What a weekend. How is it that all the big things seem to happen one after the other in the shortest time frame possible? Last week was the start of the culmination of some big projects.
Saturday evening was the annual 65 Roses Gala benefitting Cystic Fibrosis. This is an event that we have been a part of for a number of years in different capacities. This year I was working to help coordinate the day of logistics as well as the décor. Like anyone who does fundraising knows you have to keep shaking things up if you want to achieve different and better results.
This event has always been well supported in the community especially with high profile backing from the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club, as well as a ton of incredibly dedicated and passionate volunteers.
We have been laying the ground work for this event since late fall. We came up with a new theme idea to try and add some new energy to the event. We thought of “Red is the New Black” a play on the HBO theme about prison could work. We used it to show how CF can feel like a prison for those who are diagnosed and living with the disease. A theme is a great way to give focus to an event as long as it is broad enough to let you be creative but also to be easily understood by guests.
Through hundreds and hundreds of emails, and hours of evening committee meetings everything came together. We had challenges up to the last minute, including last minute ticket sales and even some cancellations. As any bride knows, the seating charts are always the bane of your existence! You can’t sit Aunt Mary next to Uncle Bob, and you can’t sit that sponsor to far from the stage, and so on and so on. There were changes still being made at 9:47pm on Friday night.
There were so many moving pieces for this event it kind of left my brain spinning. Ceiling draping was installed Friday morning by the incredible Sage Designs (thank you Sophie – the gasps from the guests walking in show the impact your work had). The challenge with the venue is that they have a big chandelier in the middle of the room but our floor plan had the stage off center to allow room for the bar and silent auction areas. I got a call asking if we could shift the draping part way through the day since it was cantered to the room and not the stage. Instead of moving everything we managed to move a couple of tables thanks to the accommodating staff at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre, instead of having to get back up on ladders and move lots and lots of fabric. We re-jigged the seating arrangements, printed new table information and had it in place Saturday, the gals from Karma Creative Solutions were a true joy to work with!!
Saturday morning, after watching 2 shifts of my son’s hockey tournament, I made my way to thte venue to make sure everything was still on track. There were lots of laughs from the volunteers installing spandex chair covers yet none of them were jumping to take me up on my offer to work over the summer doing the same type of installations, I don’t think I could afford them! Everything arrived including a real jail cell from Crime Stoppers Ottawa. There was a lot of hurry up and wait but I take it was because we were so well organized we had all our bases covered.
Everything happened as it was supposed to: The flare bartender entertained creating a custom Cellblock Cosmo, pictures were taken at the step and repeat, silent auction bids were rolling in, all good things. It doesn’t matter how well you plan the small details, there is always the elements you can’t control – the people and the weather. Trying to keep people on time is always a challenge even when you have a detailed script and very precise timeline, this is not the Grammy’s where you can just dim the lights and start playing music to cut off speakers. We had sponsors, doctors and a CF ambassador speaking with very important and powerful messages, plus we also had a live auction to run because at the end of the day we wanted to raise a lot of money.
Even though we ran about 30 minutes behind schedule, and despite my growing levels of anxiety, people seemed to have a great time. The flash mob (Top Rock Dance & Fitness) got people on the dance floor after they had been sitting and the live Jail and Bail (we had 5 “celebrities” locked in jail and the goal was to raise money to bail them out so they could help in the fight for CF) raised over $39,000.
Once the dancing started I could finally stop my pacing and hovering – my apologies to the guys from Quality Entertainment who had to put up with me at the tech table all night. I finally sat down and took off my fancy red shoes, after all red IS the new black. Blistered feet aside, it was a hugely successful night. Making the changes and shaking things up this year’s gala raised over $112,000, even more than they had hoped for.
I think this event shows how even though it is scary to change and do something out of the box, when you take chances you can get big results. You have to put the fun back in fundraising. There are so many galas, and events for great causes you need to set yours apart and give the guests an experience. If they are having fun they will support the cause. I’m not saying you have to constantly reinvent the wheel but rather figure out what works for your event and capitalize on that, highlight it and celebrate it. It takes courage to change but the payoff can be big.
Hopefully if I make it through this coming weekend I will have great stories and photos to share from our Open House – wish me luck and send me positive energy!!