Nov. PRSA Meeting Recap: Boelter shares the secrets of Goodwill’s wildly successful “Retro Rendezvous”

Pat Boelter

Pat Boelter

Goodwill’s annual “Retro Rendezvous” is the biggest event held by the organization each year. It continues to grow and hit 800 guests this past year. With so much to plan and so many people to cater to, how exactly do you stage a sold out special event? Pat Boelter, Chief Marketing Officer for Goodwill Industries of SE Wisconsin, presented on this topic on Nov. 7, at the Hilton Hotel in Milwaukee.The Retro Rendezvous started out as an annual themed fashion show ten years ago. As the event grew, so did the entertainment. Goodwill soon added dancers, singers, celebrity guests, and partnered with Boston Store. Eventually the fashion show got nixed all together and it became more of an entertainment show with fundraising at its core. Goodwill also secured a media sponsor and transformed the event from just a “chicken dinner” to an amazing experience.

With the evening growing rapidly in size and impact throughout the years, it was necessary to raise the prices of the sponsorship levels, tables, and ticket costs. The majority of the attendees became corporations and the auction became a silent auction conducted by handheld technology. Goodwill also needed to keep the media hosts fresh as well, selecting new hosts this year.

Toward the end of her presentation, Boelter gave the audience some advice she learned during her many years involved with event planning for Goodwill. She said one of the critical mistakes organizations make is not understanding the real reason for having the event beyond the simple concept of raising money.

Boelter said special events are not the most efficient way to raise money; they take a great deal of people, time, and money to make money. She said special events should be a part of a strategic plan to grow the volunteer, customer, board base, and acquire future donations, as well as to boost the organization’s profile and brand in the community.  They can also create a lot of positive publicity. Not only is pre-event publicity crucial to heighten interest and aid in ticket sales, but post publicity can be just as valuable in building brand awareness and future event growth. For this reason, a media sponsor is a good thing to have. If broadcast personalities are involved, coverage is almost guaranteed.

Boelter said creating an emotional moment within the event allows for sponsors to connect and gives the event meaning beyond the activities. Guests should leave with a better understanding of the organization and more confidence in it then when they came. Messaging should be simple and straight forward and reinforced in different ways using different means throughout the event. Boelter told the audience that event quality matters, have a surprise in store for the guests, and make every part of the event hassle free.

“It is not just about money, but to gain sponsorships for the future, strike while the iron is hot and people are willing to give,” she said. Boelter also stressed that a contingency plan is crucial and people should plan for repeatability and expandability because anything can happen at any given moment. She also recommended evaluation and debriefing after the event, and said organizers should seek out the opinions of guests and staff. Lastly, she said celebrate.

“Celebrate the success of the event and take time to appreciate everyone who helped with it,” said Boelter. “That includes (appreciating and thanking) yourself.”