Experience Creators You Should Know - Danielle Fleck, The Fraser Institute

Danielle Fleck, of the The Fraser Institute, discusses how she honed her skills over the pandemic to now be in position to overcome the challenges that the new meetings/events landscape brings.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Danielle Fleck

Company Name: The Fraser Institute

Job Title: Senior Manager, Development Events

Years of Experience: 11

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
It all started growing up with a mother that was actively engaged in fundraising with local charity galas. Over the years, I volunteered at various events and was intrigued by the level of detail, creativity and passion that was involved. I made my industry debut by interning with a small events company during university. It was here that I experienced events as a way to captivate, inspire and connect with my community through creativity and I never looked back. Since this time, I have produced corporate events, ranging from large-scale international conferences and fundraising galas to intimate team events. After working in the industry for over 10 years, I was looking to find a role where I could help to make an impact in improving the quality of life for Canadians and found a natural fit at the Fraser Institute. Our development events allow our supporters to hear from high profile thought leaders and better understand the impacts of public policy on their lives.
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
As Senior Manager of Development Events at a non-profit organization, I am responsible for creating, directing, managing, and evaluating a variety of fundraising events across the country. This includes galas, luncheons, AGM meetings, board retreats, and other donor stewardship events designed to support and enhance development efforts, as well as build relationships with our donors. My role involves close interaction with staff, vendors, donors and volunteers to ensure that all logistical components of events are established, implemented and executed on time and within budget. This ranges from initial speaker procurement and contracting venues to onsite management and everything in-between.
How do you compare planning your first in-person event post-pandemic, to planning meetings/events pre- Covid? What was different and unique? What was similar?
The biggest difference in my perspective was the exceedingly high level of uncertainty and number of elements that were out of our control as event planners. There will always be an inherent level of uncertainty associated live events however as long as you followed project plans and timelines pre-pandemic, the event lifecycle would generally go according to plan for the most part. When hosting our first events coming out of the pandemic it felt the opposite it where very little went according to plan. We experienced everything from drastically reduced lead-times, ever-changing capacities and restrictions, having to pivot to hybrid formats and higher attrition rates where supporters were not always able to fill their tables. While the fundamental planning aspects remained the same, we found it critical to be highly organized and adaptable to change.
What challenges have you faced in your work as a meeting and event planner, when working with suppliers or sourcing a venue and how did you overcome them?

A recurring challenge is ensuring that deliverables remain on schedule when managing a handful of multifaceted events across the country concurrently. This was exceeding difficult in the wake of the pandemic where we had to produce events on short notice and were not able to provide enough lead-time to suppliers. Our requirements would also drastically increase or decrease last minute due to capacity restriction changes. We were able to overcome these challenges by implementing new project management software to help us remain on track internally and maintaining strong relationships with our vendors and suppliers. We found that with open and consistent communication we were able to collaborate with our suppliers to find creative solutions for all assets to be delivered on time.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
With inflation being felt across the industry, we now source many suppliers so that we have a variety of quotes for each event element. In addition to taking factors such as pricing and the quality of the products that they offer into consideration, we pay attention to their response time and ability to communicate effectively. It is most important to us to have our suppliers truly understand our needs rather than be faced with challenges later on in the process. We often choose suppliers that may not have the lowest quote initially but are able to get creative with us in order remain within budget without sacrificing the quality of the event.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
Over the years, I have learned and adapted new processes to become more detailed and organized. I view events as primarily problem solving and there will always be unforeseen issues onsite. By preparing as much as possible with detailed timelines, clearly defined team roles and goals you can help to mitigate common issues and be able to focus on the onsite execution. I like to prepare very detailed speaker confirmations, FAQ pages and guest reminder emails to help alleviate the questions or confusion leading up to events. It is also important to remember that events are subjective, and you cannot please everyone. Try to not take negatively feedback personally and instead use it as a tool to avoid similar comments in the future.
With hotels short-staffed, and RFP lead time shortening, what is your advice to other planners to overcome these obstacles when requesting hotels for proposals?
I recommend staring the planning process and securing venue space with as much lead-time as possible. As a result of years of pent-up demand and in-turn less preferential treatment based on our booking tenure. I would also encourage consistent, open and clear communication throughout the process to ensure that nothing is missed. Host pre-event meetings and come prepared with a list of items to address and review including registration location, check-in process, floorplan layout, service timing and quantity of servers etc. With supply and liquor shortages still occurring, be prepared for last minute wine and menu item changes and have backup choices defined.
Are you approaching contracting with hotels differently, post-pandemic?
Since the pandemic, we find it critical to understand cancellation clauses, force majeure and financial penalties that may be occurred if events needs to be postponed. As we have also experienced staff turnover during either the contracting or planning process, so it is also crucial to ensure that all promised concessions and clearly defined within the contracts.
What is the biggest area of improvement that you think hotels can make when either responding to your RFPs or during the contract phase of your event?
As a result of being short-staffed or being overworked we often find that venues are not reading details of our submitted RFP’s and ask questions that are already clearly outlined within our requests. This then becomes a tedious process to create our own RFP documentation, answers online forms and re-confirm these details with sales representatives. My advice is to eliminate a step by taking few minutes to read details or removing online forms to save an extra step that is typically being missed anyways. This would save planners a lot of time and make them less hesitant to approach new venues. I would also like to see more flexibility around room rental rates based on higher food and beverage minimum spends. The revenue is going to be spent one way or another and it would make venues more accessible.
Due to the pandemic, our events community had to evolve, adapt, and grow. Many planners started to embrace new technologies as a result of the pandemic. What new tech are you using today in your planning process as a result?
Due to the nature of our galas being tribute dinners that honour individuals in recognition of their exceptional entrepreneurial achievements, generous philanthropic endeavors, and dedication to competitive markets we have continued to host mainly in-person events. We have however found ways to implement tech in a variety of ways at various events. One example is that we now host a hybrid AGM meeting where both in-the room guests and remotely can participate interactively. We also hosted an in-person event where one panelist participated remotely from another country. Across the board, these innovations have allowed us the flexibility to produce high quality events that are more accessible and inclusive. We have also implemented project-planning software,, which has enabled us to remain on track within a newly hybrid-working environment with team members across the country.
Since education and relationships are two major pillars in the meetings and events industry, any suggestions on how other planners can learn and network with their peers across the industry?
I recommend joining a local chapter of an event industry association such as ILEA that is focused on promoting and cultivating community. By participating, you gain access to a growing network, offering direct access to shared knowledge, data, information and connections not only in your local city but also around the world. Dedicate time to invest in your education whether through attending industry conferences, attending similar events, reading publications such as BizBash or meeting with fellow peers.
This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic w,orld. 

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