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Planning the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation’s Life Without Lupus Gala with Sarata Kaba

Sarata KabaIn this episode, we talk with Sarata Kaba, Special Events Manager of the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, about planning the Life Without Lupus Gala. This annual fundraiser, which is held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, draws over 700 guests and features a live auction and a performance from a well-known recording artist. This year, the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation will honor Simona and Jerome Chazen for their commitment to the organization and present New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with the Distinguished Public Health Leadership Award. Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis will perform. Sarata discusses the process of planning a large, glamorous gala – everything from planning the menu to selecting centerpieces. If you’re planning a fundraiser or always wanted to know how large events come together, this interview is not to be missed.

The 2012 Life without Lupus Gala was a success and raised over $2 million for Lupus research. Formed over 40 years ago, the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation leads the nation in providing direct patient services, education, awareness and funding for innovative lupus research on the national level. The S.L.E. Lupus Foundation is a member of the Lupus Research Institute National Coalition of patient groups throughout the country. LRI is the nation’s only nonprofit organization solely dedicated to novel research in lupus. Learn more about Lupus and the important work of the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation.

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Listen to the Podcast:

Interview with Sarata Kaba (will begin to play automatically)

Name: Sarata Kaba
Title: Special Events Manager
Organization: S.L.E. Lupus Foundation
Twitter: @LupusNY

Life Without Lupus Gala (view the 2013 Life without Lupus Gala Invitation)
Honoring Simona and Jerome Chazen
Presenting the Distinguished Public Health Leadership Award to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
November 25, 2013, 6:30 PM
American Museum of Natural History, New York City

The Meal:
Service: Passed hors d’oeuvres, seated meal
Last year’s menu (this year’s menu will be revealed on the night of the Gala):

Crispy Potato Galette with Smoked Salmon, Black American Caviar, Dill Crème Fraiche, Oak Grove Farm Greens and Black Pepper Vinaigrette

Truffle Mousse Stuffed Breast of Chicken, Seared Petite Gnocchi, Sautéed Swiss Chard and Purple Cauliflower

Layered Pumpkin Cake, Whipped Ginger Cream Cheese, Orange Segments, Candied Walnuts and Port Soaked Raisins
Valrhona Chocolate Crumb Tart, Milk Gelato Cappuccino Crème Anglaise and Fresh Raspberries

Wine (served tableside)
-Deloach Chardonnay
-Steelhead Pinot Noir

The Vendors:
Caterer: Restaurant Associates
Florist (2012 gala): Very Special Flowers NYC
Invitation Design: Jim Wagner from Certainly Studios
Printer: Andrew LeWinter from Printing Resource of NY & NJ

Sarata’s Tips:

“Always have a simple event timeline to share with the team AND a very, very detailed timeline for yourself that you can plug into your calendar with pop-up reminders.”

“Always allow your guests to indicate specific dietary restrictions on their RSVP.”

“When your fundraiser includes various elements such as speeches, auction, award ceremony, careful timing of the meal is critical. You want to make sure you have everyone’s attention during your formal program so that you can raise as much funds as possible without any distractions.”

“Keep business cards handy during the event. You will always get one or two requests from donors/clients, and there is a high chance that amidst the madness you will forget what they ask you for. Handing them a card and asking them to reach out to you is a good way to have THEM follow up with you.”

After we stopped the tape, Sarata and I continued to chat. Here’s what she had to say:

ACC: Why do you hold the gala the week before Thanksgiving? Is there something special about this week?

SK:  We hold the gala at this time because this week ushers in the holiday season. People are usually still in town and they are gearing up for a festive time of year. This date also allows us not to conflict with any other major galas in the city.

ACC: Did you defer to your caterer while planning your menu?

SK: It was more of a team effort. Our caterer has done many similar events, so we welcomed their suggestions; however, since we know our guests better than any caterer could, we share any concerns or preferences we have encountered in years past.

ACC: Seating charts can be very stressful. How do you make your seating chart?

SK: There definitely is a lot of bureaucracy involved! For the Life Without Lupus Gala, I am using a software called Perfect Table Plan to help with seating. The software allows me to group individuals together, move them around with a simple drag and drop method, create seating charts and export as often as I’d like with a few simple clicks.

ACC: Are you a fan of party favors?

SK: Party favors add a nice touch to an event only when they contain items that people actually like and use, not “junk”! For the Gala, we keep it simple and place a chocolate bar customized with this year’s theme at each place setting. People seem to love this “sweet” memento of the evening.

ACC: You’ve planned a number of large, successful events. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself when you first started to plan events?

SK: I would tell myself that something will always go wrong or something unexpected will pop up when planning an event; it’s important to anticipate and act quickly when this happens. This is why it’s so crucial to always have a plan B. Also, always document or save verbal agreements and correspondence; you may need to reference them at some point.

Check out pictures from the 2012 Life Without Lupus Gala:

SLE Foundation-Logo

For more information about the Life with Lupus Gala or about the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation, call 212 685 4118, email or leave your message in comments below.

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