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Encore! The Past Social Season in Review

From black-tie to barbecue

So many memorable parties have come and gone in the past year. Did you hear the famous Gospel Soul Children at “Soul Revival?” Perhaps you were there for the al fresco seated dinner in the Botanical Garden. Did you roll up your sleeves and roast a pig at “Hogs for the Cause?” Or maybe you went to the other extreme and donned your best tiara for the magnificent “An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey” party. The possibilities are endless. All of those parties, as well as dozens of others this year, were fantastic.

“Fall Gala”

“A Vintage Affair for MS”

But they weren’t just fun parties (although they were, indeed, fun by all accounts). Along with many others, these events have raised millions of dollars for our local nonprofit agencies. Leave it to the people of New Orleans to merge generosity and party-going in such a strikingly successful way.
While thinking about New Orleans’ unique talent for throwing a good party, I began wondering about fundraisers in other cities — does every city have as many as we do?
I decided to take a poll. Perhaps I should note that, because my poll consisted of chatting with several friends who live in other cities, my results are not statistically sound.
They are, however, quite telling. Based on this (highly unscientific) survey of my friends from other cities, I gathered that they generally attend one or two fundraisers a year.

When I posed the same question here in New Orleans, let me just say that the numbers were distinctly different. We are very clearly a city of generous and community-minded people, and we have scores of successful fundraisers to prove it.

The calendar of events listed in a year St. Charles Avenue magazines include well over 100 fundraisers. There is absolutely something for everyone, and with even a quick glance at the Registry of Charitable Events, printed three times a year, it isn’t at all difficult to find a fundraiser that fits both one’s budget and one’s philanthropic desires.


 “Magic in the Moonlight”

Magic in the Moonlight”

The best fundraisers are often those for which the event itself springs from the mission of the nonprofit. “Dress For Success,” for example, strives to “promote the economic independence of women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to help women thrive in work and life.” What better way to highlight that mission than the “Suits and Salads Luncheon?” The luncheon brings together the various aspects of the organization’s mission by including individuals who have benefited from Dress for Success in the event and by spotlighting its Magazine Street boutique, to which the proceeds are donated.
The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans achieves a similarly synergistic effect through its “Edible Evening” event. “Changing the way children eat, learn and live” is the goal of the organization, and the event both takes place in and features produce from the garden. The successful linking of mission and event, in that it both informs and engages patrons, is one of the key ingredients in the most successful fundraisers.

Entertainment is yet another factor in creating a memorable event. The “Whitney Zoo-To-Do” and “Soul Revival” are clear standouts when it comes to entertainment. With several bands on hand at each of these events, there’s never a dull moment at either. From the time of its inception, the “Whitney Zoo-To-Do” has been a smash hit and has raised over $30 million for the invaluable Audubon Nature Institute. With a great mix of bands through the years, from the Temptations to The Village People and everything in between, it’s no surprise that people from all over Louisiana flock to the “Whitney Zoo-To-Do.” “Soul Revival,” a benefit for the Legacy Donor Foundation, is widely known to be one of the most fun parties of the year – due in no small part to the lineup of bands. This year’s performers included the awe-inspiring New Orleans Gospel Soul Children, the Kinfolk Brass Band and the Benchwarmers. If you’re looking for a big event that raises money for an important cause, neither of those parties will disappoint.

Homegrown entertainment is another fundraiser favorite. Living in a city that seems to breed more than its fair share of artists and musicians has many advantages, one of which is that there’s never a shortage of talent. In fact, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts was founded in order to provide pre-professional arts training to our city’s budding writers, artists and performers. Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick Jr. and Terence Blanchard are but a few of NOCCA’s graduates; given its extraordinary talent pool, its only fitting that NOCCA’s “Art & Soul” gala features performances by students, faculty and alumni. Though not through the performing arts, the participants of the Young Aspirations|Young Artists programs are featured prominently at their fundraiser as well. A multi-faceted youth empowerment program, YAYA gives young artists “the tools and the savvy to become professionally successful artists, while instilling in them skills useful in general life endeavors as well.” In keeping with its mission, the “Just Say YAYA” benefit gives its young artists an important opportunity to interact with YAYA patrons. So if you’d like to find one event at which you can add to your art collection, support a local nonprofit, and help foster the talent of a young artist, look no further – just say YAYA.

Among the long list of fundraisers in New Orleans, several stand out as perennial favorites. “This is my favorite party of the year” is perhaps the phrase most often overheard at the New Orleans Museum of Art during the preview party for “Art In Bloom” (second only to “how did they do that with flowers?”). An astonishing display of creativity and floral talent, “Art in Bloom” is always a blockbuster. The preview party and auction are superb, not to mention that the lectures and luncheon sell out every year. The fashion show, presented by “Art In Bloom” sponsor Saks Fifth Avenue, has become a must-see event. The generous team at Saks Fifth Avenue also stages a wildly popular fashion show for the “Mad Hatter’s Luncheon.” Hosted by The Women’s Guild of the New Orleans Opera Association, the “Mad Hatter’s Luncheon” is an event for which attendees start planning long in advance. (If you’ve ever seen the level of intricacy involved in the designing of some of the award-winning hats, you’ll understand the need for advance planning.) Between the hat contest (including the coveted Mad Hatter’s Choice award) and the Alice In Wonderland costumes, the event is a whimsical and fun favorite.

For those of you who are hoping for a little star-gazing to go along with your charitable donation, there are a couple of options: “Magic In The Moonlight” and the “Make It Right Gala.” The former is a seated dinner under the stars benefiting the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation.

The latter, needless to say, is the star-studded event benefiting Brad Pitt’s Make it Right Foundation. Though relatively new to the fundraiser calendar, “Magic In The Moonlight” has quickly become so popular that you must buy your tickets as soon as they’re available; it’s a sold out event every year. The New Orleans Botanical Garden is arguably one of the prettiest spots in town (if you’ve never been, you’re in for a treat).


“An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey”

“Hogs for the Cause”

With long tables set amidst the hedges of the garden and twinkling lights that seem to be floating down from the oak trees, this party is absolutely stunning. For star sightings of another sort, the Make It Right Foundation’s gala is the place to be. The line-up for the 2014 gala included Chris Rock, Kings of Leon and Bruno Mars.
The 2012 event, attended by a bevy of stars including Kanye West, Rihanna and Ellen DeGeneres, raised something in the neighborhood of $4 million. Since its founding in 2007, Make it Right has built 100 affordable, durable, eco-friendly houses in the Lower 9th Ward. Star-studded and successful, the “Make It Right Gala” lends a touch of extra glamour to the New Orleans fundraising circuit.

If a glamorous (though slightly less Hollywood-centric) evening is what you’re hoping to find, our city’s museums host fabulous events. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s cleverly named “O What a Night Gala” is easily one of the year’s most notable events. With its double parties (the patron party held each year at a private residence is on Friday night and the gala fundraiser is at the Ogden on the following night), the event continually raises the bar for New Orleans fundraisers. While “O What a Night” is still in its early years, NOMA’s “Odyssey Ball,” on the other hand, is nearly 50 years old. At just over 100 years old, NOMA bears the distinction of being the oldest fine arts institution in the city. With the added twist of a different theme each year, the “Odyssey Ball” is an exciting and eagerly anticipated evening. Inspired by the legendary “Black and White Ball” hosted by Truman Capote at the Plaza Hotel in 1966, the 2013 “Black & White Odyssey” was an enchanting and elegant evening (this in spite of the fact that the LSU-Alabama game was being broadcast on the big screen TV in the Junior Patron Lounge).

It would take much more time and many more pages to touch on all of the worthy fundraisers in New Orleans. I could fill an entire page just on the phenomenon that is “Hogs For The Cause.” The turnout this year was astounding – and in the mud, no less. Proceeds from the event provide financial relief to the families of children who are undergoing pediatric brain cancer. Founded just six years ago, it has been an unmitigated success. The crowds have grown steadily since its inception, with a record breaking 20,000 people in attendance this year. To create an event that generates a crowd that size in only six years is nothing short of extraordinary.
And, let’s be honest, turning barbecuing into a competitive activity is perhaps the most ingenious way imaginable to draw men into the world of fundraising.

Though smaller in size than the pig roast for 20,000 people, there are a number of equally impressive events that support the much-needed social services in our city. Easily the most poignant is the “Sleep Out for Covenant House.” On November 14, 2013, a group of 93 individuals voluntarily slept out on the street to raise awareness and money for the young people in New Orleans who don’t have a home. Covenant House provides a safe haven for at-risk and homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 21. According to its website, as many as 2 million young people find themselves homeless each year—and that’s just in the United States. The 2013 “Sleep Out” raised more than $200,000 that will benefit the homeless youth in New Orleans. “A Night in the Garden of Eden” is yet another fundraiser that benefits individuals in crisis. The event raises funds for Eden House, a residential program that serves women who have been victims of human trafficking. And last but by no means least, the “Get Fired Up for Kingsley House” event is unique in that there’s no set ticket price (though guests are asked to make a donation at the door).
Kingsley House is a multi-faceted agency that serves people of all ages. From its nationally accredited early childhood programs, to after school enrichment programs for teens and adult services programs for senior citizens, Kingsley House enriches the lives of entire families – and even entire communities. An impressive and truly exceptional organization, Kingsley House is one of the South’s preeminent social services institutions.

There is, without a doubt, something for everyone in the fundraising world of New Orleans. I would challenge any other city to match the sheer enthusiasm with which we approach charitable giving, not only in planning events but in generously supporting them as well. Whether you are interested in the most glamorous event or the least glamorous, the most expensive ticket in town or the no-cost ticket, black-tie or barbecue, there’s always an avenue for your charitable giving, and there’s always a way for you to make an impact. Open your calendar and start planning your schedule; I’m already hearing a buzz about a few of next season’s events!
 


THE MOST LIST

Most Elegant: “Fall Gala” celebrating the Historic Houses Society
Most Creative: “Just Say YAYA” benefiting Young Aspirations|Young Artists
Most Musical: “Soul Revival” benefiting Legacy Donor Foundation
Most Inspiring: “A Vintage Affair for MS” benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society
Most Festive: “Holiday Home Tour” benefiting the Preservation Resource Center
Most Fetching: “Howling Success” benefiting the Louisiana SPCA
Most Peripatetic: “Sentimental Journeys” benefiting Longue Vue House & Gardens
Most Glam: “O What a Night” benefiting The Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Most Posh: “An Evening Inspired by Downton Abbey” benefiting WYES
Most Luminous: “Magic in the Moonlight” benefiting the New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation
Most Florid: “Art in Bloom” benefiting the New Orleans Museum of Art and the Garden Study Club of New Orleans
Most Sartorial: “Suits & Salads Luncheon” benefiting Dress for Success
Most Heartfelt:  “Heart & Soul Gala” benefiting the American Heart Association
Most Illuminating: “An Evening Benefiting Lighthouse Louisiana”
Most Important: ”Crimestoppers Carnivale” benefiting Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans
Most Wild: “Whitney Zoo-To-Do” benefiting Audubon Zoo
Most Literary: Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival
Most Charming: “Juleps in June” benefiting the Faulkner Society
Most Southern: “Sippin’ in Seersucker” benefiting The Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Most Refreshing: “Edible Evening” benefiting Edible Schoolyard
Most Contemporary: “SweetArts Ball” benefiting the Contemporary Arts Center
Most Artsy: “LOVE in the Garden” benefiting New Orleans Museum of Art
Most Dazzling: “Make It Right Gala” benefiting the Make It Right Foundation
Most Dramatic: “Art & Soul” benefiting the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts
Most Humorous: “Cochon Cotillion” benefiting Bridge House/Grace House
Most Kid Friendly: “CHAIRish the Children” benefiting the Louisiana Children’s Museum
And Last But Not Least …
The Sweetest: “Sugarplum Ball” benefiting Children’s Hospital
The Smokiest: “Hogs for the Cause”
 

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