The Kansas City Free Health Clinic provides healthcare at no charge to patients who otherwise would not have access to health services. Fundraisers are vital for the clinic, which is typically forced to turn away 250 individuals per week.
Organizers, therefore, wanted to develop a stable of long-term donors, as well as raise the clinic's profile in the community.
In 2003, the spring fundraiser was rebranded as Bloom to inject new blood. "The event needed new life, new energy, new focus," recalls Lee Page, event co-chair and an account manager at Sturges Word. "The previous format had run its course; people weren't engaged with it anymore."
In 2004, the turnout, however, was almost too successful. An overflow of guests created long lines, and event planners underestimated the amount of food and liquor they needed.
For the 2005 Bloom event, therefore, organizers realized that they needed a new strategy, and they also had to bring back people who might have been frustrated with the previous year's mismanagement.
Event planners created "Bloom Goes to Rio," a night of Mardi Gras-style entertainment that featured themed poolside lounges at the famed Fairmont hotel. They capped attendance and encouraged guests to buy advance tickets.
They also decided to target the who's who of Kansas City society - including politicians, professionals, socialites, and philanthropists - "who would be willing to be long-term financial supporters for the health clinic," says Melissa Sturges, a partner at Sturges Word.
Rita Cortes, president of the health clinic's board of directors, notes that the goal was to raise the "special-ness" of the event.
"We tried to make it 'the' event in the social calendar," says Cortes. "They successfully rebranded it as: If you're going to attend one social event, Bloom should be it."
In all event materials, the PR team stressed the message of more bars, shorter lines, and more fun. On the day that tickets went on sale, the team also launched a comprehensive website, bloomparty.com, which offered a viral element.
Page notes that media relations were at the center of the outreach. In all pitches, the PR team made sure to mention the notable individuals involved and tried to get those names included in articles.
To give each publication its own angle, Page offered exclusive interviews with prominent community members involved in the event.
"The media's response and coverage in 2004 was so great ... that there already was a lot of interest," he says.
In addition, the team secured an exclusive media sponsorship with Spaces, a Kansas City magazine that targets the audience the clinic was hoping to reach.
Donations - from the silent auction, corporate sponsorships, and ticket sales - came to $185,000 (gross) and $135,000 (net), an increase of more than 40% over the previous year. Attendance at the pre-event patrons party grew 30%, as well.
Media coverage increased more than 300% over 2004, and Sturges notes that the event touched a nerve with reporters. "No matter where you turned, you were seeing, hearing, reading about this event," she says.
"This was the most successful [fundraiser] we've ever had," says Sheri Wood, executive director of the health clinic. "It will make a huge difference. Even with volunteers [from the medical community], it takes dollars to support their work."
"It allows us to stabilize and grow the general medical services," Cortes says. "Literally, that means more patients can be seen when they walk through the door."
The Kansas City Free Health Clinic and Sturges Word will hold the next Bloom party in 2006. They are again focused on turning the partygoers into long-term donors.
PR team: Kansas City Free Health Clinic and Sturges Word (both Kansas City, MO)
Campaign: Bloom Goes to Rio
Time frame: November 2004 to May 2005
Budget: $53,000, not including pro-bono time donated by the agency