At the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Chance of a Lifetime gala at McCormick Place on Saturday night, more than 500 items were up for grabs in the silent auction, making it one of the largest charity auctions seen at any event on Chicago’s fund-raising calendar this year. Other numbers that make the foundation's gala stand out in the local black-tie circuit? It draws close to 2,000 people annually, and this year it raised $2.6 million for diabetes research.
Michelle Paulsen, the foundation's associate executive director, estimated that she and her team spent six months planning the gala. “We’re not known for lavish decor or over-the-top flowers,“ she said. “That’s because we’re very focused on raising the most money we can. But we do try to make the night a smooth and personal experience for each of our guests.”
With an estimated 400 volunteers working the gala this year, efforts to streamline the evening featured an express check-out option at the end of the auction—guests pre-registered their credit card information when they purchased tickets to the event—and, for guests who had come in from the suburbs, trolley service to a downtown hotel at the end of the evening.
To help personalize the evening, planners tasked greeters with thanking specific attendees and sponsors throughout dinner. Those who purchased a table at the $1,500 price were treated to their own event concierge, who brought them drinks from the bar, retrieved items from the coat check and assisted with auction checkout. “It was almost like having your own really good personal waiter,” said Paulsen.
Steve Winwood headlined the evening with a post-dinner performance in the Arie Crown Theater. Trish Phebus, a producer at Williams/Gerard Productions, booked and planned the talent. Phebus's team also created graphics, a video presentation to thank sponsors, and a scenic element for the stage. “This year we made a star curtain to serve as a backdrop for the band,” she says. “We thought that was appropriate for the ‘Don’t You Know What the Night Can Do’ theme.”