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BEST OF 2008

The Rebound

Sarah Schnell helped Diffa/Chicago's gala win back sponsors—and increase its revenue by 63 percent.

By Wendy Wollenberg November 24, 2008, 8:00 AM EST

Problem: In 2005, the Chicago chapter of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (Diffa) saw some unfortunate on-site logistical challenges mar its annual gala, typically one of the year’s most anticipated events. Although the event was successful in terms of sponsorship and auction revenue, problems with the caterer, valet, and venue resulted in some unfavorable guest experiences and, ultimately, a drop in sponsorship commitments in 2006. “In the years leading up to the 2006 event, although increasingly financially successful, we had endured a number of production challenges that many of our sponsors felt were falling short of their expectations,” says Diffa/Chicago gala co-chair Erik Parks. In late 2005, Diffa/Chicago approached Total Event Resources and senior program manager Sarah Schnell to partner with them to produce the gala. “The Diffa committee sources event sponsors, but because of the challenges faced with the 2005 gala, they were having a tough time securing sponsorships. And without sponsors, there is no event and less money to go toward the donor recipients,” says Schnell.

Solution: “The 2006 Diffa gala was about rebuilding confidence,” Schnell says. Total Event Resources helped produce a video about Diffa’s goals and background to give guests a glimpse into where their donations go. The company also focused on generating more dollars through auctions. “We assigned an internal point person to the silent-auction committee to serve as a thread from year to year,” Schnell says. “We help with what items sell, how to set up the display, and when to end the silent auction to max out donations.” In 2007, Total Event Resources suggested a live appeal during the onstage auction, with the auctioneer illustrating how donations help people in need, and instituted a diamond raffle, which, in 2008, sold all 100 $100 tickets for a chance to win gems worth $5,000. In total, the money raised from these initiatives helped Diffa increase its on-site income by 63 percent from 2005 to 2008.

Outcome: After the 2006 rebuilding year, the 2007 Diffa gala raised more than $450,000, and the 2008 gala raised more than $570,000. In the past three years, Total Event Resources helped increase sponsorship dollars by more than $125,000. “We were able to give the Diffa committee the platform of a memorable event to increase its number of $10,000 and $25,000 sponsors,” Schnell says, “and to obtain a $50,000 sponsor, which had not been secured in several years.”

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