The economy is warming up, the party scene is hot and charity events must be sizzling to succeed. Within the past decade, we went from boom time to one of the tightest budget crunches in recent history and back to solid ground. Colorado’s nonprofits are delighted in the change of circumstances; however, now, more than ever, they feel the pressure to create fundraising events that are truly memorable and impressionable.
Construction is skyrocketing in Colorado— we are in a building surge and there are many industrial, warehouse and other rough spaces accessible for event planners. Once considered taboo in the industry for a nonprofit function, showcasing empty hospitals, old shipping containers and even the classic airplane hangar is on trend this year. People want to know where their money is going, and with a raw space transformed for your specific event—from lighting and heating to flooring—this choice can present even more of a nonprofit’s personality.
No one was able to capitalize on this trend more so than veteran event planner Gareth Heyman, owner of MorEvents based in Englewood. He had never been asked to host a social function in a hospital, and might never be able to do so again in the future. “Usually, you are visiting a hospital for a sick friend or for your own needs, never for a festive function,” explains Heyman. For the new Saint Joseph Hospital grand gala in bitter cold December, Heyman and his team of “surgeons,” including Doug Lane of Fastlane Productions, Deirdre Wildmand of Catering by Design, Eric Stephenson Photography and Kim Wilson of MorEvents, had 36 magic hours to create a black-tie event in the outside ambulance bay of the new facility.
The party was in between the end of construction and hours before the patients, equipment and staff moved over from the other location. The event was on the second-floor ambulance bay, which presented the challenge of moving 1,000 people (many in high heels) on a busy street in uptown Denver to a secondfloor parking ramp with cold, sleek floors.
“The cement structure was built to design logistically for ambulances and ER needs. Of course, we had to design buffet or sit down and all those choices, but then core elements such as sealing off open parts of ambulance bays and then heating them, we had to get creative to keep the ambiance,” remarks Heyman.
Floors were heated from underneath to keep women in heels warm, and executive restrooms were brought in. Valet parking and shuttle service were provided by Jay’s Valet to make sure everyone was comfortable and not walking in the cold. A menu of extravagance and entertainment by The Hunter Sullivan Band transformed Saint Joseph’s ambulance bay into a stunning masterpiece of design.
“This building has been a Denver icon for a century, and we needed to remind guests of this accomplishment. We brought them in through the main entrance of the hospital where there were tours of the new spaces. We further escorted them to the ER through a long hallway, creating the real-life element. The awe that people had and not expecting this … that was the most rewarding,” notes Heyman. “For so many guests were wondering what they were going to do with these corridors and spaces, not realizing they were in an ER!”
John Tobey, of Denver-based John Tobey Event Design, has been tasked with similar requests. “People don’t want the rubber chicken dinner in a static ballroom anymore; they want to be able to infuse their own personalities and customization. I have had wonderful success with raw spaces.”
Tobey transformed an empty space in the Denver Pavilions on the 16th Street Mall into a Denver birthday and nonprofit exposé. The gentleman had simply requested his guests make a contribution to a charity in lieu of gifts. They were then treated to chef demos and interactions, which were by far the favorite. The birthday man and his friends stood center stage in front of guests and prepared food with some of the state’s most famous chefs in an Iron Chef-type challenge. The party was then served their food creations; it was a huge change-up from passed hors d’oeuvres and a big hit.
“I have had several requests already for the new Avanti Food & Beverage space in LoHi. The customized hip and groovy food court featuring chefs is extremely popular and on trend,” explains Tobey. People want to know more about the food and mingle in different settings rather than traditional landscapes, and these industrial spaces are proving timeless.
What’s popular, what’s big in Hollywood, what’s the latest sports’ craze? These cultural icons make for great events and incredible backdrops for any type of gathering. If guests are familiar with the theme, they are instantly more engaged. Partner that with your nonprofit and it’s a winning duo.
HopeWest’s mission is to profoundly change the way the Western Slope community experiences serious illness and grief—one family at a time. This nonprofit doesn’t hold back anything when hosting its annual gala series. The first was held in Grand Junction at Two Rivers Convention Center for 800 guests, the second in Montrose at Montrose Pavilion for 420 guests and the third in Delta at Bill Heddles Recreation Center for 320.
Each gala was a masterpiece of the movie Frozen, a winter wonderland with hints of the Disney movie, and there wasn’t even a child present. For each event the décor was identical, with much of it coming from the communities in unique ways.
“We repurpose the majority of our décor from previous years. We had a prior Art Deco theme and were able to reuse the Plexiglas and Lucite originally donated from Reynolds Polymer, a local organization that manufactures acrylic and resin-based products internationally. We transformed the Plexiglas and Lucite into icicles and sculptures,” says Special Events Coordinator Mary Hiler. “The icebergs were made of Styrofoam donated from local business Moonscapes 3D. They had extralarge foam from creating bronze statues. Of course we doused them in glitter to look like crystals and snow.”
Hiler works diligently with her team of volunteers to keep the events spectacular because they are sold out year-to-year. Sometimes the change in venue for each evening proves a challenge, as each is a different size and menus vary depending on location, but the décor is always the constant and a standout.
“To keep with the Frozen theme, we had 26 life-size penguins, all creatively made from papier-mâché by volunteers,” she notes. “We ended up having to sell them because people were begging for them. We got creative with some snow cone cups and yarn for chandeliers, and we had an amazing volunteer and local artist hand paint the backdrop for us; it’s just a very supportive community.”
Even traditional elements like the signature cocktail were spruced up in a bright blue Frozen color and named Frostbite and Fractal Martinis. And, simple food items on the buffet table were crafted into penguins to never lose the theme. But don’t worry; the fabulous décor was then redonated to Plateau Valley High School for use for its winter formal and prom.
That’s exactly why Harry Potter is also still brewing magic for events, both for those who create them and those who attend. Paula DuPré Pesmen, executive director of There With Care, is a sorcerer herself. She was a film producer for many years for well-known movies such as Harry Potter, Mrs. Doubtfire and Nine Months Rent. A decade ago, she left Hollywood to start There With Care, a nonprofit for families and children facing critical illness, with offices in Boulder and Denver. She reaches out to her friends from the worlds of film, music and entertainment and helps their star power light up the lives of critically ill little ones and family members.
“This year, with the help of Quincy Jones Productions, we are grateful to welcome a singer named Grace, who just rerecorded a song with Quincy co-producing and performed on the Today Show this past August as their artist of the month. Also attending is writer/director Victor Levin, Harry Potter actor Devon Murray ‘Seamus’ and singer Zach Heckendorf.”
DuPré Pesmen is able to use her wizardry to bring beloved Hollywood characters to her nonprofit to help entertain attendees. “The talented people I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years are genuine and caring. I’m honored that they are inspired to join us in our work at There With Care. Over the years, they’ve made a tremendous difference and we couldn’t do it without them,” she emphasizes.
What’s more popular than Colorado’s very own USA Pro Challenge bike race? Brad Appel, founder of Denver-based Wish for Wheels, did a build/give with the Town of Breckenridge and raised money all in one. Kids who were in need of bikes from Summit County came together to build their own bikes prerace and during the USA Pro Challenge they brought their bikes back and did a parade down Main Street, which garnered donations. What’s better exposure and reason for people to get together than a sporting event and children proud of their accomplishments?
Fun Tricks for Trial
Consider going out of the box for your next fundraiser. It might pay off.
FLAMINGOS IN THE SNOW
If you’ve got to stand out, nothing might do so more than a bright, pink flamingo in the dead of winter in the mountains. “During National Mentoring Month in January, we do a flamingo fundraiser. Businesses or individuals make a donation and in return, we will place a flock of pink flamingos in the requested yard/location. Along with the flamingos, we put up a yard sign that says, ‘You’ve Been Flocked’ with our website and phone number. The recipient gets a notice of who flocked them as well as the opportunity to retaliate or flock someone else. It’s a twist on a traditional fundraiser.” —Becky Slamal, community outreach manager, Partners in Routt County.
GO BIG & INCLUDE IT ALL
“We’re the first cultural nonprofit ever to rent out the entire Lakeside Amusement Park—open bar included—to mark our fifth-year anniversary and raise money and awareness. It’s a ticketed event and has become an end-of-summer staple. Each year we go bigger and more adventurous. We need to make it enticing and stand out. This year, we had over 2,000 attendees!” —Katie Shapiro, public relations, Denver Film Society.
SWEET, SWEET CHARITY
Bespoke Events wanted to surprise and delight guests at its springtime event, a gala at The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch, for nonprofit, First Descents. The annual sellout gathering has a consistent guest list, so organizers must be very thoughtful in changing up plans each year. “Dancing to live music always goes late into the night and opening up a traditional banquet break wasn’t going to wow our guests, so we worked with By Design Event Décor to build an 8-foot-by-16-foot wall of every flavored doughnut you could imagine. Guests literally screamed and ran down the hall as we pulled back the curtains for the big reveal! The accompanying milk bar in champagne flutes and shot glasses made for great toasts to a successful night!” —Justin Ball, president, Bespoke Event Group.