The Players

The Advice

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

organization,

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,

employment

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

Princeton

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

limit,"

says Cherie Finn, board member at American Repertory Ballet/Princeton

Ballet School.

"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

are going."

Top Of Page
The Players

Daria Caldwell, assistant director of development for the

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.

"Working

with the caterer, venue, and the volunteers is very much like

producing

a play. It feeds that creative part of me."

Tom Logan, director of event management at the Princeton

Marriott in Forrestal Village. "I like doing the entire event

as opposed to just cooking the food," says Logan, a 20-year

veteran

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

different

dessert," he says.

Cherie Thomsen Finn, board secretary at the American

Repertory

Ballet/Princeton Ballet School. One of the company’s early galas,

with Peter Martins as the honored guest, was among the first big

successes

for the Scanticon hotel. Several changes of owners later, the gala

is still at the same place, now called Doral Forrestal. Finn was

responsible

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

Hightstown-based

global real estate network, have two children, one of whom is a

student

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?"

Leslie Taylor, vice president of administration and marketing

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

Foundation,

New Jersey Network, PaineWebber, Englewood Hospital, RWJ University

Hospital, New Brunswick Cultural Center, and the AntiDefamation

League.

"I grew my skills and love what I do," says Taylor. "It

is a wonderful blend of the characteristics I was born with, the

performing

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

accountant.

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

events

at Forsgate.

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

Headquarters

in Gladstone.

"Gala fundraisers I work on, typically for 550 people and more,

are almost too big for traditional banquet space. We have become

experts

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

Hoboken.

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

chicken

wrapped in pastry dough with a vegetable bundle and a potato

"purse."

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The Advice

Brand the evening with an award that represents your

mission .

Picking someone who can buy lots of tables is a traditional and

successful

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

volunteer

— Cynthia Mahoney, the mother of two professional dancers who

is now the company’s manager.

Make a realistic budget . "When you are a nonprofit

it IS about the money," says Taylor, "and you have to be

especially

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

bottom

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).

Keep expenses down . "Eden’s philosophy is to not spend

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

participants

that not too much of their ticket money is going for luxuries.

But don’t go too cheap . Some organizations, says the

Marriott’s

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.

Consider hiring an outside advisor , a professional event

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

donors.

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

opportunities."

Create relationships . "It is as much about

friend-raising

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

organization

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."

Get as many items donated or underwritten as you can.

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

invitations

is donated. Everything in a silent auction is donated.

American Repertory Ballet asks patrons to underwrite tickets for

dancers

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

donation

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."

For rentals, get reduced prices through vendor contacts .

A caterer who regularly uses a particular chair rental service may

be able to get a better rate.

Encourage your vendors to use your event as a showcase.

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

people

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

creativity.

"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."

Shop around . In spite of the buzz about giving creative

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."

Choose savvy community members for board seats. There

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

people

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.

Get broad representation on the board . Have someone in

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.

Nurture your board . Little tokens of appreciation are

effective, says Finn, like taking the committee out to lunch.

"Another

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

volunteers

of any place she has ever worked. "They leave egos out of it,

leave personalities out of it, and make decisions for the greater

good."

Ask but don’t pressure potential donors . Board members

who represent large companies will be called on to ask the companies

to underwrite some of the evening — the cocktail hour, for

instance.

"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

donation,

we always emphasize that you can say no. We won’t feel like you are

dissing us," says Caldwell.

Work in three-year cycles . It takes three years to develop

and fine tune a concept, but in the fourth year that concept gets

old.

Schedule "tech" meetings so that the evening will

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

crazed."

Get everyone on the team invested in the event. If,

despite

all the planning, something goes wrong, you will then be able to count

on your fellow team members to pitch in.

With just one chance to succeed, be ready to shift gears .

"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

happen,

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

table-to-table

capers are now standard procedure.

Those who stage gala parties may spend sleepless nights worrying

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

Bristol-Myers

Squibb Children’s Hospital at RWJ University Hospital.

"Many of the people who would attend the event grew up with

Kermit,

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

Productions

for months, and they eventually came to love the mission of this

children’s

hospital."

Patients came from the hospital’s children’s wards for Kermit’s

performance

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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