Derby Day at the SafeNest 2022 Fundraiser

Some people enjoy the Kentucky Derby for the ornate hats, others are more partial to the mint juleps. Fortunately, Derby Day at the SafeNest Spring Soiree had both — and then some! This year, with the help of production powerhouse BESTAgency the fantastic SafeNest team hosted the largest and most successful fundraiser for the organization, which works tirelessly around the clock to aid the fight against domestic violence.

I was honored to serve as the event emcee for the 2022 SafeNest Soiree, especially after I had joined the group for their previous Summer Soiree, titled Brew Anew. Of course, the theme on Derby Day was the Kentucky Derby… and the attendees did not disappoint! Take a look at why this event was a masterclass in nonprofit event fundraising. 

A Return to the Spring Soiree with SafeNest 

The last time I met with the SafeNest team was July of last year, when I served as event emcee at the Summer Soiree: Brew Anew. Now, if you can recall, July 2021 was a bit of a unique time. It was right before the Delta wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the event looked quite a bit different. It was drastically smaller and incredibly cautious to keep all attendees as safe as possible. 

While it goes without saying that the SafeNest crew remained equally as cautious this year, a lack of current restrictions meant the organization could invite substantially more people to support the cause. In fact, this year’s event was the biggest they’ve had yet in terms of attendance and funds raised! Plus, everyone in attendance was so glad to finally join together once more. 

The philanthropic community donned their best big hats for the event, which supported SafeNest in their quest to end the epidemic of domestic violence. For those who aren’t familiar with the organization, SafeNest has offered confidential, trauma-informed services for more than 40 years, including a 24-hour crisis hotline, prevention education, counseling, and emergency shelter.

Nonprofit Event Planning 101: 5 Things SafeNest Did Perfectly 

Every time I meet with the SafeNest team, I’m struck by how passionate and hardworking they are. This passion carries over to their events, which are produced by the best of the best, Best Agency. Best Agency is a tremendous partner for event transportation, staffing, décor, entertainment, and more — they’re fantastic, and I’ve worked with them most recently as nonprofit emcee for JDRF.

Here’s how a combination of SafeNest event planners, Best Agency talent, and myself made for a perfect nonprofit fundraiser. 

1. Set the Right Tone 

First things first, SafeNest does a terrific job of handling a sensitive subject like domestic violence. The team honors the severity of the subject and never minimizes the reason for the gathering. However, they also emphasize the milestones the organization has reached together through dedication to the cause, and focus on the positive headway made thus far.

Setting this tone upfront is critical. 

In this way, the event can still feel like a celebration — a recognition of the community gathering to raise money and fight domestic violence together. And in nonprofit events, even those with such serious topics, this tone of celebration is absolutely essential. Positivity is what inspires donors to keep up the fight and return year after year to support the cause. 

MC Jeff Civillico welcomes the audience at SafeNest

2. Choose a Unique Theme

Practically every event, nonprofit or not, focuses on a central theme. For instance, I recently hosted the 2022 UniGroup Learning Conference, which had a theme of Together, Moving the World Forward. There, the event was packed with panels that focused on unity during trying times. The theme at the SafeNest Spring Soiree was Derby Day, and folks, they went all in

From the table décor to the custom games, absolutely everything was Kentucky Derby themed. All guests came in Derby attire (yes, I had my own straw hat!) and sipped on Derby refreshments, like mint julips. I’ve been in town over 12 years, and this was the very first Kentucky Derby theme I’ve ever encountered — and the uniqueness truly paid off!

What do you think happened in a room full of philanthropists in Derby gear? There were social media posts galore, giving the SafeNest event tons of exposure! Remember, the event theme isn’t just to have fun, it’s to create the right energy. For UniGroup, that united energy powered insightful conversations; for SafeNest, that excited energy spurred even more donations. 

Event Emcee Jeff Civillico hosts raffle drawing

3. Plan for Engagement (A LOT!)

The SafeNest team is the picture perfect example of taking a theme and really doing it up to be memorable, special, and most importantly, a means of engagement. Case in point? SafeNest planned for several Derby-themed games, like Derby Bingo, that not only captured attendees’ attention but also kept everyone involved with the evening’s run of show.

For instance, the first game we played was called Off to the Races (can you think of anything more on theme?) and a horse racing game machine was put at each table. It was a total blast to watch grown men and women cheer on these little animatronic horses with all of their might… And it was even better when that engagement was then funneled into fundraising

Host Jeff Civillico interacts with the audience at SafeNest

4. Make Raffle Prizes Memorable 

One of the cardinal rules of fundraising is to run a raffle. Well, maybe it’s not a rule, but it sure is effective! Unfortunately, not every raffle has memorable prizes up for grabs — just think about that keychain you won four years ago… yeah, pretty sure you misplaced it. SafeNest completely crushed the raffle with prizes like all-expenses- paid cruises, Raiders tickets, Florida private beach vacations and more!

Now, I know that cruise tickets can be expensive — don’t be deterred if your nonprofit organization can’t swing a prize like this! Focus on the memorable aspect, not the glitz and glam of a high price tag. A great tip I’ve learned from operating my own nonprofit, Win-Win Entertainment, is to partner with local businesses who can provide memorable prizes in the shape of local experiences. When you can offer experiences like these, you can bet your raffle raises a lot more money.

Host Jeff Civillico pulls a raffle winner

5. Hire a Nonprofit Emcee 

The recent SafeNest Spring Soiree truly required an event emcee to guide the evening. Practically the entire event was a range of fundraising games and raffle giveaways, where attendees could donate for their chance to win. These games must include an event emcee who can be serious when appropriate but also fun and engaging to keep the evening moving.

In particular, events like the Spring Soiree require a nonprofit emcee — like me! I understand the intricacies of a nonprofit fundraising event because I am the founder and chairman of my own nonprofit organization, Win-Win Entertainment. This background allows me to hone into sensitive topics, honor the cause, and inspire attendees to make a donation.

Even more, an event emcee like myself comes equipped with my own virtual event production company. These capabilities allow me to create promo videos for your upcoming fundraising event that can be distributed internally, on social media, or even spread via email. I serve as a true partner for events, from beginning to end and just about everything in between. 

SafeNest MC engages audience volunteers on stage

Raise Money for Your Cause with an Event Emcee 

Well, folks, it was another successful evening with the wonderful team at SafeNest! Together, we were able to raise critical funds that will aid in the fight to end domestic violence. And now, I am eager to bring my emcee abilities to another nonprofit event! If you have a nonprofit gala or fundraiser on the books, send me a booking inquiry today to learn more.