Special Event Management: An interview with Toni Brown – Part One

Special events play an important role in the life of many nonprofits. These are an opportunity to bring people together in support of a common cause, extend your brand, engage new and continuing donors, create a memorable experience, and most importantly raise money. To help you take your event to the next level we asked a few questions of Toni Brown,  a talented and highly experienced special events producer and co-founder of The Brown Wynn Agency in New York. 

Saad&Shaw: Let’s start with the bottom-line question: Does hiring a special events manager guarantee that your event will be successful?

Toni Brown: There really are no guarantees when it comes to events. Many factors including, competing events, poor past performance, severe weather, and local emergencies can affect the outcome of a special event. However, having an event manager onboard can help an organization to plan effectively and navigate potential pitfalls that could otherwise sink a great event.

Saad&Shaw: What can an organization do to increase the success of their event?

Toni Brown: Here are five things to focus on.

  1. Start the planning process early and have reasonable expectations about the outcome 
  2. Create a detailed monthly action plan. Focus on the plan and make adjustment as needed 
  3. Be open to suggestions and new ideas 
  4. Be realistic and transparent about staff and/or the organization’s capabilities 
  5. Don’t rely on staff to take on event planning duties that are not their primary work responsibilities

Saad&Shaw: How did you get started in this field?

Toni Brown: My career as a Special Events professional was totally unexpected. I worked for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) in New York, as Assistant to the Director of Marketing, and later as Assistant to the Senior Vice President of Fundraising. Special events were a very important fundraising vehicle for UNCF. I was fortunate to participate in discussions, planning meetings, and was allowed to attend events around the country.  

UNCF needed a special event concept for New York City. I offered my event idea, but it was rejected three times. The rejection turned into determination, and I decided to create the event myself. I closed my office door and strategically planned my first event called The Flavor of New York.  The event was a culinary extravaganza and food tasting event showcasing 10 of New York’s top African American chefs and their respective restaurants, 10 prominent male celebrities that were paired with each restaurant, and 100 amateur male chefs from New York’s five boroughs.

I recruited Andre Harrell, a well-respected music industry CEO to serve as the event chairperson, secured one of the city’s most unique and unexpected locations – The Winter Garden at the World Financial Center – to host the event, and utilized my friends and contacts to build an effective and enthusiastic 80-person volunteer committee. In addition to food, the evening included live performances, dancing and donated champagne and desserts. The Flavor of New York was an unforgettable evening and a huge fundraising and public relations success. Over 700 people attended the inaugural event and “Flavor” became a highly anticipated annual event for UNCF.    

Next week: Part two of this interview.

You can always reach Toni Brown by phone (718) 949-5915 or by email at tbrown@brownwynn.com.


Copyright 2022 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you plan for 2022! Video and phone conferencing services are always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

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