Table One Please!
Table One Please!
Written by Carrie Edelstein
Photography by Diane Anderson
The concept isn’t new: First class and coach. But now that age-old differentiation has shown up locally in a clever fundraising innovation.
“I had this idea to have a Table One and pre-sell it,” says Virginia Howell, development coordinator for COCA and event coordinator for the annual gala COCAcabana. This year, Table One sold for $15,000 before the April night ever came up on the calendar.
Howell details what donated items came with the buy: The ladies of the group had their hair and makeup done by Breeze Blow Dry Bar, a stretch limo picked the group up and at the gala, they sat at a Moroccan-style table with gold bamboo chairs (and a pashima draped on the back of each one) and dined on a separate meal of beef tenderloin and lobster prepared by Butler’s Pantry and served by a private waiter. Swag for the group included magnums of fine champagne and wine from Robust, designer flowers, notebooks, purses, and Tru Candle Studio soy candles.
“Oh, and Antonio [Douthit-Boyd] and Kirven [Douthit-Boyd, formerly principal dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and now on staff at COCA] were seated at the table, too,” Howell says.
With more than 650 guests in attendance, COCAcabana 2016 brought in close to $1 million for the arts organization. Auction items includeda private dinner for 10 with James Beard award-winning chef Gerard Craft that sold for $14,000 and one week at a private residence in Cabo San Lucas, which sold four times in a row in less than a minute, and each time for $10,000. The first COCAcabana in 1988 raised a total of $30,000.
“The key is to keep everyone surprised and engage the guests,” Howell says. “Sometimes even the chairs are surprised. We have some people coming through COCA for the first time, and we really want to show off what we are all about.” Through the years, COCA has sent ticket sales soaring with the addition of such star guests as Jon Hamm, Ellie Kemper and Andy Cohen.
The world of fundraising is changing though, creating a demand for more.
“There is a mindset shift and it’s what is happening in the country in general as a result of technology and information,” says Amit Dhawan, founder of Synergy St. Louis, which produces several events a year nationwide, including Nelly’s Black and White Ball and CUREiosty in St. Louis. “Many of the traditional models of ‘let’s have an auction and raise your paddle’ are getting somewhat outdated.”
Dhawan adds, “You can play more with the elements now, you don’t have to be as structured, and you can fundraise throughout the event… like have a charity hashtag wall, where you hashtag for a cause. Or instead of just having some décor elements, we brought in a live tiger last year [at CUREiosty]; it was incredible instragram moments.”
And with the gold standard of Table One, a new ever-so-effective way of wowing guests has succeeded in upping the fundraising ante.