Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

November 12, 2013

Philanthropic event planning: An expert’s top 3 tips and an example of an event done right

TCG Events threw a gala for the Carolinas HealthCare Foundation.

Cassie Brown

Kirstin Ashford, ‎executive director of strategic relations and communications for the Carolinas HealthCare Foundation, had an event challenge and needed the right vendor to meet it: how to throw a large donor event with its own identity while avoiding repeating from past events and ably honoring the largest gift ever given by the Levine Cancer Institute’s namesake family.

After weighing many options, Ashford decided to engage myself and my team at TCG Events. I convinced the foundation — the primary point of contact for charitable support for the Carolinas HealthCare System, of which the Levine Cancer Institute is a part — that TCG Events could take a well-known venue and make it unique. I knew we could create an event with the needed “wow!” factor and make it an occasion that attendees would talk about afterwards — for all the right reasons.

Tip 1: Change it uppresent the unexpected. Holding an annual fundraiser or a series of events? Although the speakers are different, if the format is the same, your regular donors may regard attendance as a duty rather than a pleasure. Consider introducing new elements each year. Work with an event planner who understands your end-goal and can offer fresh ideas to get you there.

Finding inspiration in Ashford’s plans to give away votive candles at the close of the event, TCG Events event architect Kim Martin threaded light throughout the event. Dancers wearing long, sparkling, gold dresses and candelabra headdresses and holding candles welcomed guests to dinner. Candles filled one wall. Light was incorporated into the dinner music, which was uplifting but unobtrusive: A grand piano was played on a round stage, edged with candles. As a surprise finale, electric string trio Bella Strings appeared, all wearing flowing white gowns.

“TCG Events took care of everything with their EventSmarter approach, planning the event from a guest perspective — and it paid off,” says Ms. Ashford.

“From the minute people got out of their cars to the moment they left after receiving wrapped votive candles in beautiful boxes — parting gifts that carried through the light theme — everything was thought through beautifully. Even the way the boxes were given out was memorable: When leaving, guests took the gifts from silver trays held by white-gloved, tuxedo-clad models who lined the carpet from the lobby to the exit.”

Tip 2: Center stage, not centerpieces make the most of your event spending. Depending on the size of an event, the traditional arrangement with a stage in the front of a room can leave some tables feeling like they are in Siberia. Consider placing the stage or podium in the center of the room, with overhead screens so that everyone has a great view. This will engage your audience far more than even the most costly centerpieces and tableware. Shift your budget to where it makes the biggest impact.

A stand-out decorative feature of the event was also an effective branding tool: The stage backdrop featured a wall tapestry of the Carolinas HealthCare System icon, a tree of life made of flowers, featuring white roses. The
tapestry was the focal point of the ballroom, directly behind the pianist’s stage in the center of the room.

Tip 3: Talking heads only a good thing if we’re talking dance music. The primary way philanthropic events lose audience engagement? Giving sponsors, one after another, the floor for what seems like forever as they all say basically the same thing. Consider alternate speakers, those impacted by the work done by the organization. To feature the sponsors and make a lasting impact, employ a short, professionally designed video. Everyone wins: the sponsors, your organization, and most importantly, the audience.

In addition to the expected speakers — Dr. Derek Raghavan, president of the Levine Cancer Institute, and Sandra and Leon Levine, the primary donors — the event featured cancer survivors treated at the Cancer Institute. They surprised attendees as they stood from their dinner tables to speak. Microphones were placed at each table, and the speakers were pinpointed by a spotlight while the rest of the room went dark. Each speech was a testimony to the wonderful work done by the institute, and afterwards, attendee feedback showed that it had been very moving.

The “icing” on the event? Since the event couldn’t be in the facility itself, TCG Events worked with Carolinas HealthCare Foundation to bring the facility to the audience via a video presentation on huge screens. Months in the making by the Foundation, the presentation showed donors how well their funds were being spent and had a significant, positive impact.

Overall, the event achieved every goal: It drove donations, solidified relations with major benefactors and created new donors.

Cassie Brown, CSEP, is chief experience officer for TCG Events.

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  • At 5:34 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    It is a nice blog. You provide the nice information in this blog. Your content which you added in the blog is unique. I like this blog. If you want any information about event plaaners then click here

  • At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Event planning firm in NJ said…

    yeah , One of the most important step on your event planning is to conduct a preliminary survey to know the needs and expectations of your audience.

  • At 11:09 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Basically, it is all about being unique and different every year. To have a different creativity for each event can prompt people to ask for more. It is something that they look forward to every year. :)


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