May 01, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
A recent visit with students at the Pedersen-McCormick Boys and Girls Club in Uptown had benefit co-chairs Mimi Murley and Charlene Huang Olson and Women’s Board President Anne Patel beaming. From the fun they were having with the children that day, no one would suspect these ladies were entering the final weeks leading up to the organization’s annual main event: The Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago’s Summer Ball, taking place on May 20th. These women – and all those involved in making the benefit happen this year – have had a heavy weight of responsibility sitting squarely on their shoulders for the past year planning this popular party, which has grown a reputation as one of Chicago’s most financially successful events. All year they have been guided by one objective, hoping May 20th will be the culmination of their goal: continuing to fund enrichment programs for children across the city, aimed at enhancing their lives, characters, and providing a safe place to learn and grow.
Stopping to greet staff at the dental clinic provided by Lurie Children’s Hospital, Mimi got to the heart of things: the children (the club serves over 250 young people, from ages six to eighteen).
“I have thought a lot about not just what the Boys and Girls Clubs need from us, but why we need them. And when I see the excitement of the Northwestern students delivering science programs, the development of gardens and healthy eating initiatives, a swimming program, or basketball teams in the Cameron Benninghoven gym, I think about the challenges that inner city communities face each day. Then I realize that being ‘cutting edge’ is not just about a good program, but a changed outlook and relationship with one another that is not about serving but about living together. I think that’s what BGCC is all about: opportunity and hope.”
Boys and Girls Club leaders could market a benefit blueprint: their board has developed one of the most enduring and ever-exciting game plans in town. And there would be no finer architects than Mimi and Charlene. With a benefit theme of “Dream Big,” one’s mind travels to Daniel Burnham’s words: “Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Architecture aside, for Charlene, a super successful gala is all about teamwork.
“Our board is very hands-on and all of our 53 active members, who represent a wide range of ages, are expected to participate. The Ball doesn’t just belong to the chairs, we all embrace it as our own. That is one of our strengths. We begin right after our last Ball ended. Most importantly, we are motivated by our knowledge that none of the kids who call their local BGCC club home take safety, education, learning experiences, relationships, or even meals for granted. At the Summer Ball, we will tell the story of one of our incredible BGCC alums. I think everyone will feel the impact of the Clubs, and the donors will be proud to know that they are supporting BGCC.”
Mimi offered excellent advice for new benefit chairs, with ideas towards keeping your mission as your road map first and foremost.
“Don’t get caught up in the feeling that you have to beat last year’s bottom line. That will be dependent on a lot of things, including the chairs, the economy, the timing, and the work of the team. Set goals for your year within an achievable structure. Competition is not the name of the game, but excellence of execution and meeting expectations are. We chose a theme that is action-oriented and aspirational, a logo to brand everything we do, and then provide a heart-moving movie to show on benefit night. We solicit for benefactor gifts way ahead of time so we will go into the benefit with two-thirds of the support in the bank. We want to fill the room and have targeted 500 guests.”
To Mimi Murley, combining a paddle raise with a short live auction will be a winning formula. The paddle raise always follows the beautiful video featuring the population they serve.
“Last year, we raised over $250,000 in the paddle raise; people realize that that’s what it is all about. Our live auction, on the other hand, is all about getting one-of-a-kind items. Often our members form syndicates for live auction prizes such as a dinner for 20 at a board member’s home.”
Throughout the year, the Chairs think of the little things, knowing early on who prefers phone calls to e-mails on their board. They rely on Google Docs, which they send back and forth to one another, so that each can make changes in a working document. Charlene even admits to having texted at a wedding reception when a sought-after auction prize was finally almost theirs. But even the Chairs play hooky from their benefit planning and regular meetings to travel with the board to Clubs and field trips with the kids from all centers.
Board President Anne Patel is particularly proud of these full board excursions.
“Once a year our board has a tour of one of the Clubs, this year we all made Valentines together. Through our program, Share Chicago, we have visited the Mayor’s office, had cooking classes at the Palmer House – thanks to board member Renee Crown – and toured cultural institutions with our children. We are particularly grateful to Kim White for heading these adventures.”
The Woman’s Board dates back to the end of World War II, when General Robert E. Wood asked his longtime friend, Mrs. Charles Kittle, to help the Chicago Boys Club provide community services to young Chicago boys, especially those who had lost a father in the war. Their first effort was a postcard campaign, followed by a fashion show featuring husbands as models, and a talent show hosted by Jimmy Durante and other celebrities. The first Summer Ball was hosted in 1952, at the Post and Paddock Clubhouse at Arlington Race Track. One of Chicago’s first black tie galas, more than 500 guests attended and from the first, the Ball became a model for other boards across city.
Mimi reports that across the country, there are more than four million youth served at over 4,000 centers, including those in schools, public housing, and on Native American lands.
“While these numbers are impressive, it is the stories you hear from people all over the country, who speak of having their lives changed by the facility, that you take home. There is a consistency across the organization, a code of conduct and character that emphasizes integrity, cleanliness, health, manners, and preparation for adult life. Several Chicagoans sit on the national board including Ron Gidwitz, who is Chairman Emeritus, Juan Luciano, Greg Cappelli, Ed Liddy, and the Rev. Edward A. Malloy. There is a lot to be said about national branding.”
Charlene and Mimi dream big because they care deeply for the organization they serve. And that is the benefit blueprint for success.