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Sip, Nosh and Stroll at Fundraisers

Sip, Nosh and Stroll at Fundraisers

For formal fêting, galas are often the go-to event for high-end fundraisers. But sometimes sit-down dinners just don't suit the scene. “Any nonprofit that has a venue with ‘things to see,’ like a museum, botanical garden or zoo, should let their guests enjoy everything there is to offer during the party,” says Shelly Tolo, president of Seattle-based Tolo Events. “Coming to a museum or a zoo and not being able to enjoy the artwork or animals during the event is a miss for the guests and the charity.” To keep the point of the party in focus, some event planners are now opting for “strolling” events rather than sit-down suppers — a sure way to keep the crowd on its feet.


Tolo Events set an icy scene at “One Cool Party at One Wild Place” in June 2006. The event had two goals: to fête the arrival of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium's two new polar bears and to raise money for the zoo — it netted roughly $650,000. The event was designed to take the 1,200 guests along an entertaining path to four different parties, beginning with an escalator ride at the zoo's entrance. Tolo's team rigged snow machines on top of the covering at the escalator exit, so when people approached the top of the hill, “they saw snow falling from above, and then they walked through it,” she says. Other contributors to the Arctic ambience included ice skaters, Eskimo go-go girls, outdoor movies of polar bears, dry ice and snow cones spiked with vodka.

But don't assume forgoing the fuss of a formal dinner makes planning any easier. “Often people think that a sit-down dinner is expensive and that it is less expensive to have a buffet or hors d'oeuvre,” Tolo says. “Well, that's not always the case.” For her part, Tolo had 77 acres to cover when placing food throughout the venue. She achieved this with 10-by-10-foot tents manned by participating restaurants.

The result was a pure party atmosphere, according to Tolo: “No auctions, no long speeches — just fun, great food, amazing beverages and dancing.”


Wine connoisseurs and novices can get their fill of the touted drink at Detroit Uncorked, which netted $92,000 last year for Detroit's Children's Center. Held at Ford Field football stadium, the September fundraiser has served nearly 800 wines at past events to an eclectic crowd of 2,000, wearing everything from blue jeans to cocktail attire. Knowledgeable roaming volunteers called “Wine Geeks” — easily recognized by brightly colored T-shirts — help guests along the way by discussing wine preferences and making suggestions.

The strolling menu of filling hors d'oeuvre included active food stations and adorable edibles such as a “teeny panini trio” as well as a Belgian endive trio topped with three different mousses: cream cheese, salmon and red pepper. The decision to keep the menu strolling instead of sit-down was easy, according to executive initiative manager Michele Marine of PCG Campbell in Dearborn, Mich. Small bites kept the focus on the wine, gave guests a chance to mingle, and let the event be “active and live and vibrant.”


For the ultimate afternoon of casual elegance, CR Productions of Chicago and EventScape of Barrington, Ill., joined forces to create a car-lover's dream: the Barrington Concours d'Elegance. The upcoming September event will feature 100 of the world's finest and rarest historic, classic, sports and performance racing cars, such as a 1936 Auburn Boattail Speedster convertible and a 1907 Wolf, one of only two in existence. In keeping with “the trend of multi-charity events growing throughout the country,” according to EventScape president Ann Marie Arzt, the event will benefit three charities: Barrington Hills Conservation Trust, Cowboy Dreams of Illinois and Hospice of Northeastern Illinois. Arzt and Carolann Randall, president of CR Productions, expect 5,000 guests.

At this fundraiser, food is necessary for the car-loving event-goers, but the cars themselves must be kept in pristine shape and not fall prey to drippy sauces. The “Concours Cafe” will be set up in a tented area away from the cars to keep the food at a safe distance. It will serve a “simple, high-quality barbecue menu,” Randall says, such as Angus beef burgers, chicken breast sandwiches, and Haagen Dazs ice cream and gelato. This strolling menu will keep the focus on the cars, which is essential for car-fanatic attendees who will be more interested in extravagant cars than multi-course extravagant meals. But Arzt and Randall don't plan on shunning a gala altogether. The weekend-long event will feature a traditional upscale sit-down dinner on another night. Arzt explains, “Our committee believed it would be a wonderful way to gather participants, thank sponsors and raise some additional dollars for the three participating charities.”


Selling high-priced tickets for fundraisers is one way to raise money. But these events don't exceed $100 a head, yet still show guests a good time, all while raising money for a good cause.

April 14
$75 a ticket
Benefits the Enoch Pratt Free Library

The biannual fundraiser served up an old Hollywood theme with big band music, swing dance lessons, a piano bar and nonstop movies playing. Movie-themed food stations were homages to the likes of “Breakfast at Tiffany's,” “The Godfather” and “Diner.” Sponsor Bacardi provided specialty cocktails including a “Tiffany Blue Martini.”

Aug. 10
Vancouver, British Columbia
$100 a ticket
Benefits the Centre for Integrated Healing and produced by Effective Event Management Ltd.

This event requires unusual attire: fine clothing and flip-flops. Guests show off their toes during this backyard party that features a samba dance demonstration, DJs to get guests dancing, silent auctions and more.

September 13
Covington, Ky.
$10 a ticket but waived for guests who donate gently used bridesmaid dresses or formal gowns
Benefits Kenzie's Closet and produced by Aviva Events in Cincinnati, Ohio

The event is designed to provide prom dresses to area high school girls who can't afford them otherwise. Event activities will include a pub-crawl through the Covington wedding district, a raffle, food and entertainment.

Nov. 13
Palm Springs, Calif.
$90 a ticket
Benefits the Pendelton Foundation

To help cancer victims, this soiree will auction off more than 20 of the area's top chefs. Winners can host a private party with their chef manning the kitchen.


CR Productions

Detroit Uncorked


Tolo Events LLC

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