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Non-profits Counter the Economy with Creative Events that Really Count
Innovative planner shows how creative, value-added events can bring philanthropic organizations new money and a renewed sense of commitment, even during an economic downturn.
By: Karen Hansen Event Group
Under current conditions, reaching and engaging people of means who want to help requires “a fresher, more intelligent approach to fundraising than hosting the usual sit-down dinner or silent auction,” according to Karen Hansen, president of the Karen Hansen Event Group (ENHANS) and one of Chicago’s most imaginative event producers. “Today, you need more compelling justification for spending money on an event—whether you’re the host or one of the guests.”
ENHANS is in the vanguard of a trend toward original and interactive events that offer considerably more redeeming social value than the conventional charity gala, generic golf outing, or cookie-cutter cocktail party. The trend is affecting everything from fundraisers to private celebrations.
For example, Urban Gateways, the oldest multidisciplinary arts education organization in Chicago, recently hosted one of Hansen’s signature Celebrate Family™ events as a fundraiser. Distinguished by visually exciting staging, culturally significant venues, and a unique collaborative partnership with some of Chicago’s most talented theater groups and performing artists, Celebrate Family events bring classic literature, folklore, art, and fantasy to life in a fun and sophisticated way that appeals to guests of all ages.
Held in the landmark Chicago Cultural Center in June, An Urban Night’s Dream captivated the 300 adults and young supporters of Urban Gateways in attendance. The evening featured firsthand encounters with the visual, literary, digital, and performing arts, including improvisational storytellers, a high-energy mash-up of comic theater and artistic expression, and irresistible installations with peepholes revealing hidden treasures. Clever and inviting food stations served sophisticated comfort foods like create-your-
According to Sherre Jennings Cullen, Urban Gateways director of development, the event was “the most successful ever for the organization and certainly the most creative,” despite a limited budget. From the minute guests entered the venue, said Cullen, “they felt drawn in by all the imaginative details—music, art, activities, theatrical experiences, videos—and ENHANS took care of everything. The environment really sold the event for our guests.” Julie F. Simpson, Urban Gateways executive director, reported that the organization was “flooded with emails from happy guests” following the event, which raised more than $140,000.00. The evening was such a resounding success that the organization already has ENHANS booked for a 2010 fundraiser.
“People are beginning to see the value of forgoing elaborate events, in response not only to the realities of the current recession but also to the growing importance of building authentic relationships and staying connected,” said Hansen. “Creative and interactive events foster deeper connections and actually make resources go farther. You can tell a captivating story and be incredibly imaginative even on a minimal budget. It is surprising what you can do when the goal is producing a special experience, not just a special event.”
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About Karen Hansen Event Group (ENHANS): ENHANS is an independent event and sports hospitality management company with strong ties to Chicago’s corporate and philanthropic communities. Known for producing remarkably creative and engaging guest experiences, ENHANS president and creative director Karen Hansen, has been successfully producing and managing exceptional events for more than 25 years. From her early days as a special events manager for an upscale department store chain to her corporate position as Senior Event Manager for Arthur Andersen LLP, she has created a broad range of innovative and memorable corporate functions, conferences, promotional events, charity fashion shows, fundraising galas and private celebrations.