Filling Your Social Impact Event with Purpose

I love a good gathering. Whether it’s a birthday party, donor event, strategic retreat or quarterly team meeting, I love bringing people together.

Many of you know, I love a good gathering. Whether it’s a birthday party, donor event, strategic retreat or quarterly team meeting, I love bringing people together. I believe we can do more together than apart, and I believe that people and relationships are the key to our success as leaders in our companies, communities and in our own families.

So when a good friend of mine, Karin Copeland of CreateXchange, shared a book recommendation with me, I could tell by the title that I would eat it up. “The Art of Gathering” was written by Priya Parker, a master facilitator, strategic advisor and author.

While there is no substitute for reading this great book, I wanted to share some of my key takeaways with you. I’m going to do this in two parts. First, in this blog, we will talk about defining the purpose of an event and planning the details around that purpose. Next month, I will share some of what I loved about Parker’s take on “hosting with authority.”

(And if you love events as much as I do, be on the lookout for a new event series I am launching called, “Cocktails and Connections”. These events will be hosted at my home with the purpose of bringing together social innovators in our community, creating new connections and celebrating the wins and stumbles of life along the way. If you want to receive a “save the date”, email me at I’m looking forward to these gatherings!)

Gathering with Purpose: A 3-step process

After the last two years, many of us want to get together just because we can. That’s understandable! But as we move forward, we should do so realizing that getting people together is powerful and should be done with intention.  Parker suggests a 3-step process.

Step 1: A meaningful gathering requires a bold, sharp purpose.

For example, even if you are planning a birthday party for yourself, Parker argues that you shouldn’t think about this in a boring, uninspired way. “Marking another year” is an obvious reason for a birthday party – but it’s not sharp or bold.

Drill down into the reason why you want to have a birthday party, and you may find a better purpose. Maybe you feel stuck in a rut and want to get out of your comfort zone. In that case, the party itself should be well outside your comfort zone – think skydiving or rock-climbing. Or maybe you want to celebrate the people in your life that are special to you as you ring in a new year – how about giving gifts to your guests that signify the special role they play in your life.  Now we’re talking about a gathering with purpose! 

The birthday party is a personal event, but most gatherings are naturally more about community. Whether you are wanting a teambuilding event for your staff or board, a fundraising event for your nonprofit organization, or a neighborhood potluck, the first part of planning should be honestly identifying your “why?”

Do you need a team retreat because you have several new team members and people simply don’t know each other? Or have the last two years of remote work created a distance between people that have worked together for many years.  Is your organization considering new strategies for growth and change and need to build alignment among your key players?  Have a couple of hard decisions left your board distrustful of each other? Those different “whys” should produce very different events.

Step 2 – Choosing “who” will support your “why”

Knowing your purpose should help you to decide who to invite.

Those calculations may be harder when it’s something like a fundraising event or a networking opportunity. When planning these events, we need to think about who helps fulfill the gathering’s purpose – and who threatens that purpose.

Pay special attention to the names that you feel obligated to invite – even though they don’t really fit the purpose of the event. Sometimes you need to “exclude” well, by reframing in your mind what you mean when you think about generosity. You want to be generous to your guests, by honoring the purpose of the event.

Step 3 – Choosing a place that supports your purpose

Most of us have had the experience of a gathering that was badly placed. Perhaps it was a serious discussion at a too loud restaurant, or an outdoor gathering in bad weather. We know the frustration of having an environment that obviously didn’t match the purpose. But sometimes the mismatch is more subtle.

We behave differently in boardrooms than we do in picnic pavilions. We bring out a different side of ourselves at a nature lodge, compared to a downtown hotel conference room. Seek a setting that embodies the reason for your convening. When a place embodies an idea, it brings a person’s whole being into the experience, not just their minds.

Following through on your event’s purpose

Of course, we all have attended events that got highjacked – a board retreat that was supposed to be about strategic planning and turned into a rehash of the recently unveiled logo, or a “meet the new executive director” reception that ended up talking more about the outgoing executive director. Once you have the right purpose, people and place for your event, Parker says you need to follow through and “host with authority.”

That means setting expectations, speaking frankly about your purpose, and being thoughtful about how people arrive and exit (both literally and metaphorically) your event.

I’m going to talk about that more next month! In the meantime, check out the book and remember to email me ( you want to be included in “Cocktails and Connections.”

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