Thirty years on the beat, and I still marvel at the extreme generosity and dedication I witness throughout our non-profit community.
It took about 10 minutes for the annual Freidrich's Ataxia Research Alliance Energy Ball to reach $550,000 in text-pledges.
The American Heart Association instantly gained $85,000 with a retail developer's nod to an auctioneer pitching an Anguilla villa vacation.
The Broadrick Family Foundation hosted 100 people at a $1,000-plate dinner in their 300-foot long driveway.
Martinis for Moffitt, begun 10 years ago to fund prostate cancer research, topped 1,200 guests this summer.
I could go on and on, and I do, extolling Tampa's impressive philanthropy.
Revenue, reputation, and a nonprofits' accomplishments all help measure an event's success. Guests glowing about the decor, food and entertainment sells next year's gala to future donors. Over the years, I've watched the upstart agencies' events grow and the area's most notable galas maintain their popularity.
How do charities get hundreds of patrons and sponsors to consistently show up, listen up and pony up? Every person brings their preferences, but I know what I've come to enjoy every weekend after I skip to three, four and more gatherings.
I always appreciate writing about the organizations that reinvent their basic events, test out new themes and venture into unusual venues. There's nothing wrong with ballroom celebrations at the Hyatt Downtown and the Marriott Waterside — but I think guests are drawn to the galas and balls that go outside the box.
There are few and far between: Peter O. Knight Airport on Davis Islands, Port Tampa Bay's Cruise Terminal and the Cattle Barons Ball tented showcase at Waterworks Park.
I am always excited to share witty party themes, like the recent 13 Ugly Men skate-dance that revived the fashion trends — and dare I say, a few faux pas — from the 1980s. Tampa General Hospital Foundation gala guests love costumes and have dressed up as the Beatles, super heroes, Dorothys, Totos and wizards.
Entertainment matters, and it's definitely impressive when a nonprofit brings in a big-name celebrity. If you can afford it, you can't go wrong with Tony Bennett (DeBartolo All-Star Charity Gala), Rob Thomas (Moffitt Cancer Center's Magnolia Ball) or Chicago (Florida Hospitals Foundation Starlight Gala). Often organizers up the ante for sponsors staging meet-and-greet moments with celebs, such as past Florida Hospitals' gala stars Josh Groban, Kevin Costner and Harry Connick Jr., and coming in November, Earth, Wind & Fire.
At the same time, local favorites including the Vodkanauts, the Black Honkeys and Southern Train have sent patrons dancing into the night. More formally, rising divas perform strolling between the elegant tables at the Opera Tampa Gala at Morsani Hall.
Of course, sometimes the smaller events — such as the upcoming 80th birthday celebration for Vince Naimoli — offer a more intimate setting that's just as meaningful.
There's also a whole host of Gasparilla off-shoots - socials ranging from coronations to keggers during the festive pirate season.
Whatever the cause, it's you, out to celebrate with friends, bid on premium prizes and buy raffles, who make or break the occasion.
Some readers will see the annual Society Datebook on Page 6 as just a list of excuses to go to a party. Many will appreciate the time and energy expended week after week creating fundraisers to educate and entertain supporters.
I certainly do. How rewarding for me to spend time with people who use their power and influence to help the less fortunate. You cry at testimonials, cheer for honorees and give as much as you can afford to the mission.
So go, see and be seen. Enjoy yourself.