It’s not often that someone comes up with a better mousetrap, and in the world of charity events, it’s downright unheard of. Yet, with his new venture, House of Distinction, Canadian event planner Aidan Henry might have come close.
“There are two big issues with signature events and galas,” Henry said. Henry, also owner of Brink Events in Victoria, knows the ropes. “I’ve produced numerous galas and signature events for charities and non-profits. Over the years I started to notice two negative trends. First, the traditional gala experience is lackluster at best. A seated dinner with hours of speeches and videos isn’t overly engaging. Second, typical galas take place in hotels and banquet rooms where expenses are extremely high. Venue costs, food and beverage, audio/visual and other costs drive down profit for the charity.”
House of Distinction event series offers several twists that keep things interesting for the attendees and revenue high for the charity. For starters, the events are all held in private residences. The owner chooses the charity, almost all costs are subsidized by sponsorship and tickets are invitation only except for a few guests who apply on the website. The invitation is mailed. Not e-mailed. Mailed. Old school.
The first House of Distinction charity event was held in October of this year at a stunning mansion in Saanich overlooking a natural fjord. The black tie event was a charity for the Victoria Cool Aid Society, raising money for a capital campaign to build enough housing to put a roof over half of Victoria’s homeless population.
At the event space, there was an opera performance, a scotch tasting, a risotto bar, and heavy hors d’oeuvres. Henry presented the homeowner with a local piece of art, further involving the community. “We had 100 people at this first one at $300 a ticket,” he said. With a dedicated committee and group of sponsors behind him, 80 percent of the proceeds went to the charity. The catering, with food costs and service staff, is one of the largest expenses, yet, as Henry points out, “with an exclusive 100-person guest list, it’s never a big hit for anyone.”
Even so, Henry is hoping to produce three House of Distinction events a year in different cities so he never exhausts his sponsors or the charitable marketplace. The next one is underway for Vancouver in March with a different group of sponsors, as well as home and charity.
“Homes are the last frontier in venues that sell charity tickets,” Henry said. “They have multi-million art on the walls, beautiful views and create a one-time-only, behind-the-scenes experience for people who might have seen it all.” Sounds like this is, if not a better mouse trap all around for charitable dollars, certainly, a better appointed one.
Photos: Will Winter