WHAT'S THE GOOD WORD

When it comes to fundraisers, educating the audience is paramount, and, according to Bryan Rafanelli, president of Boston-based Rafanelli Events, decor is the ideal medium for brand exposure.

“One of the trends we love right now is something we’re calling ‘educore,’ or educational decor,” he says. “It is an easy and affordable way to bring the branding and messaging of your event to the tables where guests are seated, and put it directly onto the elements they interact with, react to and remember.” From Plexiglas boxes covered with branded wraps of words and factoids about the charity to tags on cocktail napkins, “Everything the guest touches has a subtle message that, collectively, creates big impact,” Rafanelli says.

For presentations at the events, Rafanelli is a strong believer in “mission-based moments” designed to bond the attendees to the cause and encourage giving. “We create moments that are direct, powerful and effective,” he says. “It’s a ‘coming together’ of the entire room at a single point in time.” To ensure success, Rafanelli has started providing his clients with professional coaching. If the client opts for a video, the team creates media content that is more editorial in style than a traditional messaging piece.

“What ultimately impresses guests is the feeling of value and of being valued,” Rafanelli says. “This means decor must be smart, but not over the top.”

Next Page: A Legendary Event Creates 'Decor that Matters'

DECOR 'THAT MATTERS'

As Tony Conway, CMP, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based A Legendary Event, puts it, "We think smart and create decor that matters.”

For an event benefitting the elderly, Conway and his team assembled centerpieces of tea kettles filled with flowers and teas, which were delivered post-event to seniors through the local Meals on Wheels program. “The centerpiece became a meaningful gift that brightened their day,” Conway explains.Amidst the meaning and purpose, however, there must be beauty. To Conway, nothing achieves a sense of elegance better than floral. “Centerpieces are the connection between the overall theme of the event and the smaller, more intimate gatherings that are created at each table,” he says. “Just be sure they are well-lit!” Next Page: Method 42 Goes Custom

THE POWER OF CUSTOM DECOR

“Our clients’ taste regarding decor and theme has become much more sophisticated,” says Annette Kevranian, partner and CEO of San Jose, Calif.-based Method 42 Productions. “They have a lot of experience with fundraisers and are much more creative, so they want their events to be more cutting-edge and off the wall.”

To Kevranian and Aardvark Winland, Method 42's creative director, being off the wall often involves putting something on the wall—specifically, giant mural boards, which provide an interactive, performance-art element popular with their hipster clientele. The 20-foot board starts out blank, with a commissioned artist creating a mural themed to the event throughout the course of the evening. “It’s done in a black-light medium, so with the UV lighting, it really pops,” Kevranian says. As an added bonus, the sponsor’s name is incorporated into the finished piece. For San Francisco-themed events, Method 42 creates molded 3D tabletop hearts, decorated to depict different districts of the city. Attendees can sponsor a heart as part of their donation, and the hearts can be auctioned off.“Because we custom-build everything, we’re able to provide our clients and their sponsors with some unique opportunities in terms of presentation and savings,” Kevranian says. “We can incorporate a sponsor's imagery, logo or message into the decor, and in return, they fund the decor item. This saves the client money and gives the sponsor a cool presentation of their imagery at the event.” Next Page: AOO Events Ups the Entertainment Factor

THE ENTERTAINMENT FACTOR

Increasing the donor base and engaging the existing one is a challenge faced by every nonprofit. And sometimes, no matter how beautiful or branded the event, the prime goal is to get the tickets sold and the room filled. This is best achieved, according to David Merrell, president and creative director of Los Angeles-based AOO Events, by high caliber entertainment, especially in "been there, done that" L.A.

“The way to get new donors is by bringing in an honoree that has his or her own following,” Merrell says, noting that celebrities are best, or at least someone of influence who has a huge following. “It’s the best way to fill a room, while not being repetitive to your existing base.”At a recent gala for the Heart Foundation, Merrell and his team, which included superstar caterer Wolfgang Puck, secured a veritable trifecta of talent with Ryan Seacrest as emcee, Dana Carvey as the opening act, and Michael Buble as the headliner—all of whom performed free of charge. As an added bonus (and due to Seacrest’s involvement), TV show "American Idol" agreed to donate one dollar of every ticket sold on its summer tour to the Heart Foundation. “Entertainment is always important at these types of high-end events,” Merrell says. “You need to give the guests something that they couldn’t normally experience.” The September-October issue of Special Events, which mails this week, includes the complete version of this article along with a major feature on milestone events and the 11th edition of our "50 Top Event Companies" list. The magazine is free to ISES members; subscriptions can also be ordered here.