What we learned from one of the nation’s top event fundraising pros:
According to Mary Herr Tally, recently named one of America’s 100 Best Party Hosts by Salonnière magazine, if you’re interested in. hosting or chairing an event for a non-profit organization, always do your homework before you commit! “Your most creative ideas, best efforts, and treasured contacts are of significant value—and of course, you’ll want to share this with worthy organizations that best align with you. And please, always confirm that the organization has the bandwidth and staffing to support your efforts!”
“Another important must-do is to see the event budgets from previous years—this will tell you everything you need to know about the health of an event, specifically expenses vs revenue (underwriting, table sales, auction revenue, etc.). As the host or chair, each of those budget line items is your responsibility, so are you comfortable achieving those numbers?” Mary also suggests that you “talk with the staff and the organization’s leadership to get a feel for their work style and communication and problem-solving skills as you’ll be spending the next six to ten months with them.”
Mary adds that special events are the most creative, fun ways to raise revenue for an organizations but they can also be challenging in terms of getting the right people in the room—“the best news you’ll hear after an event is that you or their staff has uncovered a brand new major supporter to the organization or forged an even stronger relationship with an existing supporter.”
Mary has amassed an impressive resumé in her twenty two years working as a professional development director and fundraiser for the arts. She began her career in Membership and Special Events at the South Texas Institute for the Arts in Corpus Christi and the Creative Arts Center (now part of Texas A&M) but soon after evolved to fundraising for exhibitions and programs and in the latter part of her career, major gifts and capital campaigns. After moving to Austin, Mary fundraised at Austin Opera and directed the capital campaigns at The Contemporary Museum and The Long Center for the Performing Arts. Since retiring upon the completion of the Long Center’s $80M capital campaign and building construction, Mary has focused on volunteering at ZACH Theatre, the Center for Child Protection, Emanicpet, Austin Pets Alive, and most recently AIDS Services of Austin.
AIDS Service of Austin Co-Chair Kevin Witcher sums up Mary’s value perfectly. “I can attest to the fact that Mary keeps it fun, keeps it real, and makes it exciting. Not once did I worry that the food wouldn’t be right or that the ambience wasn’t going to be just so. Who knew people donated more in good lighting? The aesthetics aside though, Mary never let the event become larger or more intricate than the mission we were trying to accomplish. She kept her focus on creating a magical and efficient luncheon while ensuring that we raised serious dollars for those in need. She’s wicked fun at the microphone because she speaks from the heart with wit and grace, all the while convincing everyone in the room that they can do more.”