Corrections or additions?
This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the November 14, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Entertaining: Advice from the Pros
Talk to the people who stage the big fundraisers around
town, and they will tell you — it’s not about the money, it’s
about the mission. If your benefactors pay $300 per ticket and come
away from the evening without feeling positive toward your
you have failed.
"It is not just about making a party. The focus is that we raise
money from the private and corporate sector so our participants can
have the services we provide," says Daria Caldwell of Eden Family
of Services, the social service agency that provides education,
opportunities, and residential services for children and adults with
autism and their families. At Eden’s galas, employees and officers
fan out, one to a table. "The conversation does come around to,
`What do you do at Eden?’ and that helps us focus on the mission,"
says Caldwell. "Also we always have one of our parents speak,
to let people know how Eden has changed their lives."
"A big part of any charity event is to get the name of the charity
out there," says Tom Logan, director of event management at
Marriott, the site of many charity galas," and make people aware
that it exists and what it’s about. You can’t always look at it as
how much money you make."
"If you get people invested and passionate, the sky’s the
says Cherie Finn, board member at American Repertory Ballet/Princeton
"Every organization has a story to tell," says Leslie Taylor,
vice president of administration and marketing at Matrix Development
Group. "A story about where they have come from or where they
Eden Family of Services, is responsible for producing "Dreams
of Paradiso," Eden’s 13th annual gala at the Hyatt Regency of
Princeton, set for Saturday, January 20. The 500-person event costs
$300 per person and netted more than $200,000 last year. It is known
for its fanciful decor (this year with an Italian Renaissance theme),
and its innovative entertainment, provided by a corps of professional
actors. One year, to celebrate an Arctic theme, live penguins greeted
the arriving guests.
Caldwell has been entertainment director in Somerset for Flying Frog
Productions, special event coordinator for Raritan Bay Medical Center,
and director of development for Epiphany House for homeless mothers
in Asbury Park. She was a theater major at Purdue, Class of 1981,
and she uses her theatrical background in the event planning world.
"I was a good actor but a great director," she says.
with the caterer, venue, and the volunteers is very much like
a play. It feeds that creative part of me."
Marriott in Forrestal Village. "I like doing the entire event
as opposed to just cooking the food," says Logan, a 20-year
of the Marriott.
His next event is the Candlelight Ball for the Boys & Girls Club of
Trenton/Mercer County on Friday, November 16, at 6:30 p.m. Held at
the Marriott for the first time last year, it made $50,000. Entitled
"A Night of Elegance" the $200 black tie evening will honor
William F. Faherty Jr. of First Union National Bank.
The elegant black and white decor, provided by Makrancy’s, will have
subtle tinges of red, white, and blue. At the singing of the national
anthem, sparklers in the table flowers will start to fizz. During
the cocktail buffet, guests can visit the sushi and noodle bar, the
four-foot champagne punch glass, or the make-your-own martini bar
with a vodka slide. You make your martini and, to chill it, pour it
through an ice carving into your glass.
Corn chowder will be served in a corn tortilla bowl, followed by the
entree of filet mignon and half a whole lobster. "That’s a `high
end’ thing without being expensive, and then we will wow them with
three elaborate plated desserts; every third person will have a
dessert," he says.
Ballet/Princeton Ballet School. One of the company’s early galas,
with Peter Martins as the honored guest, was among the first big
for the Scanticon hotel. Several changes of owners later, the gala
is still at the same place, now called Doral Forrestal. Finn was
for the last two galas there. This year it will be on Saturday, April
13, and will feature dinner, dancing, and a silent auction with an
Italian Tarantella theme.
Finn "grew up" at the ballet school and danced in the company
when it was known as Princeton Ballet, then went to Rutgers’ Douglass
College. She and her husband, Jeffrey Finn, president of the
global real estate network, have two children, one of whom is a
at the ballet school. Finn will play an adult role in this season’s
"Nutcracker" performances. Her motto: "What’s more fun
than making a lot of money and having fun while doing it?"
at Matrix Development Group and founder of the subsidiary, Matrix
Special Events Inc. In her professional portfolio are not for profit
and corporate special event productions for the Susan G. Komen
New Jersey Network, PaineWebber, Englewood Hospital, RWJ University
Hospital, New Brunswick Cultural Center, and the AntiDefamation
"I grew my skills and love what I do," says Taylor. "It
is a wonderful blend of the characteristics I was born with, the
and creative arts, and the learned skill of business management."
She had planned to major in performing arts at the State University
of New York at Purchase but left school and learned to be an
As a single parent, she started the accounting department at Matrix.
After a hiatus to work in commercial real estate at College Park,
she founded Matrix Special Events to produce multi-day celebrity
Way back then, Taylor arranged for a statewide beneficiary: the Cancer
Institute of New Jersey. Then her company produced six galas for CINJ.
Now she is on CINJ’s board, and she and her husband, Matrix CEO Joseph
Taylor, are being honored at this year’s CINJ gala, set for Saturday,
December 1, at 7 p.m. at the United States Equestrian Team
"Gala fundraisers I work on, typically for 550 people and more,
are almost too big for traditional banquet space. We have become
in nontraditional catering spaces." She has done parties at Ellis
Island, a West Orange armory, a corporate office atrium in Jersey
City, and a three-day Fourth of July bash for Stevens Institute in
A good off premises caterer can successfully serve whatever menu you
want, she says, as long as the event planners control the timing of
the program. Filet of beef or rack of lamb are not safe choices if
the program might run late, because the meat will be overcooked or
cold. Choose poultry instead. She remembers one elegant menu of
wrapped in pastry dough with a vegetable bundle and a potato
Picking someone who can buy lots of tables is a traditional and
format, says Matrix’ Taylor. "But you miss a very big opportunity.
If you spend your time thinking about who will raise the most money
for you, you may lose your way." If you think of who can tell
your story, you may find a better person to honor.
Taylor helped establish CINJ’s Award of Hope to symbolize that the
hope of the citizens of New Jersey that they don’t have to leave the
state to get the finest treatment anywhere in the world. Taylor and
her husband will get a taste of how it feels to be on the receiving
side of the award when they get the Award of Hope on December 1.
To be the honored at the ballet gala are Carol Bellis — a school
administrator and favorite long-time teacher — and a parent
— Cynthia Mahoney, the mother of two professional dancers who
is now the company’s manager.
it IS about the money," says Taylor, "and you have to be
careful about how you mine your universe. Sometimes organizations
are not honest with themselves. They don’t spend enough time thinking
about who will come to this, and what they will pay." Only after
you have made your invitation list should you decide whether to tent
on the grounds of someone’s home or go to a hotel.
A simple cocktail hour and simple three-course meal, she says, will
cost $85 to $100 per person, probably half the ticket price for a
new event. In this price the hotel might include free extras, like
the podium, the screen, staging, and rentals.
"For most of the events I do," says the Marriott’s Logan,
"the gross is very low on the actual ticket, and they try to make
up for it on the silent auctions." Most tickets sell for the
price, but the board tries to sell expensive patron tables to make
up the difference.
Your budget will also have to absorb — or get separate donations
for — the costs of postage, printing, flowers ($50 for a tabletop
bouquet), guest mementos, and entertainment (a small stipend for a
university group, or thousands of dollars for a New York orchestra).
more than 30 cents on the dollar," says Caldwell. "If we start
spending 50 cents on the dollar, we need to bring in more revenue,
such as adding silent auction items."
"People have certain expectations, yet there is a fine line of
not appearing to be too extravagant," says Caldwell.
Be sure to emphasize all the donated items in the program, not just
as an advertisement for the donor, but also to reassure the
that not too much of their ticket money is going for luxuries.
Logan, try to make a ton of money on the first year, and the people
wind up not coming the next year. Consider the event in a two to three
year cycle. If the ticket buyers are happy the first year, they will
talk about how great it was, and attendance will increase for the
second year. Also vendors give better deals to successful events.
And once you establish a certain level of luxury, say a seven-course
meal, don’t take it away.
planner. "If you want to make $50,000, you could expect to pay
20 percent of that for a consultant to look at the event, reformat
the event, and work to `dig into the universe,’" says Taylor.
Digging into the universe, in her world, means targeting potential
Says Taylor: "It takes at least three years to establish an event
and work out the kinks. The advisor should be tied to the growth and
as it is about fund-raising," says Caldwell. The former general
manager of the Hyatt, for instance, still sits on Eden’s board even
though he was transferred to a property in Philadelphia.
American Repertory Ballet has been at the Doral Forrestal for years.
"Despite other hotels trying to lure us away, they really respect
our mission and they have a great appreciation for the arts,"
says Finn. "It is reflected in their pricing. They know our
and provide things we wouldn’t get anywhere else."
"I’ve been down to the Boys and Girls Club," says Logan of
the Marriott. "It is spectacular when the event goes off well,
but helping to raise the money is a reward on its own."
The Professional Chef’s Guild provides food for one of Eden’s two
big fundraisers, Eden on the Town, and in return Eden makes a donation
to the guild. The food is worth $100 per person, says Caldwell, yet
they pay just $25 per person. Often the design and printing of
is donated. Everything in a silent auction is donated.
American Repertory Ballet asks patrons to underwrite tickets for
and faculty. "It gives everyone else a way to get to know them.
When you do that, people care about the school, more than just a
in the mail," says Finn. Also on ARB’s free invite list might
be potential benefactors. "It is a cultivation tool. If we can
introduce someone to our organization as part of a nice evening out,
they may get drawn in and be a supporter."
A caterer who regularly uses a particular chair rental service may
be able to get a better rate.
If the vendors can talk the board members into letting them do a good
job, says the Marriott’s Logan, those who attend the event will see
the quality work. Logan explains to potential vendors, "I am going
to have some of the top people in Princeton here, and when these
have their weddings and their private events, they will use you."
The best way to get good vendor prices, says Eden’s Caldwell, is to
let the florist, the caterer, and the designer express their own
"We don’t try to second guess them. More often than not, we will
accept the professional’s proposal."
Challenge your vendors, says Taylor, to do it differently. "They
enjoy it and appreciate the challenge."
leeway to vendors, Finn has a caution. "In interviewing people,
don’t adopt the attitude that you are grateful for their time. You
are the one that is bringing your event to them. And you will come
across the personality thing. Someone who likes you is going to give
you better prices and do a better job."
is a certain cadre of people who know how to do fundraisers. Be sure
some of them are on the committee.
Don’t board members have to be wealthy? "Any good board has a
balance," says the ballet’s Cherie Finn. "You might have
who can write a large check. You have others without that financial
resource but are ardent supporters and will give you the time you
need. We have a philosophy of `give or get.’ Give by writing the check
or go and get that support and be a good advocate."
"You can create an excellent event, but if you don’t have a board
out there knocking on doors, you won’t succeed," says Logan.
Says Caldwell of Eden: "The makeup of the committee members who
create the fundraiser is a key element in creating a successful event.
If we three professionals in the development office had to do it by
ourselves, it would never work as well as it does. A lot of it has
to do with how we treat the volunteer folks," says Caldwell.
the mix who knows how to negotiate with vendors, and be sure that
each of your providers has a representative on the board. For Eden
Dreams, both the Hyatt’s general manager and the director of catering
sit on the board. For Eden’s Night on the Town, a representative of
the chef’s guild is on the committee. "Everybody at all times
is in the loop, and there is nothing hidden. The people who are making
the decisions become vested in it. They get to know everybody and
become friends of Eden as well," says Caldwell.
effective, says Finn, like taking the committee out to lunch.
thing, I never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do twice. When
they see you doing work, they will do things for you."
Caldwell, a veteran of nearly 20 years of working with committees
on events planning, says that Eden has the best rapport with
of any place she has ever worked. "They leave egos out of it,
leave personalities out of it, and make decisions for the greater
who represent large companies will be called on to ask the companies
to underwrite some of the evening — the cocktail hour, for
"If you go to potential donors with some expenses paid for, that
adds leverage to other relationships," says Taylor.
But the long-term relationship is of paramount importance. "When
go you for the Ask, whether it is a reduced cost or a flat out
we always emphasize that you can say no. We won’t feel like you are
dissing us," says Caldwell.
and fine tune a concept, but in the fourth year that concept gets
run smoothly. "We have a working meeting without the steering
committee," says Caldwell. "The key people — the caterer,
the entertainment coordinator, the sound manager, the general manager
for the property — are there, so everyone is on the same page,
and when we all show up in our ballgowns we are not running around
all the planning, something goes wrong, you will then be able to count
on your fellow team members to pitch in.
"If you look at it as a production, your opening night is your
closing night, you have one shot," says Caldwell. "Hopefully after
the months of preparation, it will fall into place. but mistakes
and you deal with it."
Sometimes what goes wrong turns into an improvement. For instance,
one year the mikes went out at Eden Dreams. A troupe of actors was
trying to give clues to a game (the grand prize was a fabulous trip
and the game players were very competitive) but the actors could not
be heard. So the actors went from table to table to give the clues.
Everyone liked being close to the actors so much that the
capers are now standard procedure.
about what could go wrong, but when everything goes right, it’s a
phenomenal high. Taylor has one such memory. Against strong opposition
she engaged Kermit the Frog, the puppet from Henson Productions played
with Steve Whitmire, to keynote the campaign launch for the new
Squibb Children’s Hospital at RWJ University Hospital.
"Many of the people who would attend the event grew up with
and he represents all that is fuzzy and soft and educational. And
the hospital’s goal is compassionate care. But a number of people
told me I might have lost my mind this time. We worked on Henson
for months, and they eventually came to love the mission of this
Patients came from the hospital’s children’s wards for Kermit’s
in a small production booth set up for the occasion. "He sang
the `Rainbow Connection’ with two children in the spotlight, and a
number of children in special seats, and 600 people in black tie sang
along," says Taylor. "It was a wonderful moment, what I strive
for every time I design and develop an event."
— Barbara Fox
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