Taking charge of event planning | TheUnion.com

Taking charge of event planning

Shanin Ybarrando wears an apron that contains everything one might forget when planning an event such as: a screwdriver, scissors, tape, and sharpies. She is always prepared.
Photo by Lorraine Jewett |

It may seem counterintuitive, but some local nonprofit organizations have to pay money to raise money.

They hire an event coordinator, and Shanin Ybarrando is fast becoming the “go-to girl.”

Gold Country Community Services Executive Director Sandy “Jake” Jacobson knew she needed help as she prepared for the nonprofit’s third annual End of Summer Bash.

“Believe it or not, I have a background in event management,” she said. “So for me to ask for help meant the situation was pretty desperate. The truth be told, it wasn’t my idea to hire Shanin. It was more of an intervention from people close to me who could see the stress I was under.”

With just 11 part-time employees, Gold Country Community Services staff doesn’t have the time nor expertise to stage a major fundraiser such as the Sept. 16 Bash.

“Our mission and day-to-day work is to provide vital senior services,” said Jacobson. “So planning, coordinating, marketing and the logistics of hosting a major fundraiser can be a huge distraction, which can lead to problems. Not only that, but it’s personally very taxing on me and my family because all the fundraising work has to be done ‘after hours’ to comply with our grant funding.”

That’s why Gold Country Community Services turned to Ybarrando of Grass Valley-based Immersion Marketing.

“I kind of stumbled into helping local groups,” said Ybarrando, who has 20 years of event-planning experience. “I realized that there are people who are willing to put on events, but they don’t know how to do it. The staff at most nonprofits is so little and limited, that sometimes they get burned out just trying to do their jobs.”

A new beginning

Ybarrando started working with both nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses in 1997, when she divorced and “needed something to do.” She was at the helm of large-scale, for-profit events such as the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers four-day happening that drew crowds of 10,000 people in the early 2000s.

In 2016, Ybarrando started her own business and named it Immersion Marketing. About the same time, she was asked by the Grass Valley Downtown Association to coordinate the summer Thursday Night Market series.

“We reached out to outside help because we did not have an executive director who would normally manage the functions,” said Grass Valley Downtown Association Board President Lisa Swarthout.

“We used Shanin as a consultant to help us organize the event the past two years. Without her help, chances are we might not have done the market. It’s too hard of an event to do just with volunteers,” said Swarthout.

The summer series was a hit.

“We had 50 more vendors, young entrepreneurs, larger beer and wine garden, and a great mix of nonprofits, downtown merchants, and food and craft vendors,” said Ybarrando.

That success ignited Ybarrando’s enthusiasm for helping nonprofit organizations. Next up was the inaugural Mine, Wine, and Dine fundraiser for the Empire Mine Park Association.

“I met with the mine folks and told them I’d explain how to coordinate a fundraiser and give them advice,” she recalled. “But they said they wanted to hire me.”

The first-of-its kind event at Empire Mine netted $7,000 — deemed a success by all involved.

“One of the park rangers knew Shanin had coordinated Starry, Starry Nights so we hired her,” said Steve Sanchez, Mine, Wine and Dine event chair. “Everyone was telling us, ‘It’s your first event. You’ll need to let it grow before you make money on it.’ But with Shanin’s help, we made money our first year. She’s a real stickler for details, and has the ability on the day of the event to make field decisions. She’s easy to work with. I just think the world of her.”

While Ybarrando organizes fundraising events, she does not solicit sponsors.

“I have some relationships that allow me to secure in-kind donations and cash vouchers,” she said. “But I want the businesses to build relationships with the organization, not the hired coordinator.”

Ybarrando said effective nonprofits create a network of supporters who will support the mission of the charity.

“Everyone has a market,” she said. “Each organization must find people in this community that care about their cause, pull their heart strings, and nurture those relationships.”

Ybarrando also noted that profitable events have a common core.

One step ahead

“Organization is key,” she said, “plus committed volunteers and staff, and collaboration with community sponsors.”

Likewise, successful event coordinators share common skill sets.

“It’s all about planning and preparation,” said Ybarrando. “A good coordinator anticipates all the potential pitfalls. Back-up plans are important. For example, with the Empire Mine event, we were looking at the weather and anticipating we’d have issues with unseasonably cold weather. I was looking into getting a tent or heaters.”

(She opted for portable mushroom heating stands.)

“With experience, you learn to make sure there are things like enough garbage cans, scissors and tape, and plenty of electrical cords,” she continued. “I wear an apron that contains everything that might be forgotten — screwdriver, Sharpies, scissors, tape…”


“Let’s say a sign is leaning and you need to tape it up straight. Or linens are blowing in the wind and you need to tape them down. Or you need to hide a cord. Tape is magical!”

Events in the Bay Area and Los Angeles that she’s coordinated in the past, and several she continues to organize, earn Ybarrado three times what she charges for local events.

“Nonprofits are the foundation of this community,” she said. “If I can give my knowledge and fundraising experience to a nonprofit and teach them how to do this, then I feel I’m giving back. If my expertise can help them and guide them to where maybe they don’t need me next year, I’m fine with that, too.”

Ybarrando offers a discount to nonprofits because it’s the calling – not the cash – that make charities near and dear to her heart.

“Every time I get involved with a nonprofit, I learn more about the passion and dedication the volunteers and staff have for their cause,” said Ybarrando. “But I’ve also seen people get burned out and it’s not pretty. If hiring me gives them some relief, a break, then that’s a good thing.”

With Ybarrando’s help, Jacobson of the GCCS is looking forward to a successful End of Summer Bash.

“This year, I may actually get to converse with supporters and maybe even eat,” she said hopefully.

Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a business news feature, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.

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