Despite civil unrest and a 10 p.m. curfew in Baltimore in the wake of the police shooting of Freddie Gray, the events team at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital went ahead with its May 2 gala fundraiser. The gamble paid off; the gala saw a 50 percent increase in guest count and a 100 percent increase in donations from its on-site efforts--including its silent auction and "Fund a Wish" campaign--over the 2014 event.
Event planners often postpone or cancel their events during widespread disasters. But the event team believed it had to go on with second annual Storybook Gala.
"So many events [in Baltimore] canceled," says Jill Feinberg, the hospital's director of marketing and communications. But the auction at the gala itself "is a major fundraiser for us." The 2014 event was such a success, "We had a lot of new faces, new momentum," she says. "So to change the date would be a hardship on us, as well as for the people who were coming into town for the event."
Further, the Mt. Washington team felt that postponing the event would send the wrong message to the very group of patients it was dedicated to serve. "This was the mantra for us," says Tammany Buckwalter, director of special events. Much of the rioting in Baltimore occurred on the city's west side, the area the hospital serves. The hospital team wanted their patients to know that "We are still here for them," Buckwalter says. "We are not going to close our doors."
THE BAD NEWS The event team became alarmed about rioting the Saturday prior to the event. The team, including Baltimore-based event partners Union3 Event Productions, spent the day discussing their options. The following day, Monday, they met with hospital management and made the decision to move the event from its original location—the Hyatt Regency downtown—to a space outside of town: the Maryland State Fairgrounds. The contract was signed the next day.
In short order, the event team lined up prominent local caterer Linwoods to prepare a menu including 650 crab cakes and filets. "I credit that to our relationship with Union3," Feinberg says. "They have great relationships in the city." Select Event Rentals supplied rental inventory while Chicka handled decor (see photo above; photo by Red Rose Photography).
Before the After
Transforming the fairgrounds involved carpeting 28,000 square feet of flooring, hiding cinder blocks with pipe and drape, and installing rigging for lighting (see photo above; photo by Tom Paullin). The team went to work Friday morning to meet the Saturday night go-time. The team used their original event layout, but added in space for kitchen operations and other back-of-the-house requirements.
THE GOOD NEWS Because the event team moved it gala within the five-day window in its contract with the Hyatt, it escaped being on the hook financially. Hyatt management "was wonderful," Buckwalter says. "They could not have been more gracious." In more good news, Buckwalter had already purchased event cancellation insurance; while final costs and profits have not yet been tallied, that insurance should soften the blow of unexpected outlays, she says.
Also, even though the city of Baltimore still had its 10 p.m. curfew in place the night of the gala, the fairgrounds are outside city limits. The program ended at 10:10 p.m., but many guests danced till midnight.
"We had zero problems," Buckwalter says. "And people told us, 'We are so glad you didn't change the date.'"