How a Shake-Up Helped Boost This Gala’s Fund-Raising and Attendance

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater used a new production team and sponsorship strategy at its 18th annual gala in Washington.

By D. Channing Muller February 13, 2017, 7:00 AM EST

Photo: Tony Powell

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater kicked off its 2017 season at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on February 7 with its opening-night gala. The 18th annual fund-raiser, which consists of a dance performance followed by dinner and dancing, set a new records with $1 million raised—the first time the gala has crossed that threshold—as well as 900 attendees, which is 150 more than in 2016.

The gala’s production team switched hands this year from Campbell Peachey and Associates, which had produced the event for the last 17 years, to Events by André Wells after the dance company and co-chairs sent out requests for proposals from the event-planning community for the first time. 

“Progress comes through change, and we needed to be open to that change,” said co-chair Lyndon Boozer, who emphasized the organization’s focus on being innovative and original in the world of dance. “Multiple organizations bid, and André has a great reputation for imagination, creativity, style, and pizzaz.” 

Bobette Gillette, head of special projects and partnerships for Events by André Wells, co-produced the event and worked directly with the co-chairs, vice chairs, and benefits committee to bring in sponsorships early on and increase ticket sales. Anticipating a potential impact on money raised due to the presidential election, the team cut off the $500-ticket early-bird sales on November 1 rather than continuing through early December. The limited quantity of tickets at that level sold out, and, combined with earlier sponsorship outreach, the chairs and committee raised $600,000 by the cut off. 

Individual ticket sales continued at the $750 level, which sold out by the end of January, and at $1,000 per person—the difference of which came down to the seating assignments for the dance performance—in the last two weeks. The team also added two sponsors at the new $35,000 sponsorship level, four at the $10,000 level, and five at the $7,500 level. Gillette credited social-media marketing and word-of-mouth promotion as a contributing factor to the improved sales.

“It wasn’t a big blast, but André has a following and our company has a following, and we talked a lot about being long-time supporters of the gala,” said Gillette, who added the team shared photos on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to increase interest. “People were interested in knowing what we were doing with the design this year, and that piqued interest in [the gala] in addition to the brand of Alvin Ailey.” 

Boozer noted that the producers for next year’s gala are not set, and the chairs may open up the bidding again. “Particularly because it’s a dance company, we want to be evolutionary [with the event],” he said.

The money raised will benefit the dance organization’s local programs in Washington, and scholarships to the New York-based dance school.

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