Friday, February 24, 2012

Anatomy of a successful fundraiser

Art With Heart event co-chairs Katherine Daly and Hillary Lacouture deserve a lot of credit for the success of this year's art auction that brought in $150,000 in one evening for United Family Services and its new shelter for victims of domestic abuse. That impressive number brings the annual event's fundraising total over its history to more than $1 million.

Of course a lot of hard work went into that one evening. The number of hours Daly, Lacouture and their equally energetic committee members put into the event over the past year are off the charts.

I'm always in awe of the dedication of volunteers in our community. Many of them - including Daly and Lacouture - have a lot going on in their lives already such as full-time jobs, spouses, children and homes to take care of. Yet they care enough to put the effort into finding a nonprofit that's close to their hearts; and are self-aware enough to have figured out their own special talents and how they can be used to help the cause the most.

Art With Heart already had a lot going for it thanks to past event committees: A great cause (stopping the cycle of domestic violence), a great signature event (an auction of quality art at a variety of different price points), a great date (it's in early February when the social calendar hasn't exploded) and a great venue (Founders Hall, which is large enough to comfortably contain the hundreds of guests while still having space to show off all the art).

But like all good gala chairs, Daly and Lacouture wanted to make it even better. Here are four things they added this year that were a hit with guests, and one thing they would do differently.

1. BidPal. It was the first time guests were given one of the gadgets that literally bid on their favorite silent auction items for them. Since almost everyone is tech-obsessed now, it was not only fun but practical. Guests enjoyed the evening, and placed more bids, because it made the process so much easier.
2. House of Prayer Band. Any event organizer knows that trying to move guests from one area to another makes herding turtles look like a breeze. When it came time for the live auction to begin, guests were motivated to move by the energetic House of Prayer band that marched in and engaged and entertained guests enough to lead them into the auction's seated area.
3. Professional Lighting. Guests who had been coming for years were blown away by the quality of lighting at this year's event, and how it showcased the art at its best. In the past, volunteers hung the art against black backdrops. This year, United Family Services' president and CEO Phil Kline, the former head of the Mint Museum, recommended that the museum's Kurt Warnke, head of design and installation, hang the art. The difference was dramatic.
4. The Best Bar Ever. In my professional party experience, one of the top reasons guests will get grumpy is if they have to wait in a long line for a drink. No one could complain at Art With Heart because there was a large oval bar in the center of Founders Hall. Its shape meant that guests could order their drink from many different angles so no one ever had to stand in line or wait. Plus, there were several smaller bars set up in the corners. Brilliant.

The dynamic duo has signed on to be next year's volunteer event chairs. And of course they're already planning on how to top themselves. One thing they've decided to add in 2013 are new mediums to the art offerings including blown glass and other three-dimensional works.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Aretha Franklin remembers Whitney Houston during special Charlotte concert

There was already excitement over legendary singer Aretha Franklin performing Feb. 13 at McGlohon Theater in Spirit Square as part of the private concert series, Music with Friends. But when Franklin’s goddaughter, Whitney Houston, died a few days beforehand, a national media frenzy broke out because it would be Franklin’s first concert since the sad news.

“I’ve been in this business since 1973 and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Larry Farber of EastCoast Entertainment, who’s also co-founder of Music With Friends. “ABC, NBC, all the networks – everyone was calling because they wanted to be there to see what she would do.”

It turned out to be a magical, heartfelt evening, and freelance photographer Daniel Coston was there taking photos for the Observer. He has a wonderful description of the evening on his blog, Coston Chronicles, at

The first half of the show was upbeat, and Franklin showed she can still nail the notes in her iconic songs. After a break, she sat down at the piano and took the audience on a tribute to Houston.

“It really was like being thrown back into an old Baptist church 30 or 40 years ago,” Farber said.

Franklin, whose style is rooted in gospel music, started playing the chords to “I Will Always Love You.” As Coston described it, Franklin began to rearrange the chords into a gospel hymn, singing to God and to Houston in a call-and-response manner. “There are gates at the entrance to heaven,” Franklin sang, “and they swung open for her.”

“It was understated and real,” Coston told me later. “She was really working out her emotions on stage, then she thanked the audience for sharing the moment with her.”

For Farber, it was a highlight for the club, which presents three concerts a year by legendary musicians in an intimate setting for 600. There are 30 memberships left. The initial fee is $500; annual membership dues are $1,650 per person and include the concerts, cocktail parties and after parties.

For more info, contact Becky Mitchener, director of development for Music with Friends, at 704-907-1806 or e-mail her at Details are also at For more photos, go to the Scene & Heard slideshow at

Monday, February 13, 2012

A tiny treat for someone sweet

One of my colleagues brought in an army of these adorable edible mice for us to enjoy.

I was so taken with how cute and delicious they were, I wanted to share this photo and recipe in case you're looking for a quick homemade treat for someone sweet on Valentine's Day.

Because you decorate each mouse's face, they take on their own cute personalities. Of course that didn't stop us from grabbing them by their "tails" and gobbling them up, but we did pause to look at their precious faces beforehand.

24 maraschino cherries with stems
Waxed paper
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
24 of your favorite variety of Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped
48 almond slices

Drain the cherries and pat them dry with paper towels. Line a cookie sheet with waxed paper.
Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and heat them until smooth, working in 15-second intervals, stirring between each.
Holding a cherry by its stem, dip it into the chocolate and swirl it around to completely cover the fruit. Set it on its side on the waxed paper and immediately press a Hershey's Kiss onto the cherry for the head. Allow a few minutes to set, then gently wedge two almond slices between the Kiss and the cherry. Repeat to make 24 mice. Take a skewer and dip the tip in the melted chocolate to add on the eyes and mouth.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A lovely evening with Linda and Bob Bertges

Wells Fargo executive Bob Bertges and his wife Linda are the honorary chairs of For the Young at Heart Valentine Ball coming up Saturday, Feb. 11, at Myers Park Country Club. The gala covers two causes that are close to the couple's hearts: the arts and history.

The gala raises money for Charlotte Concerts, a nonprofit founded in 1930 that was the first organization to present a performing arts series in Charlotte.

The lovely evening starts at 6:30 p.m. with a cocktail reception where guests can mingle and bid on silent auction items before being seated for dinner. There's also a live auction conducted by auctioneer extraordinaire Ernest Perry. A Frank Sinatra singer will woo guests with the legend's famous songs and there's dancing to the Count Basie Tribute Orchestra.

Tickets are $250 per person and can be reserved until noon on Friday, Feb. 10, by calling 704-458-5141.