Social sense: Guide to the fall party season

When it comes to Baltimore's biggest galas, money is no object

September 12, 2014|By Sloane Brown, For The Baltimore Sun

The fall fundraising party season revs into high gear next weekend with a plethora of big shindigs that can cost big bucks to attend — all for a worthy cause, of course. From the Night of 100 Elvises to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Gala, tickets can go from $26 to $5,000 each.

With such a broad range, you might wonder what goes into setting the price. Why does one hoopla cost so little, and another so much?

Certainly, there are expenses to cover. A fancy gala that offers hors d'oeuvres, open bar, a gourmet sit-down dinner and live dance music is going to cost the organizers a lot more than a party that might have local restaurants and liquor distributors donating their wares at food stations, with a cash bar.

But, there are a few more factors that go into the mix.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Maryland Chapter is one of the busiest nonprofits, with seven major parties a year, says Ann Krulevitz, the chapter's associate executive director. Each party has its own price, ranging from $100 to $650 — amounts that are determined not just by the cost of the event.

"Most of the time, when there's a strong committee steering the event, they decide the ticket price," says Krulevitz. "They look at demand — charging what the market will bear."

That means a smaller event in an unusual setting — such as the organization's coming Evening on the Severn, which is held at a private riverside mansion — can have a steeper ticket price ($375) because the location is exclusive and space is limited, Krulevitz says.

Distinctive entertainment is another factor, as in An Evening of Unexpected Delights, which raises funds for The Journey Home, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's joint effort with the United Way to fight homelessness. For $300, guests are promised a performance by a "surprise" artist. Last year, the artist turned out to be John Legend. This year, the invitation hints that it will be an "award-winning artist who is gleefully small, but wickedly powerful."

Ticket price "also depends on what you think the popularity is of your cause," says Carole Sibel, a mainstay on Baltimore's social scene and a longtime "professional volunteer" who has been on more event committees than she can remember.

Because one of her pet causes — the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore — is a popular one, Sibel and other committee members knew that even though local restaurants were donating food for this fall's Zootini, charging $150 for tickets would easily bring in a good crowd.

Sometimes the ticket price is also aimed at a particular crowd. The city's young professionals have become a highly sought-after group by area nonprofits. They may not be able to afford some of the pricier parties now, but presumably they will someday.

Ned Courtemanche, 31, has served on various young professionals' boards and committees, and attends about six or seven fundraising parties a year, most of them costing no more than $150.

"Over the past few years, we've seen a lot of philanthropic groups targeting millennials," says Courtemanche, a Baltimore County high school teacher and New York native. "So I think they're very aware of the price point, and everyone's trying to find the sweet spot."

Courtemanche says his expectations generally rise along with the ticket price.

"Under $70, I'm expecting the [event to be] midweek, maybe a souped-up happy hour that may have a nice twist to it — a visiting author or a beer, wine or bourbon tasting," he says. "North of $70, I expect a little more; definitely an evening on the weekend, with dressier expectations, they'll probably serve food and have music in some shape or form."

And what makes a seasoned socialite shell out the big bucks for a party? In addition to being smitten with a cause, popularity can play a part there, too, Sibel says. Committee members with lots of friends — particularly those with deep pockets — are highly prized commodities.

"What makes me spend $350 or more on a ticket? If I get a personal note from a friend who's working on [the committee], especially if I get two or three from different friends," she says.

Sibel knows that if she buys tickets to her friends' events, they will return the favor. But it still comes down to what's happening at an event that determines whether she buys a ticket, or just writes a check and passes on the party.

"I'm not sitting at a table and listening to someone preach to the choir. Blah, blah, blah; that's boring."

For those planning their social budget, here's a sampling of upcoming fall events. More are listed at baltimoresun.com.

Pricey parties

O Say Can You See 2014 BSO Gala

Benefits: Baltimore Symphony Gala

Details: 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

Tickets: $500-$5,000; bsomusic.org/gala

Attire: Black tie

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