In today’s episode, Lindsay Simonds explores the universe of events and fundraising with premier event producer Kelley O’Brien.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, rate, and review.

Deepening Relationships and Centering Oneself

“There are so many things we can’t do as event planners; now is a time to engage, get creative and deepen relationships. And when we’re back together, it’ll be a heck of a party!” Click To Tweet

There are so many things we can’t do during these days, and for event planners like Kelley O’Brien, creativity has been essential in order to pivot during the crisis and keep the business going. Things are much different now than they were six months ago, and we’ve seen a huge increase in virtual events, and more and more people engaging online to collaborate.

Unfortunately, it is hard for event planners to make the magic happen without human-to-human interaction, so how can we delight donors and keep relationships with vendors and donors open? In today’s episode, Lindsay Simonds explores the universe of events and fundraising with premier event producer Kelley O’Brien, as she shares how things have changed during the pandemic and how those who’s industries have been rocked can slow down, take time to center oneself, and get healthy. 

Delighting your audience in a virtual reality

Behind every fundraising event, there is a huge amount of creative genius, logistics and months of planning. Organizations hire event producers for their expertise in executing plans from the bottom to the top in an effort to captivate and enhance relationships. Never has the events industry faced a more challenging time. As Kelley puts it, ‘safety comes first’, and as much as we’d like to get together to network and celebrate — and get inspired to make a difference — the fact of the matter is that it’s simply not possible.

Since the current coronavirus outbreak began, Kelley, and many other event planners, have had to come up with creative ways to make ends meet. Wedding planners have created new concepts for weddings, where “attendees” get sent a bottle of champagne, in order to celebrate simultaneously with the few people that do get to attend the wedding. Many nonprofits are resorting to virtual nonprofit events, that allow people from all across America to join in with a link. And although these measures help in keeping people engaged and drawing some amount of funds for nonprofits, revenues are certainly down this year.

The problem in fundraising events is that the most profitable events like concerts and golf tournaments are simply out of the question. Since then, Kelley has had to come to terms with the reality that her most profitable events will not take place this year, and the ones that get rescheduled for next year may not have the same budgets as they did before. That’s why she’s much more inclined now to keep her audience engaged, her relationships open, and planning for the future.

Slowing down and taking a breath

Before the outbreak, Kelley O’Brien was out in the market to make the magic happen. From planning to execution and post-event evaluation, Kelley and her team were constantly surpassing their clients’ expectations. She built the special events and community relations program for University of California San Francisco Medical Center, and 6 years ago, Kelley opened her event company: Kelley O’Brien Events, specializing in boutique nonprofit events, helping others create awareness and raise funds. Kelley’s attention to detail, great communication and amazing experience has always helped her create memorable and impactful events to build. 

Nowadays, Kelley has had to take a step back from delighting customers and has switched her focus on to herself and spend quality time with people. The same passion that allowed her to become an events powerhouse, is now guiding her experience into previously untapped territories. The pandemic has allowed her to meditate and perform breathwork exercises, engage in her favorite hobbies and try to bring joy into other people’s lives. 

Every Dollar Counts

Many people have been devastated by the downturn of the economy, and that’s raised Kelley’s awareness on how blessed she is. Even if she doesn’t have the money to cut big checks to various organizations, she is still finding ways to contribute and make a difference to those in need. A purpose-driven life knows no boundaries when it comes to helping and adopting philanthropy as a way of living. 

It does take a village to maintain any program and any profit, so she donates whatever is possible for her, and whenever she gets an opportunity to help somebody, she does so. When a family in front of her in the line in the supermarket was unable to pay their groceries, Kelley pulled out her wallet and paid the groceries for them. This is only one example of the many small acts of kindness that Kelley practices as a way of living, and the reason why having a sense of philanthropy goes beyond the size of your donation. Every bit does count in making a difference and there are little ways you can contribute to making the world a little easier.

Key Takeaways: 

(07:27) – Kelley’s story and how she got into the event planning business, doing events and community relations for UCSF, to eventually becoming an event powerhouse, planning events for nonprofits through her firm Kelley O’Brien Events.

(12:40) – Life is a full circle: How Kelley pivoted during the crisis and the importance of impactful and long-lasting connections inside the event planning world.

(14:13) – Delighting your audience in a virtual reality and recreating the human-to-human experience: how Kelley’s vision and craft have adapted during the COVID19 pandemic. 

(22:38) – How Kelley caught the philanthropy bug and understood why $10 does make a huge difference.

(28:01) – Why the purest form of philanthropy is found in the love for helping others. 

(31:22) – How event planners have stepped up and created new opportunities to thrive through the pandemic.

Connect with Corey

Kelley O’Brien Events

Follow Kelley O’Brien’s Instagram

Episode Resources

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital

No Kid Hungry

Hailey Lott Meditation

Holiday Heroes 

The Power Trip

Hell Yeah or No

The Power Trip

All Stars Helping Kids

Do It For The Love


Family House

Jennifer Gilbert

Party on the Moon by Jes Gordon