I remember just over two and half years ago having lunch at the now closed Miro District Food and Drink with a few board members (Anita Baily, Jim Shulman and Kelly Dillon) and our new event consultant, Trey Lipman to discuss meeting one of the goals the board set for me when I began my employment as executive director – to create a signature event for Safe Haven Family Shelter. Now, in this day and age for nonprofits, fundraising dinners are a risk. Major fundraising consultants urge against creating new events that aren’t already set in your community since they are not the most efficient way of raising funds for an organization, and there are just too many dinners, luncheons, breakfasts already. I go to many, invited to more, and while I always enjoy them and glad to support my fellow organizations that do great work, we knew we had to come up with something memorable.
We weren’t even finished with our entrees when Kelly suggested a theme we could all rally around: a takeoff of “Dancing with the Stars.” She knew of another such model in another city that was successful. It was a moment that reminded of the quote from T.S. Elliott: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” Or my take on it: “Immature fundraisers imitate; mature fundraisers steal” (but never steal from your neighbor!). So we forged ahead and began planning our first Dancing for Safe Haven event- knowing our original/ unoriginal idea could be just the ticket for success. We checked with our attorney, looked for venues, planned budgets, asked community leaders and local celebrities to dance, found professional dance companies to partner with to provide the choreography and dance partners, sought sponsorships… and the rest is history.
In just over two years, Dancing for Safe Haven has already become a Nashville tradition and named in NFocus and Nashville Arts Magazine as among the best new parties in the city. The dancing, the costumes, the music, the incredible talent of the professional dancers, the fun, the mission and the utter chutzpa of the guest celebrity dancers are always memorable. We made our financial goals each year, and staff and board sometimes can’t believe that we actually pulled this off. I credit the dedicated board that was willing to walk with me and take this risk, our donors that believed in our ability to pull this off, and my colleague and friend, Trey Lipman, event planner extraordinaire, for making this happen. Trey’s flair, energy, creativity and ability to connect people with purpose around the city are legend.
Safe Haven is a blessed and beloved organization doing some of the greatest work in our community. Serious work. But on April 20, 2012, it will be time to laugh, have fun, remember our mission and why we are there, but, yes, to dance. Miro District Food and Drink might have closed, but Dancing for Safe Haven… now that is an affair to remember, and we are still open for business.