The Year in Culture

Ka-ching! The return of million dollar fundraisers made for a bountiful year

Ka-ching! The return of million dollar fundraisers made for a bountiful year

If one thing stands out in the charitable landscape of the past year, it is the resurgence of benefit galas that reached, if not surpassed, the seven-figure mark. One year after the nation was mired in a painful recession and more than a few local non-profits were feeling the pinch, 2010 provided a beacon of hope on the non-profit fundraising scene.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III's 80th birthday celebration proved to be one of the most profitable fundraisers of the year. A cool $2 million was committed for Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy well before the heady collection of black-tie-attired donors entered the party tent on the Rice campus. Chairs Isabel Stude Lummis, Courtney Lanier Sarofim and Aliyya Kombargi Stude began the evening more than pleased.

But when trial lawyer Joe Jamail announced a personal gift of $1 million in honor of his friend Baker, their enthusiasm and that of the 650 guests, including former President George H.W. Bush, soared.

The fundraising highs continued throughout the spring with the Memorial Hermann Foundation Circle of Life gala bringing in a whopping $2.3 milliion. Applause were generous for chairs Alina and Roberto Garcia, Donny and Tony Vallone and Sheridan and John Eddie Williams.

Even before oilman Oscar Wyatt announced his $1 million gift to Houston Grand Opera in honor of wife Lynn Wyatt, HGO's Yellow Rose Ball, chaired by Denise Bush Bahr and Philip Bahr, was expected to net an easy million. Ka-ching! A month earlier, Dr. Kelli Cohen Fein and Martin Fein shepherded the stunning  Houston Symphony Ball to its $1 million goal. 

It doesn't always take a black-tie gala to bring in the serious money. The Barbara Bush Celebration of Reading, which annually packs the Hobby Center with business-attired donors, raked in $1.9 million last April, up from the previous year but not quite reaching the $2 million-plus proceeds of a more flush 2008. In any case, spirits ran high at the increasing revenues and at the entertaining nationally-recognized authors, who read from their most recent works.

While fundraising galas go on hiatus during the summer months, the generous giving continued once the social swells were back in town from their summer sojourns. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Grand Gala Ball, chaired by Carol and Mike Linn, brought in $1.2 million for museum coffers. Only a month later, the MFAH's men's smoker,  One Great Night in November, earned $1.1 million in art purchases.

If the promising numbers of 2010 are any indication, things should be looking up across the board for charitable fundraising in 2011. 



Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of articles CultureMap will be running this last week of 2010 on The Year in Culture. The stories in this series will focus on a key point or two, something that struck our reporting team about the year rather than rote Top 10 lists or bests of.

Other The Year In Culture stories:

Organic, sustainable, local: The words that now dominate food

Demolishing the doldrums: Office towers somehow keep rising in Houston

Less blockbuster, more indie surprises: A call for fewer Texas-sized art exhibits in 2011

Forget The Social Network, it's all about keeping mom off Twitter

On the store front: H-E-B's final plan for Montrose market has a neighborly attitude

Houston chefs turn into celebrity spouses and I find a new partner

It's the year of the "gaybie:" Elton John is the latest proud parent

One thing I learned in 2010: Not even the BP oil spill could rub out Louisiana's soul

News_Baker Birthday_April 2010_Courtney Sarofim_Edward Djerejian_Ailyya Stude_Isabel Lummis
Rice University's Baker Institute reaped $3 million in proceeds from the 80th birthday celebration of namesake James A. Baker III. Courtney Sarofim , Edward Djerejian , Ailyya Stude , Isabel Lummis Photo by Gary Fountain
News_One Great Night 2010_Jeffrey Stone_Herman Stude
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston One Great Night in November earned $1.1 million in art purchases. Jeffrey Stone , Herman Stude Photo by Kim Coffman
News_Memorial Hermann_Sheridan Williams_John Eddie Williams_performers
The Las Vegas-themed Memorial Hermann Foundation Circle of Life gala brought in $2.3 million. Sheridan Williams , John Eddie Williams Photo by Gary Fountain