Military-Focused Nonprofit Reshapes Dinner Program, Nearly Doubles On-Site Donations

By D. Channing Muller March 5, 2012, 5:49 PM EST

Photo: Chris Burch

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network 20th Anniversary Dinner
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The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit legal aid organization for L.G.B.T. members of the armed forces, celebrated its 20th-anniversary dinner on Saturday night at the National Building Museum with 900 people in attendance. Despite heading into the fund-raiser with lower sponsorship levels, the organizers managed to double the money raised at last year's event by changing the format for the ask portion of the evening.

The fight to repeal the military's “don't ask, don't tell” rule drove higher-than-average sponsorship levels for last year's dinner. With the rule's successful repeal in September, organizers of this year's event were challenged with the tasks of compensating for a reduction in sponsorship dollars and reemphasizing the need for the group’s continued work. “The focus this year is to send a clear message that while the repeal was monumental, that alone isn’t enough to secure the L.G.B.T. rights for everyone,” said event planner Liz Leger, president of the Leger Company.

Organizers moved the donation-ask portion of the night to before dinner and created a competitive atmosphere by tracking live text pledges on a scoreboard. A 39-foot screen suspended above the stage displayed six bar-graph-style sections, one for each branch of the military and one for non-military supporters. Elizabeth Birch, the former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, and the organization’s director of development, David Hall, led the charge to see which branch could pledge $15,000 first. The Navy took home bragging rights, followed by the Air Force minutes later. The overall effort raised nearly $200,000, about double last year’s pledges.

Other changes to the night included a more condensed program than previous years and a dessert reception following dinner rather than a seated service for the final course. “It’s a social group, so everyone can now socialize more than if they were forced to remain sitting in their seat,” said Hall.

Hargrove Inc. worked with Windows Catering Company and Table Manners to adorn the museum in red, white, and blue, creating distinct spaces for the reception, dinner area, and dessert party. Atmosphere Lighting utilized red uplights and white star gobos projected on the columns and walls of the museum’s grand hall, along with an array of votive candles on each table, to create ambiance in the vast space.

In total, the night raised more than $500,000 dollars for organization’s work to ensure all same-sex married couples receive the same rights and privileges afforded to their heterosexual counterparts from the military.

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