Experience Creators You Should Know - Jennifer Peele, Care Ring

Jennifer Peele, of Care Ring, 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: Jennifer Peele

Company Name: Care Ring

Job Title: Director of Communications & Events

Years of Experience: 12

How did you get your start in the events industry? What made you pursue this role?
I transitioned to fundraising and event planning at the same time, after working for several years in the social work and psychology fields. I wanted to continue to work in the nonprofit sector, helping people while doing something that was more administrative rather than being on the "front lines."
How would you describe your role or responsibilities as a professional event planner?
As a nonprofit event planner, I have a particular responsibility to ensure that we are getting the maximum ROI for the effort and expense put into events. There is extra time spent asking for donated products and services to keep expenses down. I am always looking for ways to create events that will stand out among the many other events happening in our city. My eye is always on ensuring guests have a smooth and enjoyable experience so that our nonprofit is viewed favorably and we can continue to build relationships with our guests long after the event concludes. The goal of our events is to always use it as a springboard to get to know our guests better and convert or retain them as long-time supporters.
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?
At this point in time, and in our city, people seem to be eager to return to in-person events, and we've had good attendance - similar to pre-pandemic levels. We still are doing small things such as having hand sanitizer available, and, if possible, offering a virtual option. Securing donated items and services remains difficult, as many businesses are still struggling to make ends meet, particularly restaurants and other hospitality industry businesses.
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?

Our primary challenge is securing a venue and vendors at the lowest price possible, or for free. We have been fortunate that many venues and vendors have been willing to work with us. For venues, the strategy that works best for me is to ask to view the space, then at that meeting with the owner or manager, explain our mission and how we are a benefit to the community, then ask what kind of discount, if any, they can offer. It also helps to reach out to your staff and Board of Directors to see who might know a venue owner or vendor that would be receptive. Then, be sure to promote their generosity at the event and in pre and post-event social media and other marketing efforts - and make sure they know you've done this.
How do you determine which vendors are best suited for your stakeholder's needs while also finding those providing competitive services at affordable rates?
We are committed to supporting minority and women-owned businesses, so we always start there. Oftentimes, they offer to give us a discount because our mission benefits these same groups, and in turn, we provide promotional benefits and invite them to attend so they can mix and mingle with guests, which boosts their social capital as well. We always "check in" when discussing prices to ensure they feel the arrangement is fair. If a discount isn't comfortable for them, we secure an individual or other business to "sponsor" that particular item.
Are there any key lessons or insights that have shaped your approach to event planning over the years?
I always get a second pair of eyes on things, to ensure I am not making assumptions that something we have planned will make sense to our guests or be easy to do. Sometimes we can't always see that a question on a registration form is confusing, or that maybe some signage is needed to help guests along their way. Also, you cannot communicate enough with guests. Multiple email reminders, announcements at the event, signage, and personal notes go a long way to reducing guest frustration and confusion, which ultimately reduces your stress as well. Lastly, delegation of tasks to other staff and/or volunteers. Taking a few minutes to thoroughly go over tasks and other instructions before the event starts will make a world of difference to you and your guests, and staff/volunteers will appreciate it. And don't forget to thank them thoroughly and publicly.
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?
We aren't using any new tech for the planning phase of events. We are using Zoom as a virtual option in some cases for event participation.
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?
Join up with both local and virtual/national groups, either as a paid member or just find some groups on social media that have forums where you can ask questions and support others. The nonprofit community in Charlotte is very tight-knit and supportive of each other, so we are fortunate to also be able to reach out to our peers for help or advice when needed, especially if we need recommendations for resources or vendors. I also learned a lot from attending community events - observing how things are set up, how they are advertised, traffic and crowd control, which events drew big crowds, who is sponsoring, and so forth.
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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