What to Know Before You Helm an Event

Cheryl Gerber Photographs

From St. Elizabeth’s Guild’s “Activist Luncheon” to Audubon Institute’s “Zoo-To-Do,” Peggy Laborde has chaired them all – well, almost. So when researching all there is to know about what responsibilities, perks and surprises might be in store if you say, “Yes!” when asked to chair a philanthropic event, we asked question upon question – but Laborde preempted our email with one of her own, which illustrates her always-prepared style.

“I love this City,” Laborde says, and the capital letter she includes in her email only emphasizes her commitment, “there are so many worthwhile endeavors of which to be a part.” Beyond the aforementioned events, she has also chaired or co-chaired: Children’s Hospital’s “Sugarplum Ball,” Jesuit High School’s “Celebration,” the “Red Cross Ball,” Longue Vue House and Garden’s “Sentimental Journeys,” Lambeth House’s “On Broadway,” the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s “Save Our Lake,” LSU Health and Sciences Center’s “Sunday at Emeril’s” and many more.
After all of these, she thought she had retired from this kind of effort, but last year her husband was President of the Sugar Bowl and she planned two luncheons for the teams along with multiple team functions to showcase New Orleans, a past-presidents dinner and a New Year’s Eve gala. “I guess it was payback for all the times he helped me,” she says.

After living in Houston, Egypt and London, Peggy and her husband, Jack Laborde, moved back to New Orleans. During their early years of marriage, Jack often traveled out of the country for work while Peggy was raising two small children. She says she had the time and energy to volunteer, that it was a “natural fit.” “I was fortunate that I had the support of my family,” she says. “My children learned at a young age how to sort zip codes for mailings.”

Chairing an event “will open up doors you never knew existed,” she says. For instance, it might make you face your fears. “When I was chairman of ‘Zoo-To-Do,’” she says, “it was the opening of the reptile exhibit. I have a terrible fear of snakes, yet while on stage introducing the entertainment I was asked to hold one – a very large one. I can still remember the feeling of it wrapping around me. I definitely ‘took one for the team’ that night.”

Also, if you’re asked to chair an event and someone tells you that doing so is no big deal? “Don’t believe them!” she says. “Volunteers are vital to our community – especially in a city like New Orleans. Embrace the things that are outside of your comfort zone. At the end of the day, the time and energy spent cannot begin to be matched by the appreciation of the group benefiting from the event.”

When asked to chair an event or be part of an event’s committee, you may be asked for a monetary contribution as well as that of your time. But don’t let a lack of funds keep you from supporting a cause that you care about. “I would never want anyone that isn’t financially capable to shy away from helping,” Laborde says. “I am a believer that time can be as valuable as money.”

If you decide to participate, be ready for anything to pop up, for details to change quickly as plans move forward and to help in any way you can (see box). “Finding your ‘Ah-ha!’ moment” can be the best part of planning, Laborde says. But once the event starts? “Smile and enjoy your event and the feeling of accomplishment in seeing a year’s worth of planning finally becoming a reality.”

“The added bonus in all this is finding lasting friendships,” she imparts. “And my favorite thought is that ‘Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer!” If Peggy Laborde’s history of giving back to her community inspires you, and if you “can do more,” then find a nonprofit whose mission speaks to you and volunteer – you may find that doing so gives back to you even more than your efforts give to it.


10 Chairing Tips from Peggy Laborde

1. Being organized is the key to a successful fundraiser.
2. Know people’s strengths and assign chairmanships accordingly, and committee members will easily follow.
3. When talking to potential corporate sponsors, plan ahead for “the ask” by being knowledgeable about your cause and accountable for the funds raised.
4. See the big picture while handling the day-to-day specifics.
5. Learn to delegate.
6. Remember that someone’s time can be as valuable as his or her money.
7. Always be prepared for plan “B” and the unknown speed bumps that will surely cross your path.
8. Be a good listener.
9. Have fun.
10. Remember to say thank you.

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