For Fun and Profit: How Kate's Club plans for event successEmily Brenner Hawkins and Rachel Ezzo | Georgia Nonprofit NOW, Spring 2015
Rethinking their approach to events, Kate’s Club consolidated two different yearly events into one annual gala, and created a hit on multiple levels. The resulting success—three record-breaking Spirit of Kate’s Club Galas to date—is the result of some hard-won wisdom, clever practices, and attention to the bottom line: a good time. ED Emily Brenner Hawkins and Director of Development Rachel Ezzo share the details in our latest member-authored case study.
Events can be overwhelming. They certainly were for us during the years we threw two annual fundraisers, one in early spring (our awards dinner) and the other in late summer (our Kate’s Club Cabaret). In 2012, with our tenth anniversary coming up, we looked again at our approach and decided that consolidating our efforts into a single event, the Spirit of Kate’s Club Gala, would not just relieve stretched staff and sponsors, but allow us to craft the experience best suited for our guests and goals.
The new event is a hit on multiple levels. Our second Spirit of Kate’s Club Gala, held this time last year, raised net proceeds of $178,000 for our work empowering kids and teens facing life after the death of a parent or sibling. It also brought together the full range of our supporters—rather than the stratified audiences of the awards dinner and Cabaret—for an enjoyable and meaningful night. The switch also benefitted the staff, board members, and volunteers who put it all together, giving them half the logistics to consider and greatly clarified roles.
Here are some of the secrets to our success:
Large event committees
The most useful tool for event preparation: a large group to plan and promote it, populated by board members as well as volunteers and other stakeholders. We convene both a planning committee and a host committee (with some overlap between them). Planning committee members serve on subcommittees handling different aspects of the night—auction, décor, etc.—while host committee members agree to put their name on the invitation, promote the event, and sell at least ten tickets (though many sell more than that). Advanced tip: It always pays off to involve people new to the event-planning process.
Because there are so many considerations to prioritize, it’s vital to define exactly what you want to get out your event—financially and otherwise. Aside from raising funds, we aim to reach people unfamiliar with our work and fill up the room with ticket-buyers. To those ends, we use “friend-raising” tactics, like asking host committee members to engage friends new to Kate’s Club, and give out a minimum of tickets to corporate sponsors (who would rather, like us, see a table sell out to enthusiastic supporters than have it set aside for them to fill—or half-fill, as the case may be).
Because people come out of a success—like a well-executed event—feeling energized and challenged, planning for next year’s Gala begins the day after this year’s. Though heavy planning starts six to eight months out, we discuss broader issues like date, location, and size while recapping the Gala just completed.
Smart giving opportunities
Not everyone can afford to bid on expensive auction items, but if they’re in the room they likely have the means and desire to support you at some level. That’s why a funding paddle raise—asking attendees to “bid” support at different dollar levels—is so effective. In fact, the Gala paddle raise brings in more than 50 percent of the evening’s revenue. Be sure to consider ahead of time the appropriate giving levels for your audience (we start at $2,500 and go down to $100). Advanced tips: To set the stage, we screen our year-in-review video just before the paddle raise; you can also drive up the energy level, entertainment value, and bids by investing in a professional auctioneer.
A good time
A meaningful occasion and a great cause are important, but your event also has to be enjoyable. Our sense of fun is what sets our Gala apart; our 2013 host committee chairs Kate Atwood and Megan Holder helped set the mold for that with an unofficial competition to out-surprise each other (involving a secret video and an original song). One example from the 2015 Gala, which just took place on May 16 at Loews Atlanta Hotel: auctioning off an evening with Atlanta’s favorite sidewalk performance artist Baton Bob. Talk about a good time!
For highlights from the 2015 Spirit of Kate’s Club Gala, and information on next year’s event, keep your eye on katesclub.org/kates-club-gala.
Emily Brenner Hawkins is executive director of Kate’s Club. Rachel Ezzo is director of development and communications at Kate’s Club.