What is a cool career? When you are considering the kind of work that engages you in just the right way, what would you choose? A cool career captures your imagination. Cool careers are exciting! In this series, I interview people doing the work, digging into the highlights and challenges of the work and the advice they would give others.
After Kirsten Richardson organized her own high school reunion, she knew she could help others. Her enthusiasm spills throughout her interview. She is one of those people – someone who likes to make things happen. An important quality for Reunion Planners.
Having a fascination with people is also key. As with other planners, good organizational skills, flexibility, creativity and budgeting ability add to the mix of the multi-dimensional requirements for the work.
Kirsten launched Reunions With Class in 1993. She has witnessed the work shift and change with the times. Social media, for example, has impacted reunion turnout as people are in contact more often.
A trend that Kirsten has noticed is 40-, 50- and 60-year reunions are the most popular. Often the best attended reunions are 50 years. By that time, classmates are 68 years old. Their participation in the reunion is usually very rewarding says Kirsten, more than a 10-year reunion. She sees emotional attachment central to this tendency.
Attendance at a reunion is partially dependent on the committee members and the connections they have maintained throughout the years. Committee members are people from the graduating class, ambassadors who form the “personality pizzazz,” offering the unique nuances such as the memorable times experienced by that particular class.
Kirsten sees her role with the committee as, “We provide the little black dress and it is up to the committee to provide the accessories and the bling.”
The Reunion Planner takes on the grunt work – finding current contact information, organizing the venue, food, music and decorations and taking on the financial responsibility of the mostly up-front costs. This frees the committee to spend their time on making the event special and having a great time.
The committee pays a $500 deposit to secure services. Once attendance goals are achieved, the deposit is refunded. The actual costs of the event are paid by participant registration fees, which include the reunion planner’s work.
Attendance goals are determined by the class size, the year of the reunion and any information from previous reunions. The committee and the reunion planners are all working toward the goal. “It is a team effort,” says Kirsten. Everyone is highly motivated to get strong attendance.
Who actually attends the reunion is based on two factors. The first is the ability to locate the graduates. Some classes have great information, individuals who have kept in contact with each other through the years.
In the cases where classmates have spread afar, the reunion planner has tools to find them. Kirsten explains that the resources they use are sophisticated and extensive, not something the general public can access. She adds, “but we are not magicians.”
The second factor for who attends is people’s own view of themselves. People who think that they don’t measure up often don’t attend their reunions. This a challenge of the work, Kirsten explains, because who actually attends the class are often “a slice of the class – not necessarily the class.”
If she could, Kirsten would bottle the essence of a high school reunion so that she could pass it on to the people who are hesitant about attending. Having organized over 1,200 reunions, Kirsten has witnessed how glad people are that they attended, and what a good time they had, despite their pre-jitters.
How much people enjoy themselves is what Kirsten appreciates about her work. “You are working with happy people doing happy things.” She has seen the reconnections that people have made, romances that have developed and relationships that have rekindled.
For Kirsten what makes this a cool career is working with people as well as the variety of the tasks. So much is seasonal, a different focus throughout the year. For example, reunions happen from July to September, often planned 6 to 12 months in advance. Invitations and social media are sent in February which is also when registrations begin to happen. Locating classmates happens in the winter.
Besides the seasonality, what is intriguing about the work according to Kirsten is gaining an understanding of human behaviour.
For example, “people that go and people that won’t” go to the reunion. She has found that people who haven’t kept in touch are less likely to attend their reunion. For some, “even if you paid them, they won’t go.”
For people entering the field, Kirsten suggests the necessity to be realistic on the expectations for attendance; projections are important in the success and planning of the reunion. The industry is changing so paying attention to those trends are important.
Kirsten suspects in 20 years, the business will look extremely different. What she knows for sure is that it will be fun.