United Way Schmoozefest 2011: Bringing the community together in the best possible way

Kelly Rusk (Twitter) is a former community manager turned consultant at Thornley Fallis in Ottawa. She spends much of her free time networking and seeking out Ottawa’s best local food offerings. She also blogs about marketing, public relations and community management at kellyrusk.ca.

Kelly Rusk

As a former community manager for startups, my focus was always around building and managing online communities of interest on topics related to our area of business. I would seek these people out on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or whatever niche site made sense, and start conversations, help them out when I could and basically just develop strong relationships that they would tie in to our brand. It’s a great way to grow and market a business on a tight budget and many startups are having success with a community building marketing strategy.

On the other hand, the non-profit world has many job titles that revolve around community: community activist, community builder, community organizers… These are the people that knock on doors, print newsletters and flyers and try to round up support in the organization’s target communities for the cause they truly believe in.

It always struck me as odd that these are two very separate job functions when they’re essentially doing the same thing. In fact, as a community manager I found the best way to solidify relationships with online community members was to meet them in person and add another dimension to the relationship. And while I know these non-profit community people are out there, I haven’t really seen them make the leap to the online world…

Schmoozefest 2011 took place last Thursday night at LAGO Bar and Grill at Dow’s Lake Pavilion

My whole perspective on the topic changed this past Thursday thanks to an event called Schmoozefest, organized by the United Way Ottawa. I knew that United Way Ottawa was a charity that really gets social media. If you’re on Twitter and regularly connect with people in Ottawa, you no doubt know Stacey Diffin-Lafleur who’s been championing social media for United Way Ottawa – and the greater Ottawa non-profit world – since I first met her years ago.

While the event has been happening for six years, this is the third time that Stacey’s been on the team and really made the connection between a typical non-profit community event and the online community. It’s heavily promoted online and brings out many of Ottawa’s most-connected online folk.

Balloon fun at Schmoozefest

Thursday’s event also managed to attract a diverse business community, one that those of us living in the social media bubble tend not to meet on a regular basis. Basically, if you want to “schmooze” (that is networking in a business capacity, by the way) then Schmoozefest is definitely the place to be.

Funny enough, the event wasn’t even just about schmoozing. Beau’s Brewery and Spice Box Whisky provided free samples, along with food (some from the Piggy Market). The night also included a silent and live auction (I got a gift certificate to a favourite store of mine, Red Velvet), as well as balloons – $10 a piece that the emcee instructed we all pop at the same time.

Mike Machargo won the United Way Community Builder Award

As a final act of truly bringing the online and local Ottawa community together, United Way Ottawa presented the Community Builder Award to Mike Machargo. Mike has been a driving force behind the CHEO BBQ in his capacity as the co-founder and partnership director of the event (read about its history here). He has quickly become a driving force behind Ottawa’s Twitter community as well. Congratulations on the well-deserved award Mike!

This was my first experience at Schmoozefest and I will definitely always make it a priority to go in future years. It’s the type of event that really demonstrates what a great community Ottawa has… And a generous one at that: the event raised more than $22,000 for United Way Ottawa!

Congratulations to the Ottawa community for raising $22,000 for a great cause. Looks like Schmoozefest was loads of fun – thanks for sharing your experience, Kelly!