The Imaginary Gala is Heal the Ocean’s annual fundraiser for 2011, with sponsors able to buy “Phantom,” “Fantasy” and “Unreal” tables, along with “Invisible” and “Make-Believe” seats. Invitees are invited to stay home and have a gala evening with family and friends, and “reach into the HTO Entertainment Bag for an oceanic puzzle, adventure book, great music by Jack Johnson, or watch a fantastic movie about the ocean.”
Scott Brittingham said his family foundation made its $20,000 contribution because he and his wife feel strongly that for small organizations such as Heal the Ocean, the conservation of staff time and money is important during tough economic times.
HTO Executive Director Hillary Hauser said the gift from the Brittinghams has given Heal the Ocean an instant vote of confidence that is “exhilarating to us beyond belief,” and has validated a decision her organization made early this year about annual fundraising that felt risky at the time.
“The HTO Gala had gotten bigger and bigger and bigger,” Hauser said. “Last year was a record 450 people. We put into the bank, after expenses, $160,000. That is fabulous for an organization like ours … but we spent a load. And the stress on our small office was ridiculous. Instead of doing clean-water work, we were writing up programs and ads, and taking orders.”
Hauser said that beginning in March, she began to poll HTO’s big supporters how they felt about the organization taking a break from throwing a gala in 2011.
“Two of these supporters literally said, ‘Please do it! Pullleeeze!’” Hauser said. She and her staff then began to brainstorm, scribbling on paper. They came up with a list of “Imaginary” names for table/sponsorship levels — Mirage Table, Make-Believe Seats, etc. — they tossed “Ghost” because they figured very few people wanted to be ghosts.
“We didn’t want to make fun of fundraising,” Hauser said, “we wanted it to be funnyraising!”
With enough donor opinions and a rough idea of an Imaginary Gala invitation in hand, Hauser ran the whole thing by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and asked if she would agree to be “Fantasy Chair,” and she loved the idea.
“Theme: Stay home! No driving necessary! No attire required!” the invitation reads. Click here to view the whole invitation, as well as the Entertainment Bag items “For Your Gala Evening on the Couch.”
HTO’s goal is to raise $100,000. Indeed, the goal appears attainable. Another anonymous sponsor has just purchased a $10,000 “Phantom” Table, and another $40,000 in pledges has been made. The return cards with the donations contain handwritten comments such as, “Thanks for the night off!” “This is hilarious!” and “What a great idea!”
Hauser says she has been asked by other organizations if the Imaginary Gala invitation can be copied. Her answer: “Of course!”
Will Heal the Ocean do another of its big annual galas? Hauser said her organization’s plan is to return to its “original grassroots,” and that future gatherings and celebrations will be events everyone can attend without “emptying their bank accounts.” Already a number of celebrated musicians are offering to help such “simple and fun” events, Hauser said.
“Having said all that,” she continued, “the funding from major donors remains very necessary and very real to Heal the Ocean, and we hope we have provided a fun vehicle by which this can happen. We are taking one day at a time, but needless to say we are greatly enthused by the response we’re getting, and we are forever indebted to the Brittingham Family Foundation, as well as the anonymous donor and other generous donors who are coming in right behind them.”
— Hillary Hauser is executive director of Heal the Ocean.