Overwhelming… with kindness

March 1, 2020 - 12:00am -- Living City

Overwhelming… with kindness
Anxiety over unanswered emails and calls leads to a shift in approach for a large gala

I am the CEO at a nonprofit organization, and our goal is to lift people out of poverty and to help stabilize their lives. It takes a significant amount of money to run such an organization, as we serve over 10,000 annually. We primarily rely on federal and state contracts, but the rest of our income is generated from personal fundraisers.

Each spring we hold a large gala, which is no small undertaking. This involves finding a venue, selecting the menu, designing and mailing save-the-date cards and invitations, as well as decorating the hall before the event. We always hope that people RSVP early enough for us to start the seating arrangements.

Typically, we present an award to an individual who has done exceptional work in the community. The honorees often invite family and friends to share the event with them, usually about 20 people. This year the honoree’s family was so excited, they invited 100 people!

The hotel venue assured me and my colleague that it had seating for just over 200, but I was fairly certain that we would have many more guests. Meanwhile, our honoree was still changing his personal guest list, and in addition, we were getting more RSVPs from a number of our large donors. We also knew that often guests, who have not responded, buy tickets at the door.

Suffice it to say, we were getting nervous.

My colleague tried to reach the event manager, but she wasn’t returning our phone calls or emails. The event was getting closer and closer, and the hotel still didn’t know that our list had already reached 240 confirmed guests.

My coworker was fuming. “I’m going to drive over to that hotel, march right into that woman’s office and give her a piece of my mind. How dare she ignore us!” Meanwhile, my own anxiety was mounting as I imagined 20 guests with nowhere to sit.

In that moment of frustration, fear and anger, I took a moment to stop, breathe and pray. I asked the Holy Spirit for guidance, saying, “Help! I can’t do this on my own!”

I managed to get my colleague to calm down, as I told her, “You are absolutely right. We need to go to the hotel and talk to the event manager. But not by making a scene.” I suggested that we overwhelm this woman with love and kindness.

So we drove to the hotel, went to the front desk, and asked the receptionist to speak with the event manager. When she came, I introduced myself and thanked her for all her help, in spite of how busy she was. I explained why we were so far over our estimated number of guests, acknowledging that I understood the inconvenience this had created for her and her staff.

I really tried to put myself in her place, realizing that she had many events to coordinate, not just ours. She was probably used to people being angry and demanding.

As I spoke, I could see her relax. “Oh it’s not inconvenient,” she told me, “We want the event to be perfect for you. We can definitely arrange the room to comfortably seat all of your guests; it’s not a problem at all.”

In the end, her only real concern was the chef’s reaction. She excused herself and went to the kitchen. When she returned, she confirmed with the chef that we would have enough food for everyone.

The entire exchange took less than 20 minutes.

On our way back to the office, my colleague said to me, “I need to learn from you. Your approach was so much better than mine. Love and kindness is always the best choice.”

But I know that it was the Holy Spirit, and not me, who came up with a plan to overcome the situation with love.

- L. M., Boston

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