Originally created 03/14/03

Lower prices could help fund-raisers



Several weeks ago, I wrote about some concerns I had about fund-raising campaigns in Augusta. Soon after, I decided that while that column might have brought a few points to light, truly drawing attention to the good and bad in area fund-raisers was a task to be tackled over an extended period time, using specific events as illustrations.

So I've busted out the tuxedo to spend some time with the caviar-and-canape set. I've bought a big bottle of antacids in preparation for the impending barbecue benefits, and I am ready to cast a careful eye over the endless assortment of raffles, drawings and auctions aimed at putting cash in coffers.

Recently, I spent time at two of the larger-scale events on the benefit calender - the Walton Rehabilitation Mardi Gras Bash and the Morris Museum of Art's annual black-tie gala. Each is an event on an epic scale, a Ben Hur benefit operating under the assumption that bigger is better.

The Mardi Gras Bash, held March 1 at the Old Medical College building on Telfair, seemed to take its cues from the chaotic nature of the famous New Orleans festival. Participants were encouraged to weave and wind their way through rooms and corridors looking for a little Louisiana they could call their own. For some, it might have been dancing to jazz standards, as provided by the Masters of Swing band, for others, a little gambling in a faux Garden District casino or karaoke in the eerie Voodoo Lounge. The event also featured roving performance artists, the traditional crowning of a king and queen and artists displaying their wares.

By contrast, the thematic elements at the Morris gala, held March 7, were decidedly more low key. While there was a Southern room and a Spanish room and a Russian room, featuring music, food and drink from the respective regions, the appeal of the event was more guest-focused, spying on the glittering gala attendees dressed to the nines - sometimes the tens or twelves.

Both events, given the constraints of the high-dollar benefit bash (admission to the Walton party was $75 a head, the Morris, $175), were successful. Both brought in much-needed financial infusions and left participants with the warm, goodwill glow that comes with charitable chowing down. They were alternately elegant or funky, as required, and each lived up to its pre-event billing.

But here's the rub.

I have to wonder if the big-bucks fund-raising extravaganza is really the best course of action. Certainly each of these galas was designed to put the maximum number of pennies into each organization's piggy banks and accomplished that mission handily. But, in a perfect world, couldn't these events accomplish a little more? Let's imagine for a moment that each organization offered up an event with a far friendlier ticket price. Logically, the result would be events that attract a broader spectrum of attendees, thereby increasing attendance numbers and the profile of each group. Walton Rehab can do nothing but benefit from household name status and the Morris, like so many art museums, continues to struggle with art's image as something elitist.

So instead of focusing on the relatively few willing and able to pay premium prices for a fund-raising evening, perhaps a reinvention of these evenings, with a larger segment of the population in mind, might up the ante, both financially and in the community.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.