“Work Your Tutu Off”

COMM 297: Communication Practicum

This course gives students experience in the various aspects and fields of professional communication by applying principles learned in their coursework to outside-of-class projects and work environments. Projects are primarily self-directed with minimal supervision, and students do not meet collectively as a class on a regular basis. Students will be able to apply information learned in communication classes to real-life experiences.

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Introduction: Personal & Practicum

The Process

Phase I | Brainstorming

The Thank-A-Thon is strategically placed a week before Giving Tuesday as an unofficial primer. It’s a new venture for Ballet Idaho; last year was the first time they’d ever done it. My practicum mentor, Aspen Phillips, generously allowed me to take the lead in our collaboration efforts, offering feedback and direction based on her professional experience. Last year, they conducted phone calls to express their thanks. While these calls were well-received, there were two main concerns going into this year’s event:

  1. The callers found it difficult to concentrate on their scripts over the noise of so many other volunteers in the room speaking at the same time.
  2. Aspen wanted to incorporate more creativity into the event.

At first, I had been a little confused on what “Giving Tuesday” actually was without realizing it, so I’d originally suggested these ideas for the event:

After running it by Aspen, she wanted to have a more casual event, especially to contrast Ballet Idaho’s 50th Anniversary Ball that happened earlier this year. She also let me know our budget would need to be under $200, so I merged my prior ideas into this new format:

Aspen loved these ideas, but there were two problems: 1.) Ballet Idaho has hundreds of donors, so unfortunately, this format wouldn’t translate well, and 2.) it was then that I learned Giving Tuesday is meant for organizations like Ballet Idaho to be given funding, not for Ballet Idaho to give back to donors. I went back to the drawing board, and suggested this option:

Aspen liked this idea too, the only issue was that the donors already receive so much mail, especially at this time of year, and we’d hate for our gratitude to get lost in the crowd. Before settling on traditional phone calls, one more idea came to mind:

While Aspen liked the components of this idea a lot, she wasn’t sure how it would come across, fearing the virtual aspect might read impersonal, mainly because it would be on the donors’ shoulders to be thanked. We ended up deciding that last year’s format would be the way to go—with some necessary adjustments, of course. We’d organize shifts for fewer callers at a time to limit the noise, and then try to come up with some other ideas to make it more meaningful and engaging for all involved.

Phase II | Planning & Preparing

The next steps were for me to prepare more detailed plans as well as a layout for the phone call format, create a timeline of to-do’s, establish a site for volunteers to register, then draft and design the volunteer invitations.

Another of Ballet Idaho’s events, their 50th Anniversary Gala, took place right around the time of our planning this event, so from time to time, we had to work around it and tweak the Thank-A-Thon’s timeline. Eventually, we were ready to get the sign-up site up and running, but had to delay sending out volunteer invitations until the beginning of November.

We were then ready to draft our budget and tailor our event around it accordingly. Unfortunately, there are some items we wanted to include but had to sacrifice. Still, in many instances, we were able to think outside the box and find budget-friendly options for other ideas, so creativity still got to win! Between the schedule and our budget to guide us along, we were able to maintain perspective. It’s amazing how reviewing these items along with our layout plans over and over again clued us in to additional things we’d need by different dates, meaning our lists were ever-evolving.

Having the technical work completed, I then got to dive into some of the extra fun components of planning this event, and put my design skills to the test by making “prototypes” of some of the items that we planned to use.

Given some other projects Aspen often had to see to in other areas of Ballet Idaho’s Development Department, contact was at times understandably reduced. Near the tail end of this part of the process, I took the opportunity to consolidate our budget and to-do list, update the event schedule, and create a master packing list in an effort to make our upcoming event and its prior week run a bit more smoothly.

As the event drew closer, we went from me awaiting assignments during our weekly check-ins to the assignments making themselves, and the communication becoming more two-way. But again, between everything else Ballet Idaho had going on this season and with Aspen needing to be out of office at times, we were beginning to run behind schedule. At that point, I got in touch with Aspen’s coworker Cassie, Ballet Idaho’s Development and Events Manager, to lighten Aspen’s load, get everyone on the same page, and bring us back on track. 

The time finally came to announce the volunteer—or, “call-unteer,” as I liked to call them—slots. This may seem silly, but I have to admit how exciting it was to see both my written content and design work published as an official company email!

Once I received an updated list of donors, I was able to begin making binder sheets for our call-unteers and update our progress tracker—that was 372 pages by hand! We decided to streamline the tedious process of reviewing notes with a two-basket feedback system wherein call-unteers will sort their call sheets into corresponding baskets at the end of their shifts.

Despite being within budget, more items were cut during the final review process, including making our own T-shirt as a raffle prize, and some decorative items. After purchasing the approved supplies, it was relieving, scary, exciting—you name it—to see our lists get smaller!

Phase III | Execution

In this final phase of preparing, we spent the week beforehand locking in volunteers, assembling equipment, and getting packed. We found we were a little light on sign-ups, so we removed the 7:00-8:00 p.m. shifts on both days of the event, emailed an internal sign-up reminder, and did some social media plugs—all of which helped! With the supplies having arrived the week prior, it was time to put everything together for the event. It was a lot of work, but so fun to see it all begin to come together! Plus, my cat was glad to volunteer (I think she was hoping that maybe I’d pack her too).

I also did a redesign of the bookmarks to incorporate the design I’d done earlier for the T-shirts, which we ended up deciding not to make. We’ll take the poem I wrote from my old bookmark design, and use it on the thank you emails following the event.

Phase IV | Final Results
Thank-A-Thon: Day One

When the first day of the event finally came, my husband, Tanner, kindly offered to help us with the loading, unpacking, setting up, and various odd jobs throughout. He and I met Aspen a bit early to get everything set up.

Pretty soon, the event was in full swing. I checked volunteers in, Aspen got everyone situated, and then our call-unteers hit the phones. By the end of the first day, we’d made 288 of 372 calls! We were definitely sitting pretty for the final day of the Thank-A-Thon.

Thank-A-Thon: Day Two

Given our success during the event’s first day, we decided to curtail some of the Thank-A-Thon’s second day, and only run one hour-long shift. It’s a smart thing we did, because within only 20 minutes, we were only about 10 phone calls way from reaching our end goal. Then nearly halfway through the shift, we reached our fourth and final milestone—372 phone calls!

All in all, everything ran smoothly, all of the volunteers found their stride within their roles rapidly, and we all had a lot of fun together—and, we came in under budget! I was also fortunately able to network with some of the Ballet Idaho staff. Among many things, it goes to show how key both preparation and organization are. Ballet Idaho’s volunteers were all so gracious in recognizing and acknowledging all of the work we put in and how well everything turned out. Aspen even decided to hold on to a lot of the materials I made for next year’s Thank-A-Thon! In fact, Aspen was so impressed with my work, that she also kindly gave me a tour of Ballet Idaho, allowed me to sit in on a rehearsal, endorsed me for a few skills on LinkedIn, and generously gave my husband and I tickets to Ballet Idaho’s upcoming performance of Swan Lake—my favorite ballet—as a thank you for all of our help and effort! She did not have to do any of this, nor did we expect it, but these gestures all meant so much to me.


I was grateful to get a behind-the-scenes vantage point to what representing a dance company looks like in a communicative sense while better understanding the philanthropic aspects that go into keeping that company thriving.

All along the way, I experienced for myself something that Aspen herself pointed out, which is that you can have all the greatest, most creative ideas, but then the reality of finances sets in. At one point during our early collaboration, Aspen expressed she didn’t mean to “shoot down” my ideas, especially because she did love them. I told her not to worry—when you care about the work you do, it’s easier not to take it personally since everyone knows what the higher end-goal is. My creativity tempered with the wisdom Aspen has already gained by firsthand experience provided me with necessary training, and in turn, my fresh eyes offered her new insight. Overall, I enjoyed the refining aspects of this hands-on learning experience, and was anxious to soak up everything there was to be gained by it.

Now, I have a problem—a fun one, but a frustrating one nonetheless: 76 hours of this project later, and I am more confused than ever about which career I’d like to pursue longterm! The whole reason I decided to major in professional studies was because it allows me to combine communication and political science into one, customized degree, and therefore qualifies me for various fields of interest to me, such as diplomacy, public affairs, or philanthropy. Fortunately, doing public relations or development within the humanities field could fit right in. Unfortunately, because I enjoyed getting back into ballet so much, the problem now is that I’m wondering which field of all the ones I’m interested in to settle on! Still, I’m glad I have multiple doors open to me rather than a few or just one.