The best fundraising events connect an organization’s supporters with its mission in an authentically moving way. For 826michigan, that meant an intimate dinner in a historically signifi cant building in Detroit.
826michigan is part of a national nonprofit network of centers dedicated to inspiring and supporting writing by school-aged students, co-founded by renowned author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari. It hosts a couple of fundraising dinners each year, along with several smaller events. For Parka Weather, its February fundraiser, it headed to the Grand Army of the Republic building, home to the restaurants Republic and Parks and Rec.
“It was a great spot for an event for us,” says Executive Director Amanda Uhle. “I always want our events to be a really lovely, memorable experience for our guests. I think we’ve gotten good at that, making the details really special, but they’re not budget busters. We’re trying to give people an experience, to have a really good meal in a special location and interact with an author. All of that is learning about and supporting 826michigan.”
The event was the first to be held at the GAR since it reopened. The 19th-century building, which had been shuttered since 1983, was bought in 2011 by the partners in Mindfield, a video production company, and then lovingly restored. Mindfield occupies the top two floors; the restaurants are on the first. Sean Emery, a Mindfield partner, is a member of 826michigan’s board and suggested the second-floor space for its dinner.
“It’s just an amazing icon in the city of Detroit, and it’s sort of an enigma at the same time,” Emery says. “There aren’t many downtown cores where you can find a Romanesque castle, especially one that’s been abandoned. It really is a unique venue, especially for more emotional events that you want to go back and remember.”
For Parka Weather, guests proceeded up the grand stairway and entered an anteroom, where a bartender served wine and attendees could peruse books by the guest of honor, novelist Angela Flournoy, and by 826michigan students. (The event’s name wasn’t a misnomer; it was originally scheduled for the fall but had to be postponed when Flournoy was nominated for a National Book Award and the ceremony conflicted with the dinner.)
After the reception, guests entered the highceilinged, L-shaped main room for dinner. The space accommodates about 125 seated, and two parallel rows of rectangular tables were set end to end.
Décor, provided by Lisa Waud of Pot & Box, included brown paper as table covering, with rosemary sprigs, votive candles and moss providing the accents. The effect was simple but lovely.
“Lisa has done every single benefit dinner for us,” Uhle says. “She finds a way to have a not-high cost but an incredibly beautiful design. We’re very lucky to have her. She takes it to a new place for us every time.”
Food was provided by Republic, and was far from baked-chicken fare: The menu included roasted local carrots with dill pesto and cashew cream; house beef-and-lamb meatballs with almond chile Romesco and house-pickled chiles; and roast chicken with white-root puree, roasted cauliflower, black garlic, barley and figs.
“I look at our events as a way to cultivate new people who don’t know anything about our organization and that might really have an interest if they have a way to get to know us,” Uhle says. “I also really like to thank people who have been involved. Those two functions of our events are really important.
“With Detroit events, we have really tried to find unusual places, places you can’t go to another way,” she adds. “You couldn’t ask for a more charming or dramatic space than a little castle.”