Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Visionaries, Opulence, and Cold Hard Cash

One of the classic tactics in fundraising (and many other types of businesses) is to throw a big event. You make it the place to be, create an experience, and then watch the money flow in.

On Monday night, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis threw a bash to celebrate the three supporting family foundations, Lubin-Green, Krazberg, and Staenberg, who provide a huge amount of funding to the community.

The ritzy event took place at.. well the Ritz, and was quite a production. In addition to the open bars, and who's who (including the Mayor of St. Louis, the County Executive, the Senator, and the Governor), the $250 per seat dinner included entertainment from Michael Feinstein, famous singer, pianist, and music revivalist. Feinstein, at 54, was ever the entertainer, laying on the Jewish pretty thick for the audience. His smile, sealed against his teeth by what appeared to be a fresh session of Botox, was both endearing and frightening.

As one of the 30 under 30 there (not as in the award, but as in there probably were seriously only 30 people there under the age of 30), I have to say it was a totally different world.

But behind the glitz and glamor, the opulence and spectacle was a clear purpose. The Federation was looking to do what it does best: raise money. The event hoped to bring in $300,000, as well as to encourage people to set up gifts to Federation as part of their estate, as something they are calling 'Legacy' gifts.

In the current economy, not only has Federation's fundraising take been down, the needs have skyrocketed.

And so, the Visionaries event was put together and, as productions go, it was nearly flawless. Sure, the community wanted to honor some of the largest philanthropists, but in doing so, the Federation is sending some clear messages that it expects other well resourced-families to step up and pull their weight. As a former student of psychology, I can appreciate the modeling effect. Not only do you encourage a behavior by rewarding it, you can also use this reward to socialize others as to what is expected behavior.

Whether or not the Federation pulls in quite as much as they initially planned for, the event will likely be seen as a huge success in the community and put the Federation back at top of mind for many of those present.

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