How Tom Sherak Works His Fundraising Magic for the MS Dinner of Champions

Tom Sherak Oscars Portrait 2011
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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 07:  Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak arrives at the 83rd Academy Awards nominations luncheon held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 7, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.

The AMPAS president and gala dinner chair shares how his efforts translate into top-name honorees

Arguably, the only winning streak in Hollywood that dwarfs Pixar’s is Tom Sherak’s run at getting big names for his annual MS Dinner of Champions.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president (and former marketing/distribution head at Fox and Revolution partner) has, in the past, tapped Sir Howard Stringer, Peter Chernin, Joe Roth and Harvey Weinstein among others to be honorees -- and it wasn’t prospect of a fine meal at the Century Plaza Hotel that drew them. It was the fact that as dinner chairman, Sherak was doing the “ask.”

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Because of Sherak’s efforts, the MS dinner has raised $43 million in the past 18 years. Tonight, at the 37th annual gala, Regal Entertainment president Greg Dunn will receive the evening’s honor, which will once again be handed out at the Century Plaza.

The Hollywood Reporter checked in with Sherak to find out how he makes it all happen year after year.

The Hollywood Reporter: What’s one key to making the dinner work?

Tom Sherak: Make it quick. Gourmet quick is what I call it. We get them out of there early – no later than a quarter to 10. The faster I run the dinner the fewer mistakes I can make.

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THR: What’s the trick to asking for donations?

Sherak: The secret with giving is you should give until it feels good, not until it hurts. There’s no arm-twisting in asking for donations.
THR: You learned this by trial and error?

Sherak: Don’t make the mistake of trying to get deeper into the pocket of someone who is making a donation. Somebody gives you something, you say “thank you” and move on.
THR: Will you always stick with the dinner/honoree format?

Sherak: I wish there was another way to do this. You know how many dinners there are. But I can’t come up with a way to do it differently. If you just do a journal you can’t raise as much. Right now, you have to have a dinner.
THR: Is it easier to get a Chernin or a Weinstein to be honoree than it is to get Eddie Murphy to emcee the Oscars?

Sherak: I didn’t have to get Eddie. Someone else chooses the host. That’s just the way it works. But I’d love to have him at the MS dinner, but it wouldn’t be fair to ask.