensils. If it’s in a restaurant, you might forget tax and tip. If it’s an order for supplies such as t-shirts or prizes, people often forget tax and shipping. If you over charge, you avoid these problems and, if you find out that you have left over money, you can split it amongst the participants (everyone loves that), or in a case of a party, give to the newly married couple/birthday celebrator, or save it in your slush fund for the next party.

4) Don't Lay Out Money
I know this is going to be the hard one, but the only way make sure people actually pay is if they do it before the event. If you have a sports team, make sure you have all required fees before the season. If it’s a party, have the money before you go shopping. Companies won’t let you owe them money, and you aren’t there to pay for someone else’s fee. If you are organizing something that you won’t find out the cost of until it’s over (such as a road trip), see Number 3.

5) 80% Rule*
If your event includes catering (not in a restaurant), a great way to keep costs down is to UNDER-ORDER!!! If you’ve ever ordered for 20 people from a restaurant for a 20-person affair, you know that by the end of the meal, you will have a TON of leftovers. That’s where the 80% rule comes in. Order enough food for 80% of the guests. If you are having a party of 20, order for 16. You will still have leftovers!

*NOTE: If the party is more than 80% guys, it becomes a 90% Rule.

6) Don't Work Alone
I know it’s tempting to do everything yourself (if you want something done right), but if you have someone who can help you with anything –online ordering, food shopping, money collecting –it makes your job so much easier. Every group usually has the one guy/girl who is eager to help. He/she always wants to be part of it. But he/she lacks the capacity to deal with the whole thing. Give this person one job. If it’s satisfactorily completed, give another job. The less work you have to do, the easier it becomes.

I have followed these steps for the last three sheva b’rachos, two baseball teams and one road trip, and in one of those situations I was even able to return money to people. Nobody backed out because of the price and I didn’t lose money. Hopefully this helps.

1 comment:

  1. Eh. Somewhat agree, but having had/hosted/organized a large number of these events as well, I'd say it's a little simpler than that.

    A lot depends on venue. Whenever possible, host in someone's house. We've been able to host some pretty large events by us, from friendly BBQs to Shalom Zachars to Sheva Brachos to Purim and Thanksgiving meals to Tzedakah fundraisers to a Kiddush. The Kiddush is the only one that was uncomfortably over-crowded, and that was due to every maybe in the book showing up and then some, plus it was a Kiddush open to lots of people to begin with. I think that people often underestimate the ability of their homes to host reasonable amounts of people for an event. Sure, you wouldn't normally have 20-25 people in your living room, but people understand a (say) Sheva Brachos might be a bit crowded, but it's also a friendly/homey event for 2 hours and it's still usually more comfortable than a restaurant in many ways.

    Hosting at a home solves a few issues at once:
    * Leftovers, over-ordering, etc. You don't have to worry too much about over-ordering or over-making, as if there are leftovers, big deal - you freeze them and have them another time.
    * Cost is much less, period. Self-explanatory.
    * Laying out money, working alone. People are more willing to not just join, but are more likely to pay their portion/bring their stuff. If they see that you're going to be hosting, which they know entails lots of other small bits of work, they feel obligated to make sure they've done their share, and in a timely fashion. It also lets them control their own costs more than in a restaurant, so instead of chipping in $25 for something they don't want, they can make something they like for $15 and feel better about it.

    Now, what about the (rare) occasion that can't be done in someone's home? Or what if your home simply isn't big enough to host, and you don't feel comfortable asking a friend to use/rent their space?

    Firstly, find two-three others who will join in 'hosting' the event (not a fan of retaining full control and handing out small tasks). Make it clear you're all jointly responsible. If it's in a restaurant, decide jointly on the menu with the restaurant, as each of you will be able to knock out what's a bad idea from the other, and you'll come to a reasonable menu, knowing that if all goes wrong you're each paying up your third/quarter of the bill. Then, each of you is responsible for collecting from a few of the people coming (some prefer to collect from their buddies; others from the ones who aren't their buddies) - not that you'd necessarily eat the loss if your person didn't pay up, but it puts a certain sense of responsibility on each of you to collect quickly.

    Overcharging only is right if you aren't 100% sure on the costs, and agreed you can give the difference as a gift etc. Otherwise, charge exactly. I think people understand and are OK with paying an extra $2-5 or so when the costs aren't 100% clear until the end, but it's not right to do the same simply to cover yourself for the people you can't collect from.