JOBETH MCELHANON
Styled by MALINA TABOR | Hair & Makeup by LORI WENGER

Despite the recent changes in our social calendars, Little Rock remains a city that loves a special event. I appreciate that nearly any night of the week you can find an event to support a worthy cause.

Whether big or small, my goal is to create an accessible event for my clients that stands out from the rest, an event that highlights their mission and impact in a remarkable way and provides a night no one wants to miss.

These are the key pieces that come into place in creating a beautiful and meaningful experience for everyone:


Gather with Purpose

One of the first things to know is why you are gathering. That may sound obvious when we typically call all nonprofit events fundraisers, but is that all it is? When I first met with Camp Aldersgate’s executive team, they had a successful, 10-year-old event they had recently moved to their campus. It was a bold move that gave their event more purpose, offering people an exclusive opportunity to see their 90-acre camp in the heart of west Little Rock. The event now makes their mission more tangible and personal to supporters, while serving as a marketing tool to highlight their space that is available to rent for corporate events.


Make It Personal

I constantly listen for recurring themes in the stories organizations tell about themselves, then explore ways I can tell that story in an artful way. The theme that resonated with me when learning about Camp Aldersgate is the adventures they provide for children with special needs and medical conditions. For After Dark 2019, we transformed the camp into an African bushland and took guests on a luxury safari that included hot air balloon rides.

This year we’re celebrating with an Asian adventure we’re calling Wabi Sabi After Dark. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese design philosophy that honors the beauty of how things are and what makes us unique. To me, this is the heart of what Camp Aldersgate does every day.


Provide an Experience

My goal is to provide donors and guests with an experience they may not get anywhere else, short of traveling to another country. With Wabi Sabi After Dark, this particular event provides as guests are not tied to a round table. With social distancing on everyone’s minds, guests are encouraged to tour the camp, enjoy custom ramen, lounge by the campfire while they watch Chinese acrobats, try their hand at taekwondo, visit the cherry blossom gallery or groove in the Tokyo (silent) disco.


Make It Pretty

I often joke that in all my years of nonprofit work, it has not been uncommon to learn the budget for decor would barely cover a paper clip and a bolt of curly ribbon. I encourage my clients to view design and decor as an important layer of explaining their organization’s impact and mission.

Invitations, for example, are the first opportunity to set the tone for any event. When designing the invitations for Wabi Sabi After Dark, I knew I wanted to use a beautiful Chinese chinoiserie-inspired design. We worked with local designer Emma Walker Creative to create a pattern unique for the camp. The chinoiserie looks traditional at first glance, but upon closer inspection, you see depictions of campus landmarks along with Camp Aldersgate children participating in camper activities.


Promoting the Cause

To put it simply, a beautiful event is an Instagram-able event. For organizations, this is one of the best means of promoting who they are and their cause to a broader audience, especially as crowd size is on everyone’s minds. And while guests are on their phone snapping photos, which we know they will be, we are sure to give them multiple text-to-donate opportunities.

While a robust net income from the event is almost always the main goal of a fundraiser, a wonderful experience that clearly tells the story of an organization’s impact can increase donor reach, attract new volunteers and strengthen board recruitment. A well-executed event promotes buzz among guests for weeks afterwards and the mission stays top of mind.

The best compliment I can hear for my client is, “This was so much fun. We had no idea the work you are doing. We are thrilled to support you. We’re definitely putting this event on our calendar for next year... and bringing friends.”

Since publication, Wabi Sabi After Dark has been postponed to an undetermined date.