While it’s not always easy to strike a balance between awareness and fun, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee have created two events that manage to do just that with “Dancing with the Knoxville Stars” and “Gals & Glamour.”
Dancing with the Knoxville Stars (DWTKS) has become a significant fundraiser for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital through donations and ticket sales. Gals & Glamour provides a fashionable evening while raising awareness about hunger in East Tennessee and the work of Second Harvest Food Bank. In both cases, planners identified target audiences, created memorable events for attendees and still kept the spotlight on the purpose.
Erica Estep, public relations manager for East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, provides four tips for planners looking to balance fun with focus: determine needs, recruit participants, connect them to the cause and promote the event.
“Our development team identifies an area of need, something tangible we can purchase with donations raised during our event, and we let celebrity dancers know what they are raising money for,” Estep said.
For example, the 2015 event helped the hospital purchase ventilators for children who are home health care patients.
By establishing a measurable goal, planners focus on the amount of money needed, and participants are motivated to raise as much as possible.
When it comes to recruiting competitors, Estep wants to find people who have a connection to the hospital or interest in children’s health because those participants will be motivated to raise money.
The competitors include local celebrities, such as news anchors and radio hosts, who will be coached by a team of professional dance instructors. That also will assist with media coverage.
“DWTKS gets bigger and better each year, and it all starts with our celebrity dancers,” Estep said. “Keeping the focus on the cause is easier when you recruit people who express a strong desire to support the hospital’s mission.”
To further connect the participants to the cause, they are taken on a tour of the hospital before the event. Estep believes that seeing the hospital and the children who are treated there truly ties everything together.
“The expert care and compassion provided in our hospital speaks for itself and getting a glimpse of it firsthand serves as motivation to not only be the best dancer, but also to compete to raise the most money for the kids,” Estep said. “The dancers become our best marketers.”
The final step is to thoroughly promote the event and cause, which also can produce public donations.
“The hospital’s website and social media channels are used to promote the event, and we encourage our celebrity dancers to promote their participation as well,” Estep said.
“A social media hashtag is created and shared with all media partners and event participants. Behind-the-scenes videos of dancers practicing, news stories featuring patient ambassadors who will benefit from the money raised and weekly radio interviews all serve to build hype for the event, while reminding the public that any money they donate will help a child at Children’s Hospital.”
Another example of an event that balances a worthy cause with a fun time is Second Harvest’s Gals & Glamour. Natalie Bailey, an expert event planner at Moxley Carmichael, assisted with the event and was an attendee.
The 2015 event was held at the Knoxville Museum of Art and offered a selection of great wines, cocktails, delectable snacks by the UT Culinary program and a runway fashion show that featured the latest trends in Knoxville. The glamourous evening also included a mystery silent auction and boutique shopping.
A key to finding that balance between a fun experience and an important cause is knowing your target audience, according to Bailey.
“Women statistically give more to philanthropies than men, so while men were still invited to Gals & Glamour, it was geared more towards women,” said Bailey, adding the fashion show also enhanced its appeal and included VIP seating.
One of the strengths of the event was the many avenues it created for donations and participants. The local boutiques set up booths with merchandise, and a portion of the proceeds were donated to Second Harvest.
“Gals & Glamour addressed a very serious issue in our community,” Bailey said.
“The event, first and foremost, helps to feed the hungry. The participants were able to attend a fun event while knowing they were helping a great cause.”
Katie Young, a summer intern at Moxley Carmichael, is a sophomore English major at the University of Tennessee. When she’s not ghost hunting, obsessing over all things Edgar Allan Poe or watching terrible scary movies with her sister, Katie thinks about pizza and sends a totally reasonable number of Snapchats to friends of her rescue dog, Sirius.