Experts offer tips on organizing perfect events

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Deciding to get involved with philanthropy is a great first step, but when it comes to showing nonprofits the money, intentions aren't worth much. With hundreds of benefits held around town every year, the competition for donor dollars is fierce. Of course, big entertainment industry names on the invitation are a huge plus. But there's more to the art of the benefit. Here are some tips from top pros in the events industry on getting people in the door -- and making them glad they came.

Send a great invitation.

"You really have to catch them with the invitation. You have to come up with a great design.

"The invitation sets the mood. You have to incorporate the design into the event. Use it as your design palette. And make sure it's designed properly with the correct information. People want to know who's on the board, what's the mission statement, what's the program, who they're honoring, whether there's a silent auction. Sometimes people include silent auction items. You need to pull people in to pay $250 a ticket. Sometimes it's easier to go on the Web site. Sometimes they'll have schematics of the ballroom. Is it handicapped accessible? There are a lot of things people don't think about."

-- Russell Harris, Russell Harris Event Group

Marshal a troop of volunteers to work the phones and back them up with good PR.

"People have to come together for a common purpose. (Nonprofits) will say, 'You do everything.' I say, 'Hold it. You need to help. It's your organization. I don't have a magic phone.' I think volunteers are incredible.

"Events are 50% PR. I always try to get my client to hire PR."

-- Judy Levy, Levy, Pazanti & Associates

Have a hook and keep your audience interested.

"Like any event on the corporate side, there's got to be a hook. Is it the performance? Is it the cause? Is it the venue? Is it the look? All these variables go into the pot. We've all been there where the program and speeches are too long.

"The entertainment is critical. You will lose people after the first course if the entertainment isn't strategically placed throughout the program. If you put the honoree at the top of the evening, you'll lose 25% after the honoree gets the award. My suggestion is always put the honoree at the tail end."   

    -- Tony Schubert, Event Eleven

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