Special Events

FOCUS ON FUND-RAISERS

Fund-raisers have taken center stage in the world of special events. Special Events Magazine saw a 50 percent rise in entries over last year in the “Best Fund-raising Event” category for our 2002 Gala Awards competition. The fervor for fund-raisers may be fueled by a post-9/11 desire of donors to get together and do some good. Here, we spotlight six special fund-raisers, each with a distinctive spin that spells success.

DRIVING FORCE

The ticket for the black-tie event is $350 a person, and there is no decor, no entertainment, no dancing, no food. Instead, some 17,500 guests show up for a glass of champagne and a sneak peek at new cars on display at the annual North American International Auto Show, held each January in Detroit. Known as Charity Preview, this year's event raised more than $6 million for 11 local charities.

The 20-year-old Charity Preview is “brilliant in its simplicity,” a spokesman for NAIAS says. More than 90 percent of proceeds go to charity because costs to produce the event are so low. NAIAS staff handles ticket sales, and security is already in place because the preview for journalists falls the day before. The event sells out two months ahead, and the first person to buy a ticket is the mayor of the city of Detroit — no one expects to be comped. “It's our Academy Awards,” the spokesman adds. “It's the only place to be that night.”

CELEBRITY CAROUSEL

In contrast to Charity Preview, the Carousel of Hope ball, benefiting juvenile diabetes, is an event with lavish gift bags, lavish auction items and a lavish celebrity guest list.

Chaired since its inception in 1978 by Barbara Davis, wife of billionaire oilman and former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis, the ball now raises more than $6 million, according to Chrissy Lerner, executive director of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes in Denver. The cost of a table ranges from $10,000 to $100,000. To safeguard its strength, the gala is staged every other year.

Entertainers at this year's gala, slated for Oct. 15 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., include Elton John, Sting, B.B. King and Jay Leno, with Sidney Poitier as the event's honoree. The event typically draws 1,350 guests and is sold out months ahead. “Mrs. Davis is able to secure the best entertainment in the world, and the best guest list,” notes Beverly Hilton director of catering Jill Cross. Adds Lerner, “The whole entertainment industry supports it.”

SMALL PARTY, BIG RESULTS

In May, a VIP coterie of only 256 guests managed to raise more than $2 million — double the tally from the year before — at the Keep Memory Alive fund-raiser for the Alzheimer's Foundation of Las Vegas.

Staged outside the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas by MGM Mirage Events, this year's gala featured a “Moulin Rouge” theme including cancan dancers and filles de joie. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” host Robin Leach served as the evening's auctioneer, selling off items including a dinner with actor John Travolta and a commemorative poster from 9/11 presented by New York City police and firefighters. Celebrated chefs Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller prepared the five-course dinner.

As one more mark of the event's efficiency, the evening was over by 10:30 p.m.

GOING, GOING, GREAT

Billing itself as the “world's largest charity wine event,” the Napa Valley Wine Auction, an annual tradition in California's Napa Valley since 1981, draws nearly 1,800 attendees for four days of parties, dancing and entertainment at local wineries, ending with a mammoth wine auction at Meadowood resort in St. Helena, Calif.

According to Kimberly Getto, director of communications for event sponsor Napa Valley Vintners Association, most attendees purchase the four-day event package, which costs $1,400 per individual and $2,500 per couple.

From the 2001 auction, NVVA distributed $7.2 million to 24 local charities, fully 95 percent of total proceeds generated. The 2002 event, held in June, raised $6.12 million. The association credits the volume of in-kind donations — including all auction items — and volunteer staff of more than 1,000 for keeping expenses low.

YOUNG LIONS ROAR

A fund-raiser that thinks young is the Young Lions spring benefit for the New York Public Library. Aimed at professionals in their 20s and 30s, the annual event draws more than 900 guests to the library's main branch at $150 a ticket, according to library associate manager of public relations Sabina Potaczek.

The party started 14 years ago as a “hat” party; it has since evolved into an elaborately themed event with guests arriving in costume. The 2001 event took guests on “POP: A Tour Through the Candy-Colored '60s,” while this year's theme was “The Magic of Movie Musicals,” featuring 1950s Hollywood glamour including a martini bar and look-alikes for Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The library's Office of Special Events coordinates all planning for the party and oversees contracted decor, catering and entertainment.

THE COWBOY WAY

Since its start in Dallas in 1973, the Cattle Baron's Ball, which benefits the American Cancer Society, has stampeded throughout the United States. ACS chapters from Florida to Hawaii have launched their own versions; “There are probably at least 100,” says Jeff Miller, development director for ACS in Dallas.

The granddaddy Dallas event, which usually raises just over $2 million a year, is always situated on a blank piece of ranch land, which is transformed via decor into everything from downtown Dallas' neon skyline to Texas pioneer days, Miller says. Repeat guests “like the familiarity,” he adds, of casino games, a silent auction and big-name country entertainment acts such as Wynonna Judd.

Giving the Dallas ball a run for the money is the Cattle Baron's Ball in Silicon Valley, which has raised $6.6 million for ACS in the last six years, according to marketing event chair Suzie Oberman. The 2002 event, held in September in Sunnyvale, Calif., put an island spin on the Western theme with “Rawhide Roundup at Tropicana Ranch.” Some 1,200 guests paid $200 general admission to attend, then bought their “baron bucks” scrip to spend on the traditional pig races and live and silent auctions. “It's a heck of a good time,” Oberman says.

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