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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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Putting a new spin on your special event
Karen Kegg, Bacon Lee & Associates

October, 2016

Fall is in the air and that can only mean one thing–its gala season in Texas! Fall is the time when charity supporters and party goers get back together after a long, hot summer to celebrate life and support their favorite causes. It’s always the best time of year, in my opinion!

But how do nonprofits continue to appeal to their loyal donors after many years of the same party? And how do they bring in new donors and, most importantly, raise more money for the mission?   I contacted several colleagues whose charities have successful events and asked them their strategy on these matters. Here’s what they shared with me:

In San Antonio, the 9th annual gala of Magdalena House will feature a change of venue and the addition of dancing to a DJ. The gala committee felt that a move to the newly-renovated ballroom at La Cantera Resort could spark greater attendance this year, because of its central location, closer to where most guests live. The DJ will encourage those who love to dance to stay longer. Magdalena House is a transitional home that serves mothers and their children who have fled dangerous and abusive situations. The October 22nd event is expected to draw nearly 600 guests to boost Magdalena House’s resources to build new homes on its property to serve even more mothers and children.

In Austin, the 2016 UMLAUF Garden Party hired a professional auctioneer to help tell its story during the auction. “Paddles-up” was a new element that helped raise more money than previous years. In addition, the event is outdoors with no dedicated seating area, making it difficult to capture the full attention of guests during the presentation and auction. To address this, the cocktail bars and the silent auction were closed while introducing a video with a champagne toast to focus guests’ attention and bring them into a central area. The gala marked the 25th anniversary of the unique outdoor sculpture garden and museum featuring the works of American sculptor Charles Umlauf, and raised more than $300,000 for its programs.

The Helping Hand Home for Children Crystal Ball Gala in Austin provides two “events” in one day, giving guests the opportunity to participate in either or both. A brunch is held in the afternoon and is a less formal affair with a lower ticket price. The evening Gala includes a silent auction, dinner and dancing. The volunteer committee has worked with a jewelry designer who donates “mystery boxes” that each contain a piece of jewelry. Each box is sold for $100. These mystery boxes are a unique way to raise additional funds during the event, comparable to a raffle but more fun because everyone is a “winner.” Located in Northwest Austin, The Helping Hand Home provides a nurturing and therapeutic home for children who have suffered severe abuse and neglect. The 2017 gala is slated for March 4, 2017, and planners hope to raise $1 million for the organization.

Savvy gala committees know that their organizations’ special events need to be “updated” in order to attract new and returning donors. I thank my colleagues for sharing their great ideas and wish everyone a happy gala season, y’all!

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