An Evening Under the Harvest Moon

(Los Angeles, CA)- For the last 21 years, TreePeople has hosted a gala fundraiser and awards benefit dinner every autumn in recognition and celebration of partnerships and people that have supported the organization and its mission throughout the year.


Category: Special Events Fundraising
OVERVIEW

In 2007, An Evening Under the Harvest Moon raised $550,000 for TreePeople’s forestry, environmental education and sustainability programs.
This year’s event, honoring The Walt Disney Company, will be held at TreePeople’s Center for Community Forestry and will showcase TreePeople’s newly constructed learning center, nursery and urban watershed garden. TreePeople hopes to raise $600,000 this year and have 600 attendees.
BACKGROUND
TreePeople’s mission is “to inspire the people of Los Angeles to take responsibility for the urban forest – educating, training, and supporting them as they plant and care for trees and improve the neighborhoods in which they live, learn, work and play.”
Founded in 1973, TreePeople focuses on three areas:
* Training and supporting communities to plant and care for trees
* Educating school children and adults about environment and
* Working with government agencies on critical water issues
* TreePeople has approximately 10,000 members, thousands of volunteers and 55 full-time and part-time staff.
COMPONENTS
An Evening Under the Harvest Moon 2008 will feature food, drinks, entertainment, a silent auction, videos on TreePeople’s programs, interactive educational stations highlighting TreePeople activities and an awards presentation.
Planning for this annual event begins in early January, with the solicitation of items for the silent auction and the selection of honorees.
A steering committee which includes representatives from the honoree agency, members of TreePeople’s board of directors as well as at-large community members begins meeting monthly in February. The committee is led by TreePeople staff as well as a small team of event producers.
Kelley Skumautz, Annual Fund Director for TreePeople, estimates that An Evening Under the Harvest Moon requires 50 percent of the time of three staff members, including her, for about three months. The event producers are hired for three months also. All TreePeople staff members contribute to the event in some way.
Identifying an honoree or slate of honorees
One of the first tasks is to identify an honoree or slate of honorees that will be acknowledged at the event and will serve as the event’s primary sponsor(s).
Typically, the honoree commits to raise or donate approximately $100,000 to the event. Skumautz says that finding the appropriate honorees and working with them to ensure that they receive the publicity and recognition they deserve is a key piece to making the gala successful.
This year The Walt Disney Company will be the primary sponsor and will receive TreePeople’s Partners in Community award.
Additional sponsorships and individual invitations
Next, TreePeople solicits donors to participate in the event at differing sponsorship levels with corresponding benefits.
This year there are four levels of sponsorship ranging from a contribution of $2,500 to one of $25,000. Each level of sponsorship receives benefits such as tickets to the gala and publicity in event literature and at the event itself. Individual tickets are $500.
Skumautz stresses the importance of person-to-person contact in attracting sponsors and individual ticket purchasers. TreePeople has about 15 people who actively assist with this personal fundraising effort including event steering committee members, board members and staff.
TreePeople uses eRSVP, an on-line service (www.eRSVP.com) to send electronic invitations to everyone who has donated $100 or more to TreePeople and for whom TreePeople has an email address. This has proved to be less-costly, as well as more environmentally-friendly, than using paper invitations.
Event logistics
This year, for the first time in six years, TreePeople will be hosting An Evening under the Harvest Moon at its Center for Community Forestry in Coldwater Canyon Park.
The event will begin with a reception in the parking lot of their new center with passed hors d’oeuvres, followed by a 20-minute award presentation. Attendees will then be invited into the park where there will be six specialty food stations, sponsored by renowned, local chefs and restaurants, along with a main bar and three wine tasting stations (each sponsored by a different winery).
There will be five hands-on interactive stations showcasing TreePeople’s work and encouraging distinct learning objectives. In addition there will be docents at various park locations to explain TreePeople programs, as well as four video stations with two-minute videos of TreePeople activities that are undertaken off-site such as mountain forestry, eco-tours for children and community engagement projects.
A disc jockey will play throughout the event and a silent auction will be held.
In the amphitheater there will be two musical performances and a celebrity will interview TreePeople Founder and President, Andy Lipkis.
The event will end with a finale performance and dancing to Combolux, a Latin band. Guests will also be offered dessert and coffee. Attendees will be invited to receive guest gifts of their choosing from items donated from local businesses and located at stations at the event exit.
All food and beverages will be donated which will save money but requires significant staff time to procure and coordinate. Next year, it is likely that TreePeople will return to having the event catered.
RESULTS
In 2007, An Evening Under the Harvest Moon raised $550,000 for forestry, environmental education and sustainability programs. TreePeople hopes to raise $600,000 and attract 600 attendees to An Evening Under the Harvest Moon 2008.
Skumautz emphasizes that the benefits of An Evening Under the Harvest Moon reach beyond the actual dollars raised. “It is more than a fundraising event,” says Skumautz. “It has a strong communications and branding element. It gives us an opportunity to publicize our organization and our programs and to attract new people to our work.”
LESSONS LEARNED
1. Special events can bring more to your organization than fundraising. They help publicize your programs, recognize major supporters and cultivate future donors.
2. Special events should be only one piece of an overall comprehensive fundraising strategy. They are limited in what they can raise, can be extremely time-consuming and are difficult to successfully undertake in hard economic times.
3. Develop several levels of sponsorships. Recognize that the larger sponsorships result in higher profit margins for the organization. It takes just as much time to work with the smaller sponsors as it does with the larger ones.
4. One of the best ways to develop higher level sponsors is to develop current donors and move them from one level of giving to the next. It is harder to go out and attract first time donors at a high level.
5. Special events offer an opportunity to cultivate one-time donors who are close to, partner with or are otherwise connected to current honorees and sponsors.
6. Pay close attention to how much you will be spending on the event as compared to how much you will earn. This is important not only for your bottom line but also for how your organization is viewed by charity rating systems. TreePeople expects to spend $175,000 on An Evening Under the Harvest Moon and raise $600,000. This would result in $425,000 net profit. A good rule of thumb is to try to bring at least three to four dollars for every dollar spent.
7. Silent auctions require a great deal of time. TreePeople has found that there is less interest in them over the years and will probably not offer one at next year’s An Evening Under the Harvest Moon.
Contact Information:
TreePeople
12601 Mulholland Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Phone: 818-753-4600