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Special Events

A Royal Tour for Duke

Duke University offers a top-flight special event for top donors Saying thank-you to very generous people demands a very special event. That's what Duke University created for its major donors.

Duke, located in Durham, N.C., is in the midst of a major capital campaign, with the goal of raising $1.5 billion by 2003.

To thank major donors, the university development director of special events and programs, Carolyn Ent, developed a three-day "sabbatical" in London in May. "We wanted our donors to feel special, to enjoy themselves and to feel close to the univer-sity," she explains.

The impetus for the event was an invitation to visit the official house of the American ambassador to the United Kingdom, Philip Lader, a Duke alumnus, class of 1966. "We developed the event from there," Ent reports.


Although the ambassador had a close link to Duke, Ent quickly realized she needed a local contact to develop the London visit. She turned to Sally Webb, managing director of The Special Event Co. in London, after learning about Webb's company through the trade show The Special Event 2000, sponsored by Special Events Magazine. "We wanted to use venues that had a certain exclusivity to them," Ent says.

Webb and her company developed a three-day trip for the 80 guests. Stops included an Egyptian-themed reception at the Egyptian sculpture gallery in the British Museum, Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, lunch at the Chelsea Flower Show and dinner at Winfield House, the ambassador's home.


The major challenge of the event was creating an engaging tour for such an affluent, educated group. "We wanted to do something with an educational value to it so that there was more to gain than just going along and having a cocktail party," Webb says.

To meet this challenge, the events featured special connections to Duke. For example, a Duke drama professor addressed the group during the visit to the Globe, and a Duke lecturer arranged for a troupe of West End performers to sing show tunes after dinner at Winfield House.

Ent and Webb also offered personalized gifts throughout the tour, including embossed leather folders containing the itinerary, Globe souvenir brochures, and inscribed alms dishes and cufflinks from premier British jeweler Asprey & Garrard at the ambassador's dinner.


The organizers had to cope with the unexpected. The mercurial English weather brought a downpour during the flower show visit. "Fortunately, we had a private marquee for the group, and a traditional brass band entertained them inside," Webb says.

One force was even more powerful than the weather - politics. The day of the dinner at the ambassador's house, U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright made an unscheduled visit to Ambassador Lader. The catering company - Moving Venue Caterers of London - was barred from setup at the venue for three hours.

The event was a success, Webb says, because of the trust placed in her company. "Our client had to have a huge sense of belief in us," she says. "It wasn't easy for her to pop over for a site visit."

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