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Mike DiNardo is close to a group of men who all serve on non-profit boards, and in the past few years they had noticed something about the gala fundraisers these groups threw: People always gravitated to the big-ticket auction items.
DiNardo, a board member for the Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Rochester branch, sponsored one of those items himself, a five-day golfing trip to Tampa. Seeing how popular the trip was gave him an idea.
"A light bulb went off and I saw how year after year non-profits were trying to raise money, so I said, 'What if we put on a gala focused just on big items and give the money to charity?'" said DiNardo, president and founder of Payment Processing Consultants Inc. "We could put on a great party, a real top-of-the-line event, and the group can know they'll be the beneficiary of it all."
From that idea was born the Bucket List Gala, a separate non-profit focused solely on putting together the large-scale events on behalf of other charities.
The idea was kicked around for a while by the group of five that now makes up the organization's board, Louis Germain noted. Also a board member at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Germain said the ability to select a different charity every year made the Bucket List Gala especially appealing.
"The galas after a while don't change their theme or what they're doing, and it can get stagnant," said Germain, president of Function5 Technology Group and now a board member for the Bucket List Gala. "This is a way to focus on those things that people have always dreamed about doing but maybe didn't have the wherewithal or resources to do themselves. They're once-in-a-lifetime items."
The group also includes Joseph Comfort Jr., founder of King Graphic Communications; Anthony Cotroneo, a partner at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP; and Thomas Queri, an executive vice president of the Northeast Division with AXA Advisors, who heads the Rochester office.
Working with the group of board members, DiNardo has planned the first event for September to benefit the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
For this year especially, it will give the organization something positive to focus on in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky trial and the public dismay it created in relation to the issue of abused children, DiNardo said.
In the future the annual event will benefit a set of five different charities each year, he said. He envisions it becoming a way for non-profit organizations hit by a difficult economy and competitive funding environment to throw a more efficient and money-making gala.
"Most people don't put together a gala with the kind of marketing behind it that we have," DiNardo said.
The 15 "bucket list" items could fetch $1,000 to $5,000 each, but the real money would be made in other parts of the gala. The event will have a silent auction with smaller items and local getaways as well as a cash call for donations.
The event itself features all the trappings of a great party such as top-shelf alcohol and the best local photographers, making it a draw for people who want to be seen, DiNardo said. Because the gala already would attract some generous donors, he said, he expected the cash call to be especially fruitful.
For good measure he plans a twist on the traditional cash call meant to make it more appealing.
"Traditionally when they do a cash call there's no other benefit outside of giving itself, but we will have a lottery-type system where one of the donors who gives over a certain amount will be eligible for another big prize," DiNardo said.
The event is expected to raise $220,000 for the charity, and even though formal invitations are just being sent it has already generated interest, Germain said.
"I've already heard a lot of people say they think it's a great idea and that they want to make sure we get them a ticket," he said.
To drum up further support for the organization and draw people to its website, the event will include a photographer who will upload photos to the Bucket List Gala site. The pictures will be put up promptly and will not be under copyright, allowing guests to share shots of themselves on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, DiNardo said.
The Bucket List Gala is set up so the template could be replicated in other cities, with these franchises paying a portion back to the original organization to further benefit Rochester-based non-profits, DiNardo said.
Germain said the potential for raising funds for a variety of agencies and the early buzz the gala has gained are increasing optimism among the group's founders.
"We're all in, and we're really excited about the way this is coming together," he said.
The gala is scheduled for Sept. 8 at the Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford. Seating for the event is limited to 330 people, and tickets are $200 each, which includes a sit-down dinner and open bar. More information is available by phone from Kathy Aspenleiter of the NCMEC at (585) 242-0900, ext. 3328.
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