Creating a successful special event

“Think about what you want to do and how you want to engage with your guests. Think about what you have access to without having to go anywhere else. Find the hidden treasures within your own organization and make those things work for you.”

Jeanette O'Bryant

Jeanette O’Bryant

This wisdom comes from Jeanette O’Bryant, development officer with the National Civil Rights Museum. She invited guests to step back in time and experience a Night at the Lorraine, the motel that has been redeveloped and transformed into the National Civil Rights Museum. Together with her committee Chair Terrence Reed, event committee members, employees and volunteers she created a new fun revenue stream.

Here’s the concept:

Guests are invited to celebrate the vibrant history of the Lorraine Motel for the benefit of the museum. They step back in time with an evening of food, music and fun reminiscent of the days when the motel counted B.B. King, Nat King Cole, “Count” Basie, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG’s, Satchel Page and Jackie Robinson among its many famous guests.

As O’Bryant shared her idea with management and her committee members, the conversations quickly turned to what to include in the event, and anticipation grew. It was the event’s name Night at the Lorraine that got most folks excited.

Of course there were challenges, and these were overcome. One was to engage new corporate sponsors. The second was to provide a one-of-a-kind experience without going over budget.

“The energy of our committee chair and committee members made the event a success. They really got excited and began to pass that energy to their friends. We created an experience that was actually here at the museum and provided guests with opportunities to learn something new about the Lorraine and its history in a way that is different from a regular museum tour.”

The first year 600 guests attended; this year the number increased to about 1,000. Both events successfully raised money for the museum. O’Bryant shared that they met other goals as well:

“the events introduced the museum to millennials and really showed another side of the museum; and they provided opportunities for new relationships, networking, and creating new donor support.”


O’Bryant attributes her success to the event chair, host committee and the many volunteers who brought the Lorraine back to life for a night to remember.

Special events are the heart of fundraising. Be creative. Leverage your uniqueness. Invite the community to celebrate and support your work.

Copyright 2017 – Mel Shaw and Pearl Shaw, CFRE

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

This week on FUNdraising Good Times....

1 comment on “Creating a successful special event”

  1. Pingback: Don't be a special event copycat, have your events stand out | Saad&Shaw

Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: