The secret to sign-ups: nail your open house

Last week’s post focused on troubleshooting program attendance. This week, I’m taking a step back on our program timeline to address the challenge of pre-program sign-ups. HCA does not require advance sign-ups for every activity or class that we coordinate, but we are heavily reliant upon them for our more specialized 10-week programs. In our experience, the quickest way to a saturated sign-up sheet is a stand-alone open house wherein both the program and the instructor(s) are introduced to the community. Hosting an open house is an art however, and one that may not result in committed sign-ups without the following three considerations:

1. Tasty morsels

Free food and drink has great appeal to busy, working parents and their hungry children, not to mention seniors with limited mobility. Free nibbles also have a way of putting people at ease in the midst of a new opportunity; forking grapes can help them overcome the intimidation of trying something new. That said, free food can quickly get out of hand when “prospective participants” sneak home with a Cookie Monster-sized plate before you’ve even whipped out a sign-up sheet. To remedy this disappearing act, make a point to serve food after your program pitch. Disinterested attendees will head home, leaving you with a more serious group of prospective program sign-ups.

2. Sample examples

In addition to tasty morsels, examples of work relating to the proposed class are also great icebreakers for an open house event. They help demystify the subject matter, spur conversation and give prospective participants a vote of confidence — “Hey, I can do that!” Extra juicy tip: If possible, bring samples of student work from previous classes. Your own (more advanced) work might be a touch intimidating for newbies.

3. Mingle

You finish your awe-inspiring earth-crushing program schpeal and let loose the refreshments. What now? Get out there and talk it up some more! Go around the room and introduce yourself, one-on-one and one-by-one. Shakes residents’ hands, get their names, ask about their families, how they like the neighborhood, where they work, etc. Remember: positive relationships are the foundation for successful resident services. Practices that build trust and familiarity between you and the community you work with will invariably generate more signs-ups, and later, higher attendance. A beloved instructor makes for a beloved program; residents participate not only to learn a skill, but also to share in your enviable company.
What tips do you recommend for a sign-ups frenzy at a program’s open house?


Party of none? 5 tips to get butts in the seats on a budget

Interest surveys are a powerful tool for nonprofit social service providers in predicting the success of potential resident programs. But what do you do in that rare case when you provide a highly sought after program with a great instructor and attendance doesn’t measure up? Here are 5 low cost tips to help instructors get butts in the seats!

1. Dorm storm

The term “dorm storming” is a throwback to the college days when residence hall advisors would systematically knock on advisees’ doors to share information, announcements and reminders. While affordable apartment units are a far cry from student dormitories, the importance of introductions and (continued) face time – and we mean that in the pre-iPhone sense of the phrase — is paramount to sustainable program attendance. Spend 10–15 minutes prior to your next class to knock on a few resident doors and say hello. See for yourself how impactful this can be.

2. Post and host

Highly recommended for senior programs in particular, this idea came from one of our very own, Arbor Gardens volunteer April Joy. Mail out handwritten postcards to your regular attendees to remind them of your upcoming class or class series. Include the date(s) and time(s) along with some well wishing. Residents will be tickled to receive fun, personalized mail and more likely to remember your class schedule given this added gentle re- minder.

3. Give the lawn some company

Food isn’t the only thing that gets stale! So can your program promotion. While fresh new full color designs are a surefire way to attract more attention to your flyers, they are not always the most affordable. If your community has a high-traffic grassy area, a mobile lawn sign is a great way to combat tired promotion without breaking the bank. It goes up on days that you teach and stays in storage for those that you don’t. Skeptics delight! Vistaprint sells 18” x 12” lawn signs starting at just $12 and 27” x 18” lawn signs at $20.

4. Bring Batman to the party

What do the phrases “murder mystery birthday party,” “Batman birthday party” and “laser tag birthday party” all have in common? They all sound far more enticing than plain ole “birthday party.” Try applying this principle to your program to entice more participation. If you teach art, perhaps one month can focus on recycled art and the next on edible art. If you teach computer literacy, perhaps you can teach a “Photo Frenzy February” where all your lessons revolve around ways to take, share or edit photos. Brainstorm subjects that interest participants, then shape and promote your programming around them.

5. Hit the hiatus

Like many nonprofits, we are proud to be able to provide our services at no cost to residents. But like many of the free things in life, it’s often harder for people to value them in the same way that they might a paid service. Who can blame them? When changes in schedule, theme and promotion fail to improve attendance at your resident program, try taking a couple weeks o”. Give participants a chance to miss you and give yourself an opportunity to recharge and re-energize. After all, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

What tips do you recommend for improving resident services attendance?


Another kind of plus one: the Heimlich Family

Mom, Dad and their dog Lucy cuddle around baby Jonah on their bed

This sweet pile of love is the Heimlich Family. Mama and Papa  – Corey and Tamara to me – are dear friends and mentors. Their steadfast support has been so instrumental in my development as a writer and photographer, I was honored they asked me to photograph their first family portrait session with baby, Jonah. (Clearly, Jonah is their second child, as the hairier lass on the right so nosily – and endearingly – implies)

Baby Jonah rests cradled in his mother's arms

This is one of my favorite shots of Jonah above. His eyes have the color of his dad and the kind inquiry of his mum.

Mom, Dad and their dog Lucy cuddle around baby Jonah on the bed

Shooting newborns can be tricky business! But this little stud kept me on my toes. As a preemie, his esophagus wasn’t quite done cookin’, so milk was a’ flyin’ between clicks. That’s why he’s on a towel. And maybe that’s why Corey’s whispering “Aaaaargh” into his ear!

Mom cradles Jonah against a black backdrop and smiles, with head cocked, at the camera

Jonah is looking away in this one (LUNCH!), but Tamara is a vision with her flowing hair, off-the-shoulder blouse and all-out grace as she welcomes her baby into the world.

Black and white portrait of Baby Jonah taking a bath

There’s something so special about babies and bath time. I shot this one in black and white to really emphasize the gentle purity and inherently ephemeral nature of newborns. They grow up so darn fast…


Finding simple: my cheeseless inspiration

Vertical headshot of actress and friend, Tanny, in a mint v-neck shirt against a tree

Headshot of young actress smiling mischievously from the side against a red backdrop in a green lace sweater

While film was what brought Tanny and I together years ago, pizza is one of the many delights that keeps us together. I can always count on Tanny to enjoy my homemade pizza. In fact it was her cheeseless pie request that led to some of the best pizza I’ve made across 15+ years. You see, while pizza lovers may bicker over the subject of toppings, most of them envision it to be a warm union of crust, sauce and cheese. Having been one of those people, I had my reservations about “reducing” the holy trinity to a plain duo. But in the end, focusing my efforts on just these two elements yielded far better crusts and sauces, both independently and in combination with each other, than any of their predecessors. Cheese I realized, with its weightiness and viscosity, would have diminished the overall product by masking the complex tastes underneath.

A long-time friend and mentor, Tanny has brought me “back to basics” in more areas than the kitchen. A seeming contradiction, she brings depth to life and living by peeling back those internal layers of perceived necessity and fortifying the simple values that lie underneath. In the end, as I have come to learn from her, a genuine person does not need the cheese.


Vintage dream and cooking queen

Beautiful vintage clothing business owner poses with hands folded under her chin against a red backdrop Beautiful vintage clothing business owner poses in white dress with hand clasping hair against a red backdropBeautiful vintage clothing business owner poses in white dress with hair swept to left side against a red backdrop

Nena and I met in college and reconnected two fateful summers ago. One of the most talented cooks I know, she can whip up the most delectable of dishes from the sparest of kitchens. Given my unbridled weakness for breakfast and her secret recipe for The Best Pancakes Ever, I consider our friendship a rather heavenly match.

In addition to regular feats of culinary prowess, Nena is also the owner and operator of Jolie Vintage, an online vintage clothing store boasting styles from the ‘20s through the ‘50s. With her classy wardrobe, striking features and camera-comfy nature, I knew she would be the perfect match for my latest backdrop find: a saturated red bolt of fabric originally destined for patio furniture upholstery.


Libraries offer more than good reads

Vertical black and white portrait of my friend Anil in the courtyard of Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan

Books brought Anil and I together. He had one of those highly coveted library jobs during college and I was a paranoid geek who wanted to befriend the desk staff to avoid pending late fees. Years later, despite different cities and time zones, we still find time to catch up on good eats, good reads (naturally), good movies and the like. I was lucky enough to make a short visit to his new home in the great state of New York this past February.

I admire Anil’s quiet endurance through life’s challenges. It makes his sense of humor that much more unexpected. He has a great smile when he laughs, as he did in this photo taken in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.


Grandpa Jim

Vertical black and white portrait of my grandfather smiling at the kitchen table

A former schoolteacher, constant gardener and devout correspondent, Grandpa Jim made himself a regular part of my life through letter writing (we lived on opposite coasts for 18 years). He regularly mailed packages, filled with LA Times newspaper clippings that tightly sandwiched a typed letter. Grandpa Jim’s correspondence was painstakingly personalized; he only chose those articles that aligned with my hobbies – music, art, travel and the like – and diligently edited his writing. Any typos were neatly whited out and corrected with his penciled handwriting. He only ever used capital letters.

While I credit many educators for my development as a writer, I feel I owe him the greatest debt in this capacity. Were it not for him, my interest in writing and indeed, the power of words may never have been born.


Starry eyes studying the skies

Portrait of Jean-Rene leaning forward with his head cocked towards the camera in front of a brick wallTwo side-by-side vertical portraits with Jean-Rene leaning against a fence and a brick wall, arms crossed on left and a closer crop on his face on right

This handsome chap and I met through a mutual friend over the summer of 2011. Born in Montreal, Jean-Rene eventually made his way to the states in pursuit of astronomy. After completing his PhD at the University of Chicago, he left the windy city for a highly coveted post-doctoral fellowship at CalTech in Pasadena.

While his resume speaks to his intelligence, I wanted to use this portrait session as an opportunity to highlight those less suspecting qualities of a math and science whiz: his integrity, his independence and most importantly, his gentle and kind nature. Though we spent some time indoors with a studio backdrop, my favorite images and his most genuine expressions came from our outdoor adventures in the local neighborhood. In retrospect, I would have swapped out his patterned button-down for a solid color to bring even more attention to his face.

Web & Design

Creating a website for Tamara Leigh Photography

I built a website for Tamara Leigh Photography, consisting of a home page, 6 photo galleries, an about page, a client portal page, an additional services page and a contact page.

The photo below pertains to the Events gallery. It’s one of my favorite images from this particular subject of TLP’s portfolio.


This image below is within the architectural gallery.


The additional services page…


The about page, for which I also drafted the bio…


And last but not least, the contact page…