Fundraisers with a legacy resent their own unique challenge. It's risky to tinker with a successful formula, but without some intriguing new tweaks, even loyal supporters might start to slip away.

The Chicago Heart Ball, held in April, struck just the right balance as it celebrated its 30th anniversary. The big bash once again drew 800 guests to the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier to support the programs of the American Heart Association.

Deseo Events, with offices in Chicago and Miami, won the bid to produce this year's ball, a first for the eight-year-old firm. Deseo president Ana Cristina Aguirre credits her company's breadth of experience with sealing the deal. “We have experience at every level when it comes to fundraising galas,” she explains. “We assist with sponsorship procurement, public relations, decor, theme, auction items …”

The event stuck with Navy Pier as its location, as it has for the last four years. Not only does the ballroom there offer a great location and “a great team,” Aguirre says, but, “It is a magnificent venue that comfortably accommodates a sit-down dinner for 1,000.” Its only negative: “Having to walk it — it's big!” she jokes.

But from there, Aguirre and her team threw in some twists for this year's event. “We wanted to do something completely different that would stand out from last year,” she says.

She started with color. Rather than using the traditional “heart” red, she cast the cocktail hour in a vibrant mix of yellow and navy blue, which echoed the color scheme of the event's invitations and graphics. The dining room, however, was a complete contrast — an elegant palette of off-white floral and gold linen. “We wanted to give it a feel of nostalgia and elegance,” Aguirre says. The result: “A ‘wow’ effect,” she says.

The event team kept the spotlight on the 30th theme throughout the gala. A giant “30” ice sculpture saluted the anniversary, as did two eight-foot Lucite light towers featuring custom graphics showcasing AHA milestones. Also, each place setting featured a fact card with the association's accomplishments over the last 30 years.

Aguirre praises her design partners — Chicago's Kehoe Designs — for their contributions to the event. “They work with me to bring our designs and ideas to life — and then more,” she says.

She acknowledges the issues that working on an event with legacy can bring. The Heart Ball organization “is very organized,” she says. “That always helps. They know what they are doing.” On the flip side: “It is also challenging because they have seen and done it all.”

But then, first-time events are much the same. “I am currently assisting an organization with their first gala,” she says. “It represents its own unique advantage and challenges.”

Some things never change.


Deseo Events 1845 W. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60622; 312/576-2946; www.deseoevents.com