In Any Event 

Friends of Literacy turns a unique page

Friends of Literacy logo

A hot topic for event planners is themed events, but how does the conversation change when the theme is not clearly tied to the organization’s mission?

We went to Melissa Nance, executive director of Friends of Literacy, for expert answers.


Nance and her staff have planned and executed two very successful events – “Guys That Give: Bachelor Auction” and “Boots, Buckles, and Books” – in support of the organization, which offers free, high-quality literacy and adult education programs in Knox County.

Melissa Nance, executive director of the Friends of Literacy
Melissa Nance, executive director of the Friends of Literacy

“I don’t necessarily think the event theme has to tie to what you do,” Nance said.  “If you can give people a fun time, they’re going to come. We wanted an event where people would come no matter the cause – we wanted them to come because of the event.”

Mission accomplished.

While event themes often have a direct connection to the benefiting organization, planners also should stretch their creative minds.

Creating these types of events, however, is not always easy. Nance and her team faced challenges in the brainstorming process, particularly generating effective ideas.



While “Boots, Buckles, and Books” just happened to roll off of a colleague’s tongue one day, the “Guys That Give” auction took more time and collaboration.

“Honestly, we found the idea for the bachelor auction by Googling unique fundraisers,” said Nance, adding that researching what has worked for other organizations is a great way to find fresh ideas.

The initial auction in 2011 was attended by about 100 people. This year, attendance increased to more than 300 supporters.

FOLguysthatgiveThe bachelor auction is particularly successful because the organization is able to connect and engage with people who might not otherwise know about Friends of Literacy.

“The bachelors got their friends involved,” Nance said. “They were able to help us market the event.”

The bachelors are particularly marketable when they have talents or occupations that appeal to a unique bidder, such as a firefighter or jazz musician.

Not only do the bachelors share information about the organization, but they also lead to increased media coverage because the notion of auctioning dates to raise funds for literacy is an appealing story.

“Boots, Buckles, and Boots” debuted last year at The Stables at Hunter Valley Farm, and the western theme was a hit with attendees, so much so that the event will be held again this year on Aug. 21.

Although not quite as abstract as a bachelor auction for a literacy organization, “Boots, Buckles, and Books” embraced the rustic idea with dinner in a converted stall, craft cocktail, dancing, live band and an evening under the stars.

Friends of Literacy Save the Date image

Attendees were encouraged to wear western attire. The organization accentuated the theme with creative save-the-date cards and invitations.

The first event used the shape of a cowboy boot, while the second made creative use of the space on a cowboy hat.

While Friends of Literacy wants to generate interest with this approach, it is still very important that the event raises funds and educates attendees about the organization’s mission.


A signature event with a readily apparent connection to Friends of Literacy is the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame, which will be held Oct. 22 at Lighthouse Knoxville.

Friends of Literacy encourages event planners to branch out and explore various themes with confidence.

“All of the events are overwhelmingly positive for us,” Nance said.

Tricia Klebe, an intern at Moxley Carmichael, is a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in communication studies. She likes to ride her Quarter Horse named Jesse Randle – they have been best friends since Tricia was in the fifth grade – cook and attend concerts while living under the credo of George Strait: “I ain’t here for a long time, I’m here for a good time.”

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