Virtual Food Drive – Northern Illinois Food Bank

Pop quiz: What type of bar crawl has no alcohol, no bars and no attendees?  If you answered a terrible bar crawl that you would never attend, that’s true.  However the answer for our project team turned out to be a virtual food drive that raised over $1000 for the Northern Illinois Food Bank.  Confused yet?  We’ll explain.


Our project team started as an attempt to raise money for Growing Power’s Iron Street Urban Farm, a 7 acre site on Chicago’s south side that produces healthy, sustainable food year-round.  The team’s original plan was to hold a bar crawl on the city’s north side, targeting fellow DePaul students and combining a fun event with an opportunity to raise money and awareness for a local organization.  The curveball came when our team was informed that a bar crawl might not be the best representation of DePaul to the community, and we were faced with our first challenge to change course.   The good news is that we had not yet invested any money into the project, but the bad news was that we had already invested time and effort into kick starting an ambitious project.  To further complicate matters, we lost a team member with significant marketing and graphic skills along the way to another team.  Not exactly an auspicious start.


So like any project team, we were forced to deal with the challenges encountered.  In our favor was the fact that each team member had already presented an idea for a charity event, so we had three alternates ready to review.  We selected the Northern Illinois Food Bank (NIFB) as our charity, which turned out to be an excellent choice for reasons we’ll detail later.  At the beginning though, this decision had its own set of challenges.  The team had wanted to hold a physical food drive in addition to a virtual drive, while promoting the food drive throughout the entire Chicago area.  Once again we encountered roadblocks, with NIFB requiring team members to drive hours west to pick up physical food drive boxes while limiting our team to promoting the event within Lake County, Illinois, to avoid territory conflicts with the Chicago food charities.  Yes, that’s right.  We almost got into a food drive turf war!  Who knew?


In some respects, it made the project easier by requiring focus and targeted effort on the virtual food drive only.  More importantly, the NIFB more than made up for the restrictions by supplying a ready-made, interactive website with unique links for our DePaul Kellstadt food drive.  The team decided to shoot for a goal of $1,000 based on input from the NIFB on previous food drives, and we went to work putting out the word.  Marketing efforts included sending out emails and flyers, as well as Facebook and Twitter messages.  The team also solicited donations personally, reaching out to family, friends and coworkers.


With all the drama aside, and our team focused on leveraging our social and personal networks, the project turned out to be a clear success.  The end results were netted $1,165 in donations over a 3 week span, with an average donation of $40.  Even more impressive is what the Northern Illinois Food Bank can do with that money.  With their buying power and distribution network, the NIFB is able to create 6 meals out of every single dollar donated.  Don’t worry, we’ll do the math for you – that equates to 6,990 meals for our neighbors in northern Illinois!  Considering where the team started, we felt proud to have contributed to our community at that level.


In the process, we learned quite a bit about the effort it takes to put on a charity event.  First and foremost, the next time you’re out at a bar event or get an email asking for a donation, keep in mind how much work really goes into the process and consider giving, even just a few bucks.  If you want to embark on your own charity event project, we would advise you to vet the chosen charity carefully.  Issues seen in our selection process or by other teams included willingness to communicate and support the event by the charity.  It may seem counterintuitive that a charity doesn’t want your help raising money, but in reality they only have so many volunteers or staff available to work with different teams.  Also watch out for charities that may ignite controversy or are not well known.  This isn’t to say they should be avoided, but just realize more effort will be required to get the results.  Our team could not have asked for a better partner than the Northern Illinois Food Bank – communicative, supportive, web-enabled, flexible, fast acting – you name it, and it made all the difference.


Along those lines, another piece of advice would be that professionalism and name recognition can go a long way to allay security or privacy concerns in a web or virtual environment.  One of our highest rated risks going into the project was a concern that donors would be unwilling to provide personal and financial information on a website to make a donation relatively blindly.  The NIFB had an excellent website, and although that could have been created by anyone, it conveyed a professional, secure environment.  They also stated very clearly their privacy policy upfront, and did not store any financial information.  These may be taken for granted in today’s world, but even losing a few donations due to a shoddy web design would be a shame.


That brings us to a clear lesson learned – be careful when leveraging your personal or social networks.  We all have “that friend” that constantly sends links to charities and events and who-knows-what.  This charity drive worked in part because our team had members that could approach their family and friends with a request for donation.  People are bombarded daily with ads and requests of all types, so teams need to realize that generic, mass mailings are likely to be overlooked.  Targeted, focused and most important, personal requests for donations were very effective for us.


Taking it all in, clearly project teams need to be willing and ready to adapt to change.  Our charity changed, our event changed, our team changed, our approach changed – you get the picture.  And unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence when it comes to projects.  As usual, the only guarantee is that something significant will change.  You can’t control everything, so when things change around you, respond in kind quickly and thoughtfully.  Then once those items have changed, realized that assumptions made previously may no longer be valid.  Everything in your project has to be on the table; be prepared to recast your movie, change the script, the set location and sometimes the plot.


And that, is how a bar crawl with no people, no bars and no attendees was a resounding success.  What’s your best meandering path project?  How different have your outcomes been from original estimates?


Will London Olympics be a Success? Planning Process Already Is

In the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts Report titled “Preparations for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – Risk assessment and management” a risk assessment and work breakout was reviewed.  It was the thirty ninth report of session 2006-2007.  The following items were reviewed during the London Olympics meeting:


  •  The need for strong governance and delivery structures
  • Delivering the Games against an immovable deadline
  • The requirement for the budget to be clearly determined and effectively managed
  • Applying effective procurement practices
  • Planning for a lasting legacy
  • Effective progress monitoring and risk management arrangements


Some of the items I found interesting is how far out the London team was formulating risk management strategies.  The games are to be played in just a few days, yet the London project team had risk assessment at the forefront of most of their meetings since day 1 of the planning process.  In fact, they divided the risk into 4 strategic objectives, then into 42 sub sections, that were then assigned to 17 project managers.    In addition to this, they had project managers that are solely in charge of venues and some for the lasting legacy plans for using the venues after the Olympic Games.  Even so, how does one even start to plan for such a large scale project such as this?  How does one even start to recognize all the risks involved with large projects as this let alone try to mitigate these risks as well with contingency plans?


Another area I found interesting was the budgetary planning involved.  Since day 1 the London project team had been estimating costs.  However, even at that time in 2006 some budgetary items remained uncertain such as taxes, contingency provisions, security, and private sector funding issues.  This project is so daunting that it will be interesting to see how successful the games are when the preliminary revenue and TV ratings are released in the next couple of months.  It seems that there will be no way to stick to preliminary budget estimates with such large scale projects such as these.  So how does one accurately estimate the costs that these games require sometimes 10 years in advance of construction and the games.


Has anyone out there been involved with large scale projects?  What was done on your project teams to make the planning, risk management, and budget management processes a success?


Below is a link to the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts Report titled “Preparations for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games – Risk assessment and management”

5 Key Project Management Skills

I encountered an article that reviewed five often overlooked skills needed to excel in project management.  It was written by Wayne Brantley who is the managing director of Villanova’s project management training and PMP certification prep courses.  The five skills he mentioned that are crucial to project management were:

  1. Public speaking and effective verbal communication
  2. Writing and electronic communication intelligence
  3. Networking
  4. Decisive Leadership
  5. Research

As our group projects kicked off yesterday I found this article to provide key insights into how we can lead our group to have a successful fund raiser.  Three of the skills above really resonated with me as being important for our group projects.  I believe step two, writing and electronic communication intelligence, will be integral in our group successes as many of us have busy work and life schedules.  It will be integral to effectively communicate with each other and with the vendors we will be working with to make the fund raiser is a success.


Also, step four decisive leadership will be important as well.  As we have short deadlines to make sure this fund raiser is a success we will need to be decisive in our decision making.  We must avoid getting lost in the details and losing focus of what the essentials are.  With a short deadline it will be integral to make sure our plans are thought out in advance and that we do not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by insignificant obstacles or derailments.  Decisive thinking and decisions will need to be made as we encounter obstacles and challenges along the way.


Also step five which was research really resonated with me as well.  As this is not the first time a fund raiser is being attempted it will be important to do the proper planning and research to make sure that we do not fall into common traps or pitfalls of leading a project fund raiser for charity.  There is a lot of valuable research out there that can assist many of us in planning our fund raiser.  Whether it is key contacts, common pitfalls, or project planning resources, the key will be to do the proper research to hopefully make each of our projects a success.