Gone are the days of the stuffy black-tie fundraising gala: an event built on a five-course meal and lengthy live program featuring speakers touting organizational accomplishments.
Today’s eventgoers demand a more interactive experience. They want to engage with the organization and its mission. They want to do, not just give. They want to be motivated to act, not simply told to donate.
Enter the creation of the multi-sensory event experience. This trend in event production stimulates all five senses, delighting guests and putting them in the correct frame of mind to seek more information, give or volunteer—and influence their peers to join them.
Full sensory immersion creates a more memorable event experience. And it doesn’t have to drive event costs up, even small touches can stimulate the senses and leave a lasting impression.
Below are two examples of how simple details can provide an outstanding and engaging experience for the next generation of eventgoers.
The Make Your Mark Gala
Allendale Columbia School (AC) is a leading independent co-ed college prep school for students nursery through grade 12. In 2016, the school hosted a fundraising gala to celebrate its 125th anniversary. It was critical to tie the essence of the school to the event, highlighting the deep roots and history of the school, while at the same time featuring the progressive education and forward-thinking opportunities provided to students. The event was called “Make Your Mark” signifying how AC makes a mark on the lives of its students and how the students and alumni, in turn, make their mark on the world.
- The rustic-chic ambiance included soft lighting, natural fibers and fresh-cut flowers represented Allendale Columbia’s cherished campus and traditions.
- AC is known for its iconic birch trees covering the campus, so the focal point of many of the tables was birch vases filled with white hydrangeas.
- In contrast to the natural décor, there were six large monitors setup inside the tent that displayed images from AC throughout the evening, signifying its high-tech element.
- As guests walked up the green at Oak Hill Country Club, they were greeted by the voices of Allendale Columbia’s Girls’ Ensemble.
- During cocktail hour, guests enjoyed the sounds of a jazz duo from the school’s band.
- The messaging for the evening was provided by the dynamic and charismatic Head of School who spoke directly to the guests’ donations and the specific programs and initiatives these funds would support. The Head of School stood amongst the guests in the center of the room on a low circular stage versus a high stage at one end of the room; he became a part of the guest experience.
- Dinner was served family-style, similar to the way the students eat at school.
- Desserts were created by the AC Food Service team.
- The signature cocktail —AC 125—was modeled after the French 75.
- Sprigs of Rosemary were set on each place setting, creating an inviting aroma to all who entered.
- Attendees signed their names on tablets with their fingers upon checking in, and toward the end of the evening, those names came together on screens around the room to form ‘125’ signaling how important each person was to the school’s heritage.
- Guests had the opportunity to contribute to a live painting that was led by one of the school’s art teachers. At the conclusion of the event, the painting was taken back to AC where it now hangs in the cafeteria.
The Highland Gala
The Highland Hospital Foundation hosts its annual fundraising gala each spring to raise funds for the community hospital’s innovative and leading-edge programs and initiatives, delivered in a close-knit family setting. Each year, the event raises the bar for immersive event experiences, stewarding existing donors while attracting new supporters and ambassadors through their willingness to adapt and change to their growing younger audience. This year’s concept transported guests to the seaside for an evening of elegance and warmth.
- Cocktail hour was highlighted by upscale cabanas with comfortable furniture for lounging and conversing.
- As you walked down the narrow boardwalk from cocktail hour to the ballroom area, you entered a full tent of sheer white fabric housing 80 circular and rectangular banquet tables. Your gaze was immediately drawn to a 120’ by 40’ projector wall showing the ocean waves quietly moving toward the sand and a still evening sky with the sun just beginning to set over the horizon. As the evening progressed the sun set over the ocean and the stars appeared in the clear night sky. As the image on the projection wall grew darker, the warm lighting in the tent grew brighter.
- The tables were dotted by beautiful teals and oranges in both the napkins and floral arrangements.
- Upon entering the cocktail hour, a steel drum band filled the room, setting the mood for a fun and beachy evening.
- When guests exited the board walk and entered the ballroom, they were met with the soothing sound of waves lapping against the beach and seagulls flying overhead.
- Following the program, a dueling piano band continued the evening’s light, yet sophisticated theme.
- Dinner included light seafood fare furthering the oceanside experience.
- The signature cocktail was a fruity beach concoction, mixed specially for our guest upon request.
- Post event included alcoholic snow cones, which continued the seaside/boardwalk feel.
- The smell of seafood appetizers and meals created an aroma reminiscent of a seaside stroll.
- Soft throw pillows on lounge furniture, sheer, smooth tenting fabric provided a gentle feel, while rough wood elements in the branches lining the board walk and sand and seashells in the centerpieces provided texture and invited guests to examine their surroundings through direct contact.
Activating your guests’ five senses will elevate your event from your competitors and increase the likelihood that your event, and message, will be remembered long after its conclusion.
Erin’s natural and focused talent for organization, attention to detail, creativity and concept design has positioned her as an event industry rock star who produces amazing results for her clients. Through her work and partnership with The Optical Society, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Rochester Spinal Association and URMC, Erin has honed her event production, entertainment booking and guest engagement skills. Before joining Dixon Schwabl, she served as development coordinator for the Pluta Cancer Center foundation.