Special Events
Successful Fundraisers are Parties with Staying Power

Successful Fundraisers are Parties with Staying Power

The event teams behind these four fundraising galas heard about the slow economy. But they decided not to slow down along with it. Here, they share success strategies that keep their good works in good working order.

ZOO BALL A ROARING SUCCESS

ZOO BALL FOR THE LINCOLN PARK ZOO, CHICAGO
WWW.LPZOO.ORG

This venerable institution — one of the oldest zoos in the United States — stages a venerable fundraiser: the annual Zoo Ball. After hosting “a party in the lion house” for a time, says vice president for development Christine Zrinsky, zoo management launched the Zoo Ball in 1977.

The recession took a bite out of recent Zoo Ball proceeds, but the 2011 event — held July 8 for nearly 1,000 guests — was a roaring success, raising $1.14 million in gross revenue, a 34 percent increase over 2010 results.

While the addition of a gilt-edged presenting sponsor led to the lion's share of proceeds, some clever tweaks to the event itself helped bring in the bucks.

Successful strategies included adding a live auction to the silent auction and handing guests a BidPal wireless device, which kept guests focused — and bidding — on the silent auction. “We sold every item” in the silent auction, Zrinsky says, “something we've never done before.”

Another profitable tweak — to the tune of $35,000 — included adding a “fund a need” program, where guests gave donations for specific programs.

Finally, the event team raised the ticket price — for the first time in seven years, Zrinksy says — from $500 to $600. Other local galas had a higher ticket price, and research from the zoo's influential Women's Board told the ball team “that we needed to maintain the image” of the event, Zrinksy explains.

EVERGREEN GALA BRINGS IN THE GREEN

EVERGREEN GALA FOR EVERGREEN HOSPITAL MEDICAL CENTER, KIRKLAND, WASH.
WWW.EVERGREENHOSPITAL.ORG

This fundraiser launched in 2002 at a hotel close to the hospital; it drew 300 guests and raised $140,000 to help the under- and uninsured. Flash forward to its 10th anniversary, held April 30 in a 30,000-square-foot tent in a public park, which drew 650 guests and raised $1.16 million. What changed?

The event team, which includes Seattle-based TOLO Events, has worked hard to keep sponsors onboard and to find vendors with attractive pricing. To sweeten the deal with vendors, the event team commits to three-year contracts.

After last year's event, “We looked for a few line items where we could save bigger ‘chunks’ of money rather than trying to cut a little bit here and a little bit there,” says TOLO founder Shelly Tolo.

The answer: Going local. The event team has saved money by hiring local talent versus flying in out-of-town acts and, oddly enough, by using three smaller, portable restroom trailers rather than one pricey, high-end restroom trailer from out of state. The restroom switcheroo alone saved nearly $9,000, Tolo notes.

INSPIRING INSPIRATION GALA

BC CANCER FOUNDATION, VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
BCCANCERFOUNDATION.COM

From its start in 2002, when it raised $326,000 to fight cancer, the BC Cancer Foundation's Inspiration Gala has blossomed. The 2010 gala, held in October, sold out with 400 guests and raised a record-breaking $2.6 million (Canadian), more than double the 2009 tally.

Hallmarks of the annual event include the striking venue: Vancouver's rustic Rocky Mountaineer Station, which is transformed into everything from “winter wonderland” to swank supper club. Another delicious draw: The formal, gourmet dinner prepared by Vancouver-based Culinary Capers Catering, whose founder — Debra Lykkemark — has served on the gala's organizing committee since 2007.

“The 400-plus guests are a wide variety of demographics and palates,” Lykkemark explains, “and the menu objective is to take recognizable and approachable dishes, but with a contemporary presentation that works with the gala's overall theme.”

“Each year, the gala focuses on a specific cancer research project, often cancer-type specific,” notes Foundation communications specialist Allison Colina. Invitations have already gone out for this year's event, which will benefit personalized cancer treatments.

FIRST-IN-CLASS IMANI GALA

IMANI CHRISTIAN ACADEMY GALA, PITTSBURGH
WWW.IMANICHRISTIANACADEMY.ORG

The first time donors got together to raise money for this school for disadvantaged children, “We had 150 people around the pool at our house,” says Fran Fetteroff, the gala committee co-chair. That was 2003, when the event grossed $61,000.

Last year, the gala drew more than 400 guests and drummed up nearly $800,000, and has been named one of the top 10 charitable events in Pittsburg.

What has changed? Not all that much, actually, and that consistency has made the event strong.

For example, the event team, which is made up entirely of volunteers, has kept the gala close to home — literally.

“Except for one transition year, the event has always been at a private home,” Fetteroff notes. Now the gala takes place in a tent supplied by Monroeville, Pa.-based PartySavvy.

The event team also keeps the gala's focus firmly on the school and its programs. Although the event offers dinner and a live auction, there is no dancing. Instead, “We keep the conversation on where the money is going,” Fetteroff notes. The event routinely includes speeches and songs by students and presentations by school staff.

The event team abandoned its silent auction last year. “It made money, but it was too much work,” Fetteroff explains. Instead, students wearing sandwich boards mingle with guests during cocktail hour, offering projects or school supplies for guests to buy.

“People really like this cause,” Fetteroff says.

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