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Daffodil Ball 2015 Photo by Stephane Poirier

Growing Your Gala

Tips on improving results for fundraising galas

Pittsburgh Heart Ball

HAVE A HEART Tolo Events has worked on the Pittsburgh Heart Ball, which benefits the American Heart Association, for 11 years. And three things never change, says Tolo event president Shelly Tolo: The ball is held in February; which is Heart Month; the design features the color red; and the menu is heart-healthy. "The American Heart Association publishes a toolkit called Healthy Workplace Food and Beverage--even with a section on Receptions, Galas and Special Events--so we are able to provide guidelines to the chef from the beginning," Tolo notes.

But Tolo has tweaked other elements of the ball, including the venue, ticket price, room layout, and entertainment line-up. "The most significant change over the last two years is really improving the quality of the on-screen media content," she notes. "Everything is animated and helps to provide guests with an immersive experience during the program and live auction."

Change matters, Tolo says. "Change for an established, well known community gala/ball is essential for keeping it fresh for the guests, continuing to fill the ballroom year after year, and ultimately raising more money," she says. "The changes have paid off as the Heart Ball raised a record $1.2 million in 2015. Photo by Tolo Events.

Tolo Events,


Discover Something New with the Discovery Ball

Discovery Ball

DISCOVER SOMETHING NEW Although the look of the annual Discovery Ball, benefiting the California Science Center in Los Angeles, changes every year, the overarching theme does not. The ball "tells a story throughout the evening," explains Chris Scion, vice president of food and event services. For example, the 2015 ball celebrated the center's new exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls by transforming the traditional venue—the center itself—into exciting, exotic settings. The cocktail party took guests back 2,000 years to the caves of Qumran, where the scribes of the scrolls hid them for safekeeping. Dinner was held in in modern day Jerusalem, thanks to stunning imagery of the city projected 40 feet tall. "For the after-party, we moved guests outside to a Bedouin village where they danced under the stars, lounged inside tents and enjoyed fire dancers," Sion says. Changing the theme each year "begs our guests to ask the question, 'What do they have in store for us this year?" she says.

Recent changes for the Discovery Ball include updated guest registration technology ("It seemed almost prehistoric to continue to use printed guest lists," Sion says), increased ticket prices, and higher levels of table sponsorship, which has turned out to be a great way to boost the bottom line while holding the line on expenses. Photo by Nadine Froger Photography.

California Science Center,


Coming Up Daffodils for the Daffodil Ball

Daffodil Ball 2015

COMING UP DAFFODILS Guests can count on many constant elements at Montreal's famed Daffodil Ball, benefiting the Canadian Cancer Society. It's always black-tie, it's always a cocktail reception followed by a dinner-dance, and it's always in April—because it always features daffodils and daffodils aren't available later, says Alison Silcoff. The daffodil is the symbol of the CCS and forms part of its logo. It's a recipe that has worked since the first ball, back in 1994.

Veteran event producer Silcoff, who will oversee the ball for her 23rd year in 2016, has watched the event grow from a lower cost event for the first years that relied completely on floral for decor ("It was important to establish a fabulously successful event rather than make a big profit," she says) to one that now features elaborate themes, from Madame de Pompadour to Alice in Wonderland to the Great Gatsby. The ball's stunning look has made it a repeat Gala Award winner.

The Daffodil Ball's venue has changed only once in the last 22 years—"when we outgrew the original venue," Silcoff notes.

Although the slow economy in Quebec has pinched revenues, "The ball consistently makes a profit of more than $1.5 million," she says. "The event is still Canada’s most successful cancer-related fundraiser, in spite of considerably increased competition. And despite a difficult economy, it is still the see-and-be-seen event of the year." Photo by Stephane Poirier.

Alison Silcoff Events,


Music, Music, Music for Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Pittsburgh Symphony Ball

MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC For many fundraising galas, the institution's mission is the event planner's mantra. And for Shannon Capellupo, director of events at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, that means showcasing the orchestra at the annual Gala Award-winning Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Gala. With nine years working on the event under her belt, Capellupo notes that the single most important part of the gala is the concert at landmark Heinz Hall, which is followed by dinner. A pre-concert cocktail hour kicks the evening off. "So many new patrons are in attendance from the some 950 event guests that it offers us an opportunity to introduce the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to new patrons, and present our loyal patrons with an amazing one-night-only experience."

Eight years ago, the event team reached out to a younger demographic with its second simultaneous event, the Soiree, targeted at a younger demographic. "This event has grown over the years from 87 people to a record breaking 450 guests last year," Capellupo notes, and has added an additional $150,000 to the revenue line.

Instead of diluting sponsor support, the dual events have boosted it. "We’ve seen companies and individuals provide dual sponsorships of both events," Capellupo says. "Companies are targeting junior executives to invite to the Soiree, who then get to spend the cocktail hour mingling with senior level executives. We’ve also seen family support cross between both events, seeing parents and grandparents attendance of the Gala, and their children and grandchildren at the Soiree. This is only going to benefit the long-term financial stability of the event and organization as a whole." Photo by Stephanie Strasburg.

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra,


Getting Wild at the Zoo Ball

Lincoln Park Zoo Ball

GETTING WILD AT THE ZOO BALL Where else to hold a fundraising gala for a zoo than the zoo itself? That's the rationale behind the Zoo Ball, hosted by the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. After guests experience the beautiful grounds and animals, "It's very easy to get them to offer support through the auction, raffle, and Fund a Need programs," explains Christine Zrinsky, vice president for development at the zoo.

It's hard to beat summer in Chicago, and that's part of the Zoo Ball's appeal. The July event "is a really a fun event, it’s held outdoors in the summer, so the women get to wear colorful and fun dresses/gowns, and many of the male guests wear white dinner jackets," Zrinsky explains. "And the gardens are glorious – much more magical than a hotel ballroom."

Sometimes adding elements to an event isn't the answer; management of the Zoo Ball found success in splitting events up.

"We tried a live auction about 15 years ago," Zrinsky says, but "it was really hard to make it successful in two big tents with 900 people in attendance. Instead, we established it as a separate event, held in November, so it doesn’t compete with the ball but draws a smaller but dedicated audience to bid on 20 or so items. The Ball tends to raise at least $1 million in gross revenue--this year was $1.2 million--and the live auction is about $250,000. Both are fantastic, fun and successful events that provide very significant funds to keep Lincoln Park Zoo free." Photo by Alain Milotti.

Lincoln Park Zoo,

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