As director of distinguished events at the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society since 2005, Lee Kite oversees the organization’s blockbuster Discovery Ball. This year’s gala netted more than $2.1 million, exceeding the budgeted goal by more than 15 percent and surpassing the $1.8 million haul from 2007. That success is due in part to the beneﬁt’s board of ambassadors, which Kite created to attract the support of local philanthropists and C.E.O.s. The board grew, too, from 27 members in 2007 to more than 70 this year. Each board member makes a ﬁnancial commitment at the outset of the ball’s planning process, and Kite and her team demonstrate where sponsors’ dollars are going throughout the year.
Proving the Return: “The American Cancer Society has a national program that provides heavy training in proof of sponsorship. Sponsors want to see viability and return on investment, along with an alignment of their brand to a cause that matters to their employees. It is our responsibility to show them this proof. We look at this like a small contract. We have fun coming up with creative, eye-catching packages, which we deliver to a sponsor post-event and which demonstrate all of the placements—photos, programs, clip reels, press clips, etc.—that were promised when the sponsor agreed to support. We also enclose a commitment form for the following year.”
Personal Touches: “Our events are pipelines to future donors. We want them to be fun and exciting and beautiful, of course, but we’re also looking for partners and ways to gain visibility with attendees. To achieve this, we place special emphasis on personal touches. For example, right after the Discovery Ball, we gave our C.E.O. a list of major donors. He carved out time to make direct thank-you calls to these people.”
Constant Contact: “We try to steward our donors along a continuum of support for the American Cancer Society. [In 2008] we invited many of our [Discovery Ball] partners, donors, and guests to our patient navigation center at the University of Chicago—we take every opportunity to show people exactly how their money is being used. Guests also left the Discovery Ball with a departure gift and a letter from me and our event chair, thanking them and telling them that they’d be hearing from us within the next couple of months.”