Meeting Planners Without Borders

Just four days after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, I heard from Jean Tracy, national sales manager for George Fern Exposition & Event Services.

Donations flooded into Red Hook in Brooklyn after Sandy.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that Jean, who lives in Austin, was headed to New York and New Jersey, to take part in the massive relief and clean-up activities that are still underway. Soon after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I traveled, at Jean’s invitation, with a group of volunteers for Healing Hands for Haiti, an organization that provides rehabilitative medicine to amputees and others.

I live in Brooklyn, less than a mile from Red Hook, where storm damage was severe, and Jean had a specific question for me: What was most needed? Whatever it was, she planned to fill her suitcases with it.  My answer was batteries, but Jean also double-checked with a friend of hers from the Red Cross, that yes, batteries were in short supply.

What impressed me in Haiti watching Jean, as well as in my experience with the volunteer response here in Brooklyn after Sandy, was the crucial role that planning, organization, and logistics play.  No matter how generously people give  goods or services, the effectiveness of relief is determined by how well what is donated matches people’s needs and how efficiently they can be delivered.

Jean spent a lot of her time in Haiti improving processes — planning, organizing, solving problems as they came up.  As a meeting professional, it’s what she does every day, she said: “Use the resources you have to get things done.”

Here in Red Hook, I have been most impressed with the resourcefulness of a local non-profit, The Red Hook Initiative (RHI), which used every tool imaginable to deploy the donations that came flooding into the local community. They used  Twitter, a website, and Facebook, but also  basic, low-tech tools, including large information sheets taped to their exterior walls and on buildings across the street, which reduced the number of people coming into the storefront center.

Just a few days ago, RHI was awarded first place for overall excellence in nonprofit management by the New York Community Trust. Even though RHI been doing exemplary work with hurricane relief, the award was presented for their pre-Sandy work, around  their mission of empowering local youth.  The award underscores the value of having good practices and strong networks in place when they are needed.

Donations of goods, money, and even time are fairly simple to measure. But the organizational and management expertise that amplifies their benefits is a little harder to tally. So here’s a shout-out to all those who plan and manage well, and all the good that they do.

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.