Q. Who is Rachel Gershwin and why is she a meeting and event planner?
My event planning experience began when I was a kid; being a natural planner, I tended to take charge of family parties, holidays and other gatherings. I find that most event planners played that role in their families, as well.
Formally, I started working in the field in college. I worked at the UCLA Alumni Association while I was a student and my department planned class reunions, homecoming, and an annual alumni awards event. After college, I moved back to San Diego and, not knowing what the heck I wanted to do and unable to find a job, I started freelancing as an event planner. Ten years later, I was still in business for myself, planning everything from televised award events to non-profit fundraisers.
In 2004, I was ready for a change and joined the staff of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego as the director of marketing and development. I am now responsible for a broad range of fundraising programs, and special events play a very large role in our fundraising efforts and overall strategic plan.
Q. Why did you get into meeting and event planning?
I was naturally skilled in the area and as I got more experience, I realized that I was good at it and I really enjoyed it. I love that events have a beginning and an end. Unlike many jobs, there is a very tangible product of your work and a great sense of accomplishment when a project is completed.
Q. Tell me something about meeting and event planning that most people don’t know?
It’s a lot of work. I think many people go to events and think that event planning is fun and glamorous, but the event itself is just the end product of months of often tedious work.
Q. What will a student learn in your class that he/she didn’t know before attending your class?
Students will learn a lot about non-profit event planning and how to engage corporate sponsors, and will hopefully come out of it with some new creative ideas for events they are involved with.
Q. What are the highlights of the classes?
I cover basic principles of non-profit event planning and corporate sponsorship, and then provide a lot of case studies so that the students can see real world examples. I also invite several guest speakers from different non-profits to share events they’ve done. It’s nice to add variety to the class with different speakers.
Q. As a meeting and event planning professional do you think like a meeting and event planner in your everyday life?
Yes, it’s in my DNA. I don’t think I’m overly obsessive and understand that sometimes you have to “go with the flow,” but I do love planning, making lists, and finding the most efficient way to do things.
Q. What has been the most interesting thing about your profession?
Definitely the people I have met from so many walks of life. When you plan events you work with so many different people. And, there are always hilarious moments – the frenzy of an event can bring out the best and worst in people. I actually enjoy the crazy stuff; it makes for a great story later.
Q. What is the future of meeting and event planning?
From a non-profit perspective, events are becoming more integrated into the organization’s overall development strategy, rather than being a standalone fundraiser. Events are stewardship and cultivation tools, PR vehicles, and an important vehicle for engaging people in the mission of the organization.
Q. What kind of personality do you have to have to be in meeting and event planning?
You need to be organized, detail-oriented, assertive, and a task master, but also someone who has great communication skills, patience, and the ability to get along with lots of different people. You must do well with deadlines and pressure, be able to solve problems quickly and think on your feet, plan meticulously, and then be prepared for the unexpected. And, a great sense of humor will make it fun and keep you sane.