Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We Had A Party

Since before Labor Day I have been working with a committee of three to plan a fund-raising event for the orchestra, and I’ll write about that here so that a year from now, when we likely will do this all over again, I’ll be able to look back at a record of the rights and wrongs committed.

This all started last summer when our general manager asked the acting event planner, Katy, to come up with some kind of dinner/dance fund-raising event. Maybe she didn’t specifically say “dance,” but that’s what I recall. Katy asked me to help, and we sat on this idea for a while. There was no time to put it together that summer, so we aimed for New Years and had a great plan for a bash. The hall we wanted to use wasn’t free, though, so we thought about Mardi Gras instead. But another money-asking non-profit hosts a big Mardi Gras event, so we aimed for a mid-winter ball instead. I don’t know why that idea didn’t fly, but then we got to summer and couldn’t put it off any longer.

We looked at different venues—there aren’t many around here that are aesthetically pleasing and crowd-accommodating, and we finally decided on the local country club. It doesn’t hold a lot of people, but we determined it would be sufficient, and their new chef has a great reputation, and they had a Saturday free that wouldn't conflict with local football games. Yes, we seriously had to consider that.

Next up was finding the right music. Part of our on-going planning (or non-planning) discussions last year included the possibility of producing a kind of live vintage radio program with an announcer and mock commercials you would have heard in the 40s and a big band. All of those ideas fell by the wayside for lack of available leadership at the time, and we decided to simplify the idea to just hiring a big band. An orchestra member recommended a great one from just 30 minutes away, The John Trapani Big Band. They were available, so we booked them.

Venue set. Food set. Music set. And that left us with promotion. We were not given a budget by the board, so we decided to go cheap, or free if you must. The orchestra’s e-mail mailing list has 1,600 names, so I designed a virtual postcard and sent it out. We included the same announcement in the newsletter and put it on Facebook and emailed it to as many of our personal friends we could dream of.

We even sent it to strangers—I mentally drove through town and made note of the larger businesses that weren’t currently orchestra supporters or on the mailing list and emailed them.  No one reserved seats from that exercise, but two businesses sent money. Then we decided to spend a little money and mailed out 450 actual postcards, then ran a press release in the local newspaper and did a live spot on the local radio station.

So, with all of that coverage, how many people do you think reserved seats for our big dinner/dance benefit? Take a guess, go ahead. OK, I’ll tell you—55, and that includes the three of us plus spouses. Not one performing orchestra member responded, not one concert sponsor responded who wasn’t already on the board and fewer than half the board members reserved seats. In fact, as many as five members didn’t bother to respond one way or the other and completely ignored repeated emails and boardroom discussions.

We came close to canceling the event and might have if the band hadn’t had a sizable kill fee, and we realized we would have lost more money by canceling than if we went ahead with it. (Actually, that was based on faulty calculations, and we lost about as much as the kill fee in the end).

So, 55 people—make that 53 because there were two no-shows—gathered for a great dinner and dancing to a 19-piece band. It was fun, it made a great impression on those people who did attend, and now people are talking about doing this again next year. Board members, those who participated, were encouraging and said we should look at this experience as the beginning of something and let go of the initial intent of making money. We had a party instead. We made friends and contacts, and that’s about as important if not more.

Will we do this again next year? From here, it seems likely, but we’ll have to figure out why so few people responded other than general indifference and lack of courtesy. We have to figure out what would get them off the couch, out the door, into their party duds and at the table with friends and music and a good cause. That’s a trick, evidently.

I will say, as a personal testimony, I wore a dress and heels. I bought a lovely new bracelet and had my nails done because they're finally long enough for such a frivolous thing. And Husband and I danced, which we haven't done since our last dance lesson months and months ago. People should get out more often because it's good for the soul and the self-esteem. Maybe that's what we should put on the invitations next year.

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