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It’s benefit gala season: How to get the most out of it

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PHOTO COURTESY OF LIFEPATH/SHERRY CLEWELL PHOTOGRAPHY
LifePath’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon last year at the Holiday Inn and Conference Center in Fogelsville. At least one of the companies at this year’s luncheon will swap some of its seats with another business to increase its networking opportunities.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LIFEPATH/SHERRY CLEWELL PHOTOGRAPHY LifePath’s annual Thanksgiving luncheon last year at the Holiday Inn and Conference Center in Fogelsville. At least one of the companies at this year’s luncheon will swap some of its seats with another business to increase its networking opportunities.

The partners at Gross McGinley, a law firm in Allentown, wanted to try something different at one of the fundraising galas to which they annually get invited.

“We found if we split up our tables with another business, it gave us a chance to talk to and learn about their business,” said Kimberly Spotts-Kimmel, an attorney, partner and chair of the intellectual property practice group at Gross McGinley.

Spotts-Kimmel said her firm will use that strategy at the 20th annual Thanksgiving luncheon Nov. 22 to benefit LifePath, which provides services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and operates in the Greater Lehigh Valley, Bucks and Delaware counties.

Swapping seats will help Gross McGinley’s attendees network with people and businesses not represented at its table – and perhaps make new connections and potential future clients.

It’s just one of the ways that companies can make the most of their investment when attending events and galas, which dot the calendar this time of the year. Other ways include sending staffers who are the best fit for the event and donating a “wow” item for the night’s auction table.

“We want [attendees] to make the gala experience more meaningful and to become more enriching for them,” Annette Kaiser, communications and development director for LifePath, based in Hanover Township, Northampton County, said of the Thanksgiving luncheon.

ADDING THE HUMAN ELEMENT

Kaiser said switching seats for the luncheon fundraising event was “groundbreaking” and a “great idea.”

The intention of seat swaps is to add “the human element that is often missing, and that is so important,” she said.

Spotts-Kimmel said sharing tables with another firm’s representatives provides an opportunity to talk in a more quiet setting, make professional contacts, extend introductions and to focus on meeting people in another company.

“Sitting with colleagues, you know what they do,” Spotts-Kimmel said. When seated at a table with somebody new, there is a chance to understand them better.

MEETING DECISION MAKERS

Larry McLean, a financial adviser and vice president with Janney Montgomery Scott LLC in South Whitehall Township, said table-sharing was a fresh idea. McLean also expects to attend the LifePath event.

“It’s a great event for business networking in an entire roomful of people,” he said.

McLean’s hope is that business owners and principals will be at the event to take advantage of the chance to meet peers throughout the business community.

“[We want] those attending to interact with decision makers,” he said.

SEND THE BEST-SUITED

Kaiser said sending employees to attend events is a common business practice that might not always be the best use of those table seating tickets.

“‘A lot of organizations use gala tickets as rewards for employees, but if instead you send your best-suited people, you can make it work for you and increase business connections,” she said.

Kaiser said it made sense to send staffers who are a good match because of their jobs or their passions because it creates great energy at the events and gets people talking.

MORE SELECTIVE

John Graydon Smith, director and CEO of Reading Public Museum in West Reading, said providing opportunities for consumers and the business community to engage with art at events creates fresh opportunities for everyone and is good for the nonprofit museum’s bottom line.

“We recognize businesses are being more discriminating about how they are spending money and how they are filling up their table sponsorships,” Smith said.

A one-off breakfast several years ago has become a monthly series with positive results and high attendance. Smith said the museum also holds three signature fundraisers a year and has moved away from “black tie galas” in an effort to become more engaging.

Since the shift, attendance has skyrocketed, and businesses want to see that, he said.

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