Posted by David Oates 1 year, 7 months ago

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I had the distinct privilege of attending the annual Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year gala in the Washington D.C. area yesterday. The event was attended by nearly 500 individuals and underwritten by a host of national and global companies. I was honored to be a judge and continue to serve on the organization’s regional Board of Advisors. Without question, it was one of the best events I’ve attended in some time.

That’s because despite all of the opportunities to make the gala a sales pitch, Operation Homefront wisely took a different tact, and made the event about everyone but themselves.

The 8th Annual Military Child of the Year gala recognized seven outstanding military children who demonstrated resiliency, leadership and achievement. The honorees representing each service branch are awarded a laptop computer and $10,000. Their stories of accomplishment and perseverance amidst a steady diet of long separation from their loved ones alongside regular, unsettling, cross country moves were inspiring. The award recipients ranged in age from nine to 17. Some of them have endured — and overcome — their own debilitating and, at times life threatening, medical hardships that somehow never hampered their drive to serve others. Their accomplishments far outpace their years. I came away not only in awe, but even more committed to do what I can for Operation Homefront.

The kicker was that I felt this way without ever feeling pressured into it. In fact, not only did CEO John Pray shy away from calling for donations, he and his staff orchestrated a gala that focused on expressing their gratitude toward others for what they do to foster strong, stable and secure military families. Sure their brand was all over the gala decorations, but their message was clear; that the stars in the room were the children being recognized, the families who supported them and those in attendance who where honoring them. Operation Homefront’s leaders were quick to thank the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, key corporate supporters that included La Quinta Hotels, United Technologies, Chase, Booz Allen Hamilton, Aflac, active duty military service members in attendance and veterans who have served. No where in those remarks did a call for more funds come through. 

In doing so, Operation Homefront accomplished two things. First, they made each one of us attending the gala feel a part of the organization’s inner circle that are committed to ensuring military service members, veterans, wounded warriors and families thrive in the challenging environment in which they reside. More importantly, they created their own cadre of supporters that are taking it upon themselves to do more and spread the word to others about getting involved. They did this all without ever asking anyone to do it. It happened because they created an event that fostered that genuine, sincere and very powerful spirit organically. In short, the 500 of us left that event committed to getting this organization whatever it needs to perform its mission.

Marketers take note. A good event is not predicated on your organization taking center stage. The opposite is true. Make your event about celebrating those in attendance with little to no accompanying sales pitch. If done right, you’ll get more in return than you ever anticipated.

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