Delightful. Celebratory. Ebullient.

That's how I describe last week's annual awards dinner for the nonprofit at which I am employed. It was a grand reunion of allies of the cause. Though it wasn't overly formal, there were traditional pomp and pageantry, including a cocktail hour with cold hors d'oeuvres, seated dinner, annual report, guest speaker, award ceremony, and networking.

This is a customary event for nonprofit organizations, it serves the dual purpose of fundraiser and vehicle to deliver the annual report to the board of directors and public. Many large for profit corporations also hold annual dinners, to report to investors. But when it comes to reviewing the year for ourselves, we fall short.

It's time to start having your own annual dinner!

I'll preface this by saying it can be done by anyone, on any budget, from PB&J to 5 star. So don't check out now if you're not a party planner or are just beginning and can barely feed yourself let alone others. This is an adaptable concept and it's not about where you go, it's about you. It can even be adapted for couples and families. Here's the basic 10 step plan...

  1. Select a date that means something to you, not a greeting card manufacturer. Could be your graduation anniversary, the anniversary of the date you started your job or your own company, got a raise, moved into your own apartment, or closed on your home. It could be the date you got the guts to get up off the couch and look for a job. It's a special date that's yours to decide. If all else fails, use your birthday - at least you won't forget the date of the dinner each year.
  2. Choose the venue. The sky's the limit here. It could be a cozy home gathering on beanbags (they're back!), a park, a Michelin rated establishment, or a Google Hangout.
  3. Invite the people who are really invested in you and in whom you are really invested. This could be all professionals, all family, or all friends, but ideally it's a combination. Afterall, your life isn't all in one bucket (I'm crossing my fingers that you agree). When you review the year, hopefully some of the people present were part of it.
  4. Send the invitations. This is where no matter the level of glitz and glam, you can be very original. Use a free or paid evite, write an email, print invitations you design and actually mail, create a video or private Facebook event (just don't set the link to public and accidentally invite the entire world), call to personally invite - basically anything but sending a lame text message.
  5. Plan your presentation. This is about the highlights of the year, professional and personal. Whether it's a big deal you closed, moved out of your mom's house, kicked a bad habit, bought your first car, bought an Escalade, lost your job, got engaged, closed on a home, started exercising, lost weight, lost your way, got a promotion, got your dream job, survived a health crisis - the important things in your life that you achieved, or that happened to you - the good and the bad, should be the talking points in your talk. If you can, create a visual presentation and show it on your TV, large monitor, or wall. Try to keep it to no more than 20 slides,  you don't want give your guests indigestion. P.S. Be sure to tout your major accomplishments, and if some excessively bad heavy stuff went down during the year, talk only about what you're comfortable with and how you're coping with it, or commit to the goal of finding and staying on a good path in the new year.
  6. Be thoughtful and create award certificates (or golden globes if that's in your budget) for your guests, recognizing the support they gave you, roles they played in your success, or good things they did in their own lives, lives of others, or the community (if you're virtual upload them to a folder in the cloud and share the link at awards time).
  7. Create, or buy, a keepsake for your guests. Make bookmarks out of cardstock and stamp or write the date, make little hanging ornaments out of air dry clay - most any Pinterest project will do. If you're not crafty buy pocket planners at the dollar store for each guest, and mark the date of your annual dinner next year - yes friends this is an annual dinner. If you're virtual you'll need to get creative with virtual gifts depending on your budget. How about a small donation to a cause you care about in each guest's name?
  8. Make a scrapbook of the year and have your guests sign it. Not crafty? Start an annual dinner notebook, dating the pages each year for guests to sign. For virtual celebrations, start a shared document guests can add comments too.
  9. Send personalized thank you's - handwritten is always the best but an email will do.
  10. Think about your short and mid-term goals for the next year and how an event like this can help keep you motivated and accountable to achieve them!

What do you think, are you willing to give it a try?


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