Name: Brenda Vanderhorst
Lives: Langley, BC
Works: Volunteer and Project Coordinator, The Salvation Army, Gateway of Hope
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a single woman living in the Fraser Valley with education in event planning, time management and coordination in general. I have the Hospitality Event Planning Certificate through UFV. It took me a couple trials and errors to get to what I wanted to do and what career goals to focus on. I’m a creative with a business twist; I like to do projects but I also like the paperwork and management.
How long have you been working in nonprofit?
Just over 2 and a half years.
What did you study? How did you start in this field?
When I picked event planning, I didn’t know that I’d end up in nonprofit. While I was going through the hospitality and event program I started getting an inside look into what event planners generally do, and it wasn’t what I was interested in. So I started talking about nonprofit and charity. After I graduated, I started looking into nonprofit work in event planning. Eventually I managed to get my first break with a who-you-know through a relative. That contract threw me into the deep end of event planning and I loved it. It was the creative portion that really drew me in. My creative side was what I always wanted to fuel with event planning. I gained a ton of experience really quickly, and that opportunity led me to have enough experience so that doors were opened to me. When I applied at Gateway of Hope and got the job, I knew it was where I was supposed to be. It’s a very stressful job but also so fulfilling.
Take us through a day in your life.
Every 5 minutes (and this is also my personality coming through) I’m working on something different. I check my email; I get over 100 emails a day. On any given day I’ll look back at my computer and I’ll have 8 emails with one sentence, 3 Excel spreadsheets, a couple of Word docs, and a Publisher design on the go. I also have a lot of meetings. I assess and place volunteers and provide continual support for 120-150 volunteers. As communications coordinator, I am in charge of all the communications—press releases, pamphlets, mailers. In the coordination industry you’re pulled away from something to deal with something else, and then you need to come back and keep going. Working in not-for-profit you have to learn to wear whatever hat is needed for the day—whether it’s in your job title or not.
How does your faith interact with your career and creative pursuits?
My faith directly relates to my career pursuits. Having being blessed to work in a few different Christian environments, I know how it changes how you interact, what drives the team and how you look at the end result. In all I do, I do it for Christ and his will and I want to work for and with those that share that with me.
What are some tools or tricks you use to stay organized and inspired?
I jot down notes and ideas. I don’t like using technology for that because I think it stifles my creative process. Pen and paper is a more natural creative process. I do love post-it notes, but they have to be neon—none of this pastel nonsense. Maybe because they’re more vibrant and it reminds me to look at it. If you look around my office, if there’s something that inspires me I will put it up on my bulletin board.
To stay creative in planning events, I think through the five senses. When I walk into the room what do I want to see? What do I feel or touch? What’s the texture of the room? What do I want to taste? Hear? It’s all important. I think about the demographic. What are they looking for in the event? When I see something I like, I try ask myself: how would I do that? I also talk it out and pace; I have a tall table at work where I can pace while I draw out the space and the event.
What’s one career dream you have for your future?
Something I learned about myself in the last couple years is that I have a heart for training. I would love to be a facilitator of event planning or time management and coordination. But I don’t know what that looks like yet. When I take professional development—whether I’m going to a conference or a seminar or if I’m actually just taking non-violent crisis prevention training—I actually really like the atmosphere. It can be a little quirky, but I love making it fun. I’ve been through really bad ones and really good. The repetitiveness of it scares me a little bit, but if there’s anything in my future that I want to pursue it would be a facilitator of some sort of workshop. I’d even be interested in getting my diploma in teaching or whatever I’d need so I could actually teach at a university level.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career in events or nonprofit?
Research. Both the nonprofit and the cause. For event planning, you need to be resilient—to keep pushing until you get there. It’s about volunteering, gaining experience, talking to people and making contacts.
What’s one surprising thing about you?
One surprising thing about me is my insane love for animals. Not necessarily that I want to live on a farm with every sort, but that I love learning everything about them. Insatiable appetite for animal knowledge.