Cancer Society Uses Electronic Bidding to Tighten Gala Program, Create Greener Event

At the Discovery Ball, the American Cancer Society employed biodegradable decor and electronic bidding to create a green-as-possible event.

By Jenny Berg April 27, 2009, 4:50 PM EDT

Dinner at the Civic Opera House

Photo: Eddie Quinones for BizBash

American Cancer Society's Discovery Ball
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At the American Cancer Society's Discovery Ball, at the Civic Opera House on Saturday night, apple-green draping separated the check-in area from the lobby, where servers shook up specialty “Discovertinis” at grass-covered bars. On highboys set up throughout the reception area, plant patterns decorated candle holders, and servers from Blue Plate Catering circulated with leaf-adorned hors d'oeuvre trays.

According to Lee Kite, the society's director of distinguished events, the demonstrable green theme reflected a current focus of both the American Cancer Society and Boeing, the evening's lead sponsor. (Boeing chairman, president, and C.E.O. James McNerney and his wife, Haity, also chaired the ball.) Both companies are focusing on environmental efforts, and in keeping with that, “I'm pleased to say that we've covered the greening of the Discovery Ball quite well," Kite said last week.

The event's signature hue presented a literal take on the concept, and “we've also worked with our vendors, like Kehoe Designs, to make sure that everything we're using this year is fully biodegradable and recyclable,“ Kite said. “Devising this year's look and feel was a very thoughtful process. Guests will see something that's really quite lovely, but we've thought a lot about [tempering] extravagance to make sure that we're being especially attentive to stewarding our donor dollars." 

To aid in the greening efforts, planners arranged for a paperless check-in area—where volunteers registered some 1,000 guests using computers and American Cancer Society software—and for paper-free auction bidding. Upon arrival, each attendee received an IML handheld bidding machine along with a personalized credit-card-like activation device. The cards also held guests' table numbers, “so that we don't have to use traditional place cards,” Kite said.

Because Saturday's event marked the first time that the handheld devices were used in Chicago, Kite and her staff arranged for personalized bidding concierges to lead guests through brief tutorials that demonstrated how to use the machines, though the planning crew also did some road testing. “We've all used them and they're pretty simple, so we don't expect anyone to be too unsettled," Kite said. 

Along with saving paper, the IML devices were intended to shave time off the evening's program, which included a 10-item live auction, a video presentation, speeches, and—at the end of the night—a 30-minute set of jazz standards from Natalie Cole. “Our program ran a little long last year, so we're being very cognizant of that and are looking to tighten it up this year," Kite said, adding that the new technology allowed guests to start bidding on live-auction items before the auction officially began.

Though planners are still tallying the final results, this year's ball is expected to have raised more than last year's, which had a $2 million take.

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