AND WE'RE LIVE! THE RETURN OF IN-PERSON NONPROFIT EVENTS

By Great Performances

40% of nonprofit organizations reported losses in total revenue for 2020. Partly attributed to a dramatic decline in program-related revenue, it can also be attributed to a decline in donations. Overall, 37% of nonprofit organizations reported a decline in donations in 2020 compared to 10% of nonprofit organizations in the preceding 5-year period and more than 70% of organizations reported that individual donations are essential or very important to their business. (Source)

As Covid restrictions lift and people reunite at events, restaurants, theaters, and in the office, there’s opportunity for nonprofits to recover and rebuild their donation bases. Prior to the pandemic, many nonprofit organizations held galas and events for awareness, education, community, networking, and fundraising. With our return to events, nonprofit organizations can extend their current outreach programs with live events to re-engage and grow their donor base. We spoke with some leading nonprofit event planners and partners to get a better idea of what’s happening with nonprofit organizations and how they’re coming back to live events.

Across the board, we’re seeing an increase of in-person nonprofit events, which is exciting for everyone from the nonprofit host who’s able to reconnect with their donor base to the gala attendee who is delighted to get all dressed up with somewhere to go! Rob Arango, Director of Client Development at CPS Events at The Plaza, notes that there’s been more attention to the step-and-repeat as guests are dressing up, eager to meet, greet, and have their photos taken. Even those first moments arriving at an event are celebratory! For anyone who’s watched the awards shows these past months, we’ve seen more glitz, glamor, and excitement on the red carpet.

Aside from being standard operating procedure for nonprofits to host events, galas, and live fundraisers to raise money and engage donors, there’s been increasing pushback on virtual only events (we specify virtual-only for reasons we’ll elaborate on later). The cost and effort of hosting virtual events didn’t deliver the returns in engagement and donation dollars that organizations realized from live events. As Shaun Roberts, Vice President at Great Performances notes, everyone from corporations building teams to religious organizations leading their congregations is seeing the importance of community. Specifically, education institutions are hosting alumni functions, hospitals are rebuilding fundraising efforts, artistic and performance-based groups are inviting guests back into their spaces, and socially aware organizations are rebuilding their education and outreach programs. “No matter how great the technology, it’s impossible to replicate the networking that takes place at live events,” observes James Munz, Vice President of Sales at Ziegfeld Ballroom, home to many nonprofit events including fundraisers, galas, and celebrations.

“Live events not only raise money; more importantly they are used to cultivate new donors,” reports Mike Warren, Director of Catering at CPS Events at The Plaza. Often, gala attendees will sponsor a table and invite guests who might make a connection with the cause and become a supporter. But there’s been another shift in how galas are held, notes Roberts. Instead of being tied to a table and chairs, more events are starting to have more mobile events (and not the digital kind) where guests are encouraged to walk around the space and network. “It’s been a heated debate within many organizations,” he says, “and a decision that’s very personal to each nonprofit.” Speaking with caterers, planners, and venues can help determine which event style makes the most sense for each nonprofit’s goals and constituency.

Health and safety are still top of mind for many nonprofit organizations planning events but staying on top of the latest requirements and protocols can be stressful and confusing. Munz stresses that it’s important to talk to the experts: the caterers and venues who are best able to advise on best practices that support the health, safety, and comfort of event guests. This can be anything from accessibility to ventilation. “We believe in full transparency and providing as much information as necessary to put our clients and their guests at ease. We can also share what some other nonprofits are doing to help provide some context.”

For most organizations, events look like they did pre-pandemic. Groups who are already going out are going out with a relaxed (or exhausted) attitude towards Covid stipulations: tables are not entirely distanced, and check-in is swift. At GP, we are asking our staff to be vaccinated and to remain masked, but many clients are asking that masks be removed, a sign of their desire to make everything appear as it once was. There are some planners and nonprofit organizations who are still staying on the side of caution, but Warren observes that these are few and far between and it may be as simple as setting a table for ten guests for eight.

Some nonprofit organizations aren’t quite willing to let go of the virtual component and are looking for hybrid events. Munz acknowledges that hybrid events can be a great opportunity to capture a wider audience; however, they require an extra level of planning and expertise. Roberts cautions that planning two events in one may result in increased costs and effort and that nonprofit organizations considering hybrid events need to be clear about their goals and expectations for each group of attendees. Selecting the right partner is critical to help create a program that flows smoothly. Munz notes that he’s seen the virtual portion of the hybrid event pause while the in-person attendees were being served their meals. With their deep expertise in hosting events, planners can help create a run of show and make program suggestions to make the event run seamlessly from both perspectives.

Being mindful of guest behavior advises event timelines and runs of show. Munz advises that nonprofits organizations consider adjusting their events to a shorter programmed event followed by a post-dessert reception. This allows those guests who feel uncomfortable to leave and those who feel comfortable to stay longer and socialize – a hybrid of the seated events and the networking sessions.

Event planning is also happening at a shorter timeframe. Although many nonprofits are booking venues, caterers, and other vendors months in advance, guests are waiting until closer to the event date to RSVP, making it difficult to confirm guest counts. And then there are the nonprofits that are booking events on shorter notice. Although it is possible, the current employment landscape can present a challenge. “We always recommend that our clients book the date as soon as they can so we can confirm a venue and ensure proper staffing at their event,” Roberts advises.

At the end of the day, all of the event experts and their nonprofit clients agreed on one thing: nonprofits absolutely should be hosting live events. “There used to be gala fatigue, then we had Zoom fatigue and Covid fatigue. People are eager to get back out in person,” Arango shares. People are yearning for a face-to-face connection, and it’s obvious in the excitement demonstrated when guests are together for the first time.

Encouraging those who are reluctant to venture out to an event can be as simple as providing them with more information, Roberts notes. “Be clear with what the evening holds so people can make their own choices. If you have an amazing key speaker, people will turn out for that; and keep the event to the point—no fluff.” Once you’ve identified your event goals, create a program that will engage your guests. Gone are the days when people stay at a gala until 10:00 pm because they have to; they will stay because they want to be there.

SOCIAL ATTRACTION AND EVENTS AT THE PLAZA

By Rob Arango, CPS Events at The Plaza

For the past 15 months, we have heard and read the term “social distancing” in an effort to halt the global pandemic. Our forced seclusion and isolation have made us long for the days when we could meet for drinks, share a meal with friends, and socialize with others. Our initial emergence from pandemic have demonstrated that we’ve been craving connection, and I think the new normal will be “social attraction.”

Of course, we must adhere to all the CDC guidelines and continue our efforts to eradicate this virus. I was asked a month ago to write a piece about the Plaza re-opening and the much anticipated Fall Gala season. Within the last few weeks, numerous discussions and concerns have taken place with various planners, development staff, and board members asking what are the safety protocols in place at the Plaza? Should their foundation require proof of vaccination at check in? What should they do if someone isn’t vaccinated? What about our staff? All these concerns are extremely valid and important to continue to address. At the Plaza, we are listening carefully to the CDC and state officials and will be passing along all our information to our guests to ensure a safe environment for their galas once we have a clear understanding of how to implement safety protocols.

With all that said, I also must share the other discussion, which is taking place daily with our clients. Dr. Keltner, co-founder of the Greater Good Science Center has expressed, “we’re hyper social mammals—it is our most signature strength.” For decades, Dr. Keltner has studied human behavior with a focus on “pro-social” states: behavior that strengthened connection between individuals and that are especially good for society.

Our culinary team at Great Performances, who provides all our delicious meals served at the Plaza, has a company saying that “Life happens around food.®” I add that connections with another person provide food for the soul.

In the 114 years that the Plaza has been open, it has endured the worst of historic crises including both World Wars, the first stock market crash, the Great Depression, 9/11, and countless other global calamities. Through it all, the Palm Court, Edwardian Room, Persian Room, Oak Room, and Oyster Bar remained open to soothe the social anxieties of their time. Whether it was enjoying an afternoon tea or a dry martini, Plaza guests yearned for a place to gather, hug, laugh, and enjoy the company of a friend during the worst of times. As we know even in the best of times celebrations of life are never taken for granted.

I tend to think the human spirit is nourished by social gatherings and the enjoyment of food and beverage. Many clients have expressed a strong desire to get dressed up again and begin to mingle in person as opposed to seeing one another in a Hollywood Squares-like box via video calls.

The collective actions of raising much needed funds for a good cause, the arrival of guests in their newest ballgowns, the first sip of dry champagne and a nibble of a savory canape, is what so many New Yorkers are craving. I believe there can be enormous healing among social gatherings. We aren’t meant to eat alone; we thrive on giving a hug and a smile to our dinner guest. But never forget we still need a little gossip and commentary when we can’t help but to whisper to another friend in person–“look at her dress!” or even, “she looks amazing—who is her doctor?”

We are ready to open the doors to the grand ballroom and welcome all of our friends back to celebrate.

There is a great line in a famous Sondheim lyric, “As if we never said good-bye”. That is what I imagine guests will say when they return the Grand Ballroom.

Until then, stay informed and continue to ask vital questions.

More From CPS Events at The Plaza

PLAZA ARCHIVE - THE EDWARDIAN ROOM

By Rob Arango

Welcome to my new column introducing historical tidbits of the legendary Plaza. My first stop is the most pristine real estate spot in New York City—the famed Edwardian Room with enormous windows facing Central Park South and Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.

There is no other address like this turn of the century Victorian room. In 1980 I dined in the Edwardian Room with my parents and it was one of the first times I had worn my customary blue blazer and grey flannel slacks. We sat near the window overlooking Central Park. I remember having veal Oscar for the main course. After dinner, my mother asked me to dance with her. She told me how to do the simple box step. I was only 14 but for one brief moment I felt like Gene Kelly on the tiny dance floor.

In 1920 the doors opened to men only and it became the hotel’s premiere dining room. When making reservations men would ask for The Men’s Café. At the time it quickly became the first of its kind “Power Breakfast” in Midtown. Major political, business tycoons and movie stars would dine for breakfast to be seen among New York’s elite. The dining experience was true to its time in culinary history – starters included Hearts of Artichokes, Pate Maison and Cape Cod Oysters. Popular fish courses were Filet of English Sole Mervina and Olivette Potatoes Persillees. The star of beef courses was the famed Roast Prime Ribs of Beef au Cresson with Baked Potato (a SPLURGE at 75 cents EXTRA). Dessert specials were various fruit pies, Lemon Meringue, custard rice pudding and assorted sherbets. All ending with Demi-Tasse, of course.

It was called the “Plaza Restaurant” until 1955. Then it was named as the “Edwardian Room” after the time period of when the hotel was built – 1900’s aka Edwardian era.

In December 2018 I will be hosting a dinner for 175 guests. The menu will be a bit healthier in choices, all nut-free, and of course a silent vegan and gluten-free option. Times have changed but the room still holds over 100 years of dining stories all waiting to be told.

For a limited time, you can have the unique opportunity to host an event in the Edwardian Room. Please call 212-549-0550 to inquire.