When Courtney Kliman began her job last spring as development coordinator at Young-Williams Animal Center, she was eager “to have a greater impact on the community.” So, after a mere three weeks in her new post, Kliman began planning a major fundraiser for the fall.
While Kliman had experience planning weddings, this would be her first benefit event for a nonprofit. Kliman, who joined the staff of Young-Williams Animal Center after a career in television news, shared what she learned as a first-time planner with EventCheck Knox. This is the first of two parts.
Kliman first noted the success of the September event belonged to multiple people, including the hosts, sponsors, attendees, shelter staff, board of directors and planning committee.
The planning committee consisted of Kliman; Brittany Bailey, committee chair; Dr. Kristi Lively; Marketing Director Amy Styles; Kaley Abernathy; Rebecca Connelly; and Finance Director Jim Patton.
“The celebrity canine charmed everyone and was happy to pose for photos with his many fans,” Kliman said. “He was a great supporter of his brothers and sisters at Young-Williams Animal Center.”
Guests enjoyed a signature cocktail, silent auction, speakers, live music by Pistol Creek Catch of the Day and an elegant Southern dinner and dessert at the $100-per-ticket event.
The benefit raised more than $10,000 so it was a success in that important measurable for a nonprofit. It also was a learning experience for Kliman, especially in terms of communication and cooperation.
Communication – with everyone – is key.
A planner must maintain good rapport with all collaborators, including board members, hosts, guests, caterers, florists and other vendors.
Kliman said she learned when to take a different approach, listen, compromise – and ultimately work toward the common goal of planning a stellar event. Always be attentive to new ideas and suggestions.
For example, one board member suggested including a “mystery box” in the silent auction. Boxes containing surprise items were placed on the table for bid and included gift certificates for Knoxville Food Tours, Pilot Flying J or The Alley.
“The crowd had fun with this activity,” Kliman said, and the idea ended up being a revenue enhancer.
Kliman also learned the importance of clarity and clear direction, especially because an event has so many moving parts. Young-Williams held a “Howl-o-Ween” fundraiser for $75 a ticket on Oct. 30 at Jackson Terminal, so Kliman immediately put the lessons learned into use.
“Now that we have an event committee together, I’ve created a master task list for support,” Kliman said. “I will make sure to clearly lay out the goals of our event committee. Energy is contagious. Excitement motivates.”
Accept help and identify skill sets
A planning committee is put in place for a reason – divide tasks and conquer the event.
“I learned that it is OK to ask for help,” Kliman said. “You can’t do everything on your own, no matter how many hours are in a day.”
Bailey, a Young-Williams Animal Center board member, also served as committee chair so she worked closely with Kliman on the event. Bailey and Kliman brought different approaches to the fundraiser.
Bailey was capable of seeing the “big picture,” while Kliman worked on details. The two were able to work together by finding “a perfect balance” between their perspectives, Kliman noted.
“It was neat to learn how to work together and form a friendship with board members like her,” Kliman said.
Kliman will do one thing completely different next time.
“I will try to relax, and actually get some sleep the week of the event,” she said.
The event was so successful that the organizers intend to make it an annual fundraiser for the shelter, which cares for 12,000 animals every year.
“We are trying to enhance fundraising at Young-Williams Animal Center, and I think this event put us on the map,” Kliman said.
“From the very beginning, I wanted the event to feel like a charming, Southern, upscale party. I did not want it to feel like a stiff, choreographed fundraiser. I wanted to set the bar high for our future fundraisers. I am proud because I think we did just that.”
In part two, Kliman will discuss what she learned about controlling costs and securing sponsors and donations.
Erin Rainey, an intern at Moxley Carmichael, has a B.A. in English literature from the University of Tennessee. She spent last year working as an au pair in Berlin, Germany. Now that she’s back in Knoxville, Erin can be found reading Toni Morrison, camping in the Smokies and conquering arduous online shopping endeavors.