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Charity fundraisers adapt to economy

TAMPA — Buckle up. Looks like we're in for an action-packed season, bumpy economy or not. And just like in Washington, D.C., change is in the air. Some charities, eyeing tighter wallets, have re-evaluated the role of glitzy galas. Some nonprofits threw away the rules and re-invented their fundraisers to keep them going.

Last year, for instance, the Florida Orchestra canceled its New Year's Eve gala, and now the annual Mozart, Motown and More (MoMoMo) is no, no, no more.

Another no-go: the family-oriented Baseball for Kids dinner and auction.

And at the Florida Blood Services Foundation, organizers pulled the plug on the 2009 Gift of Life gala, also known as the Mad Hatter's Ball. Instead, they seek more cost-effective ways to raise money.

When I asked why, Florida Orchestra chairman Jay B. Starkey Jr. answered in an e-mail. "The bottom line,'' he wrote, "is that organizations have a limited amount of resources and we need to use them in the format that will bring the greatest return. Do we want to throw a party, or do we want to generate funds to carry out our mission?"

On the other hand, the American Red Cross never considered canceling its spring gala. Diane Watt, chairwoman of volunteers, said even if it doesn't make money, it's an annual showcase of their services, particularly to the armed forces. For years, a MASH theme brought guests in hospital scrubs and military camouflage gear. On June 6, they'll enjoy A Night in Havana, a theme Watt hopes sticks as a signature event.

Sometimes, just a few tweaks to an established event can draw a whole new crowd. That's why you'll notice some changes among the 100 fundraisers on our annual Social Calendar.

Tampa Museum of Art's formal Pavilion committee dropped the pomp as soon as the building was demolished. Once Tampa's exclusive white-tie ball, guests are asked to wear formal chic, which may be black-tie or no-tie, short dress or long gown, to the Nov. 1 party at SkyPoint condominium, on twin terraces overlooking the museum construction.

"It's a bash ... nothing stuffy," said Debra Williams McDaniel, co-chair along with Carlton Carter. "It's meant to be a very democratic party, if you will, to appeal to all age groups. We're really trying to reinvent ourselves."

Rather than a five-course, five-wine meal, small plates of food will be butlered to cabanas and bistro tables. "One terrace will feel like South Beach," said Williams McDaniel. "The other side gives you a Mediterranean chill vibe."

And no auctions that night, live or silent.

Can a new name or a new location pump up attendance? Starlight Ball chairman Jim Henning thinks so. He has dubbed the 18th annual gala Rock the Cradle to hype proceeds going to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University Community Hospital. He bumped the sit-down dinner to buffets at the Renaissance Hotel International Plaza — and dumped black-tie for jacket-only.

Dropping the formalities at the Nov. 8 affair helped reduce the ticket price by 50 bucks, to $250, and "might draw a new generation of supporters, said Nikki Powers of UCH Foundation, "and they can certainly still dress up if they like." The auctions remain, and she expects to meet or beat last year's net of $240,000.

Hearts of Fire Tampa Bay co-chairs Suzanne Avery and Liz Young, tweaked the Muscular Dystrophy Association's Oct. 11 gala to "creative black-tie," and encourage guests to wear denim, diamond and boots.

We'll let you know if these changes pay off.

You're cordially invited to join me every Friday, right here in City Times, to find news and photos from these worthwhile events.

Charity fundraisers adapt to economy 09/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 11, 2008 12:11pm]
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