Society / Featured Parties

Wading Into the World of Virtual Galas — Is This Houston’s Nonprofit Future?

Tuxedo Jackets and Bermuda Shorts, Heartfelt Videos and Pricey Invitations

BY // 05.13.20

With the cancellation in March of all upcoming social gatherings, Houston nonprofits have been scrambling to find alternative means of raising the all-important funds generated by luncheons, galas, and dinners. Many have turned to the virtual event, which could be a hit or miss in these uncharted waters.

One remarkable success was JDRF Houston Promise Ball, which turned lemons into limoncello.

Ka-ching, ka-ching! The event on May 8 raised more than $1.2 million as supporters joined the Zoom party that was broadcast on YouTube. They dressed up, they dressed down, and they wore pajamas as they tuned into the program led by emcee Drew Dougherty, Texans TV host and a diabetic. Setting the fashion pace, he wore tuxedo jacket, shirt, and tie over his Bermuda shorts.

Across the city, JDRF Houston board members dressed to impress as photographer Barbara Perlick made the rounds, volunteering her talents to photograph those who were into the playful spirit of the night. The couple of shots she missed that we would love to have seen were supporters diving into their swimming pools as the Fund a Cure coffer swelled.

The program included in-home testimonials from diabetes patients including Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Carter, who has Type 1 diabetes, and WWE star Lacey Evans, who suffered from gestational diabetes. Honorees Peggy and Robert Kruckemeyer shared their story as well.

You can watch a replay of the event on YouTube at this link.

Ronald McDonald House

Ronald McDonald House Houston’s virtual luncheon presentation on May 6 was so compelling that the 22-minute video with guest speaker Cole Dawson, cancer and heart-transplant survivor, raised $326,400, just shy of the $350,000 goal.

Perhaps because I was watching from my home office, not sitting in a country club ballroom, I found that I had great patience for viewing the video in its entirety and could fully appreciate every aspect. The smartly done presentation includes remarks from RMHH CEO Rick Noriega and chairs Erin and Shane Kimzey; the interview of Dawson, conducted by Melissa Wilson; and acknowledgement of honorees.

To date, the video has received 2,100 views, far more than the 600 that would have filled the River Oaks Country Club ballroom for the luncheon. Details on the RMHH text-to-give opportunity can be found here.

Holocaust Museum Houston

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award Dinner, originally scheduled for May 11, was moved to May 7 for a virtual happening. Held the day before V-E Day, which celebrates Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces in World War II, the fundraiser was transformed to one of the earliest virtual charity events of the 2020 pandemic. Typically attended by more than 1,000 and raising more than $1 million, the museum’s largest fundraiser each year became a view-from-home event in 2020.

The virtual evening continued the planned program with Brigadier General Felix L. Sparks honored posthumously and a virtual conversation with WWII historian and New York Times bestselling author Alex Kershaw and Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter.

The one-hour-and-23-minute program included personal messages from dinner chairs Heidi and David Gerger, Sultana and Moez Mangalji, and Andrea and Bill White.

Financial goal for the seated dinner was $1.2 million.

“The invitations were at the printer when the museum had to close due to the virus citywide shutdown,” HMH senior development director Amanda Shagrin tells PaperCity. “We made the decision to convert the in-person program to a virtual program, raising an additional $100,000 from the virtual event for a current fundraising total of $775,000.”

The program can be viewed here.

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