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On Saturday, April 22nd, Virginia Beach Public Library’s (VBPL) Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library transformed into Jay Gatsby’s West Egg mansion to host the Great Gatsby Gala, the Virginia Beach Library Foundation’s (VBLF) first annual gala event. Over 100 guests dressed in their best roaring ’20s costumes gathered to enjoy food and drinks, play casino games, and even learn a few dance moves. Attendees also had opportunities to support VBPL at the gala, purchasing raffle tickets to win prizes and contributing to a wish board that supported VBPL’s Accessible Resources and Services division. When it was all said and done, the gala was a twofold success: by all reports, the guests had a great time, and the VBLF exceeded its fundraising goal.

One of the key factors in the success of the Great Gatsby Gala was the partnership between the Foundation’s Board of Directors and VBPL staff. The planning committee included both VBLF Directors and members of VBPL leadership. This let us combine the board members’ experience with fundraising events and the staff’s programming expertise and knowledge of what we could and couldn’t do in the party space. Library staff contributed in other ways, too, including creating Great Gatsby/roaring ’20s- themed centerpieces to be featured at the gala, assisting with the event marketing, and volunteering to adjust their regular work schedules to set up and/or work at the various stations at the event.

For its part, the VBLF provided seed funding for the event, sought sponsorships to cover additional costs, and invited members of the community to the gala. The talents and resources of both the VBLF board and VBPL staff were crucial to pulling off such a big event!

Another major contributor to the event’s success was the theme. The roaring ’20s is a popular event theme, so many of our guests were not only familiar with it but really leaned in! Most attendees dressed the part, donning their best flapper dresses and gangster suits. We tried to play to the theme as much as possible, with signature cocktails that were reminiscent of Prohibition (“Bathtub Gin Rickey”) and an old fashioned named after Gatsby’s favorite nickname, the “Old Sport.” We also had volunteers from Swing Virginia, a local dance company, teach a brief lesson on the Charleston and other period dance moves. These touches created a festive atmosphere and contributed to the fun!

After months of planning, the Great Gatsby Gala came off like a duck on water: guests enjoyed a relatively seamless event while the staff dealt with various obstacles behind the scenes. The planning committee and volunteer staff at the event identified the technology for accepting donations, the lack of time to prepare volunteers, and greater communication with outside vendors as the three biggest areas of improvement for the next event. For our first-ever gala, however, everyone was pretty pleased with the outcome of the day.

Once the bills were paid, the net proceeds from the Great Gatsby Gala exceeded $12,500. We achieved this by soliciting sponsorships from local businesses and individual library supporters, setting ticket prices to cover the cost of catering per person, and creating opportunities to raise funds both before and at the event itself.

Using the digital fundraising platform RallyUp, we opened the raffle to non-event attendees the day before the gala and received over $400 before the gala even began. At the event itself, we highlighted VBPL’s Accessible Resources and Services division, which provides library services to individuals with visual, physical, and reading disabilities. We created a wish board with items for Accessible Resources and Services that gave guests an opportunity to support the library in a more tangible way.

Every event is a learning opportunity and as they were cleaning up after the event, members of the planning committee were already brainstorming ways to improve the gala for next year. But for the first major fundraising event, both the VBLF Board and VBPL leadership were happy with the outcome of the Great Gatsby Gala and are looking forward to how we can continue to grow this partnership in the future.

-Kelly Weber Stefonowich, Virginia Beach Public Libraries

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