Events planner puts skill to work

Sunday, March 15, 2009
Last updated: Sunday March 15, 2009, 1:43 PM
BY DOUGLASS CROUSE
NorthJersey.com
STAFF WRITER

WAYNE — Like most everyone else these days, people who run non-profits are keeping a closer eye on dollars and cents.

Lauri Masur with client Stephen Shiman. "Organizations that maintain relationships with financial supporters on an ongoing basis are the ones doing best," Masur says.

CDK Events Management, Wayne

Owners: Lauri Masur (managing partner) and Eileen Lentz (founding partner)

Founded: 1984

Employees: Masur works from a home office

Revenue: $100,000 (average year)

Web site: cdkevents.com

Advice: "Get out and meet people, and keep up with your professional education," Masur says. "Also, don’t get too stuck in doing the daily job without stepping back to see the bigger picture."

Yet it's by emphasizing human connections that such groups stand the best chance of overcoming the hard times, says Lauri Masur, managing partner of CDK Events Management.

"I'm finding that the organizations that maintain relationships with financial supporters on an ongoing basis are the ones doing the best," she said.

Helping non-profits raise money and organize special events are the specialties of CDK, a small consulting firm founded a quarter-century ago. At times, Masur's involvement with clients goes to the heart of their operations.

The Roots & Wings Foundation, a Mountain Lakes organization that supports teenagers aging out of foster care, was all-volunteer at the time board President Kelly Delaney Joyce called Masur in September 2007.

An Oktoberfest fund-raising event had been scheduled for the following month, but staff members found themselves with limited time to devote to its planning, Masur said. They considered canceling, but worried about how supporters would view the move.

With Masur's assistance, things came together quickly, with the group raising as much money as the previous year. Joyce said she saw not only Masur's skill and experience at work, but evidence that "she feels compassion for our mission personally."

She was rehired for 2008 and helped the group double its funds — a feat that it acknowledges will be difficult to repeat in this economic climate.

Masur stays in regular contact with clients, which include the Newark School of the Arts and the Newark Public Library, and encourages them to hold small fund-raisers during the year as a way to reach out to donors.

She's not shy about reminding volunteers to make calls or following up with supporters herself.

"I've heard them call me a 'friendly nudge,' " she said with a laugh.

Working with the Newark arts school has proved to be an especially good fit for Masur, who studied drama and dance at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. After graduating, she waited tables in New York City, then landed a position helping to organize in-house events and productions at Radio City Music Hall.

It was there that she met Robert F. Jani, a special events producer for Radio City and Walt Disney Co. whom Masur called "the most creative man I've ever met." With the rest of his team, she planned events including the Reagan inauguration and the 1982 World's Fair opening celebration. Jani died in 1989.

After later managing advertising, public relations and special events at South Street Seaport for four years, she left to raise her two daughters, then reentered the work world part time organizing events at Harborside Financial Center in Jersey City.

It was in the late 1980s that she met CDK founder Eileen Lentz. She worked several years as a freelancer on events at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center before joining the company as an employee.

Masur became a partner in 2005 and now organizes six or seven events a year, with contractors hired as needed. Lentz moved to Charleston, S.C., and started a separate consulting business, but still travels north to work on occasional CDK projects.

Masur's next fund-raiser is for the Newark School of the Arts. Since many of its board members are in the financial industry, she worked with staffers in recent months to recruit new directors, including an artist and health care company representative.

Masur also started an annual "cultivation event" at the school, where prospective donors are invited to private student performances.

"She brings real skill to the art of attracting businesses to support our organization, along with real persistence," said Stephen Shiman, the school's executive director.

In soliciting financial support, knowing the right people to talk to is key. That can be a challenge following corporate mergers and employee relocations, which often mean forging new professional relationships, Masur said.

All that outreach culminates in the night of the event. Masur relishes her role as a sort of stage manager, fine-tuning décor, cueing speakers and generally keeping things moving — a role that might not be possible in a bigger company.

"I'm happy with the way things are now," she said.

"If we grew too much, my job would become more the selling of it all than running the events themselves."

E-mail: crouse@northjersey.com