Park After Dark Event Planning
Each September, the C&O Canal Trust holds its largest fundraiser of the year, Park After Dark. The event is held in Potomac, MD, under a large tent behind the Historic Great Falls Tavern and beside the canal within the C&O Canal National Historical Park. Its beautiful setting makes the event quite unique in the list of Washington DC fundraisers, but also makes its planning a challenge, as we have to build and tear down our event venue over a span of five days in the public park. The event itself is held on Saturday evening and features a ride on the Mercer canal boat for VIPs, a seated buffet dinner, a live band, a silent auction, a fund-a-need paddle raise, a camp fire, a visit from the canal mules, and a night hike out to Great Falls Overlook. Over three hundred guests attend the event, which requires over 100 volunteers assisting seven staff members and a cadre of vendors to pull off. The event is the most important touchstone we have with our major donors each year, so it is imperative the event is fun, well-planned, smoothly managed, and unique from year to year.
As the Event Manager, I have led our team in the successful execution of the past three Park After Dark fundraising events. We begin our planning each February by identifying the year's theme and live entertainment. As the months progress, I lead meetings of the planning committee -- consisting of the Trust staff and three Board Members -- as we make decisions about the menu, tent layout, decorations, special guests, and more. The development team oversees sponsorship sales, while I handle all marketing and communications for the event, along with my event planning duties. As the event date nears, I coordinate with my vendors, the National Park Service, and the staff on timelines for the set-up and tear-down of the event, along with the order of the evening for the event itself. I am on site on Thursday when the rental company arrives to fly the tent -- which is 120' x 40' -- and deliver our tables, chairs, linens, and other supplies. On Friday and Saturday, 50 volunteers assist us in setting up the venue prior to our guests arriving at 5 p.m. on Saturday. Another 50 volunteers arrive the evening of the event to assist with welcoming guests, serving hor d'oeuvres, bussing tables, monitoring the auction tables, and more. On Sunday, we clean up the site before the rental company picks up the equipment on Monday. It is my responsibility to plan all logistics to ensure a smooth event set-up and tear-down, as well as to coordinate the execution of the event itself, which includes a cocktail hour, buffet dinner, stage program with a paddle raise, after-dinner dancing, camp fire, and night hike, followed by the guests checking out and heading for home.
In addition, I also serve as the coordinator for our silent auction. Several staff and board members work on soliciting items from local merchants throughout the spring and summer. In August, I group the items in approximately 40-50 packages and prepare the auction and bid sheets for the night of the event.
Project Manager, Silent Auction Coordinator, Marketing and Collateral: Heidi Glatfelter Schlag
Trust Development Team
Trust Program Team
Rental Company: Capital Party Rentals
Caterers: Corcoran Catering
Live Entertainment: Various vendors
Site Management: National Park Service
Ticket Sales: Trust Board of Directors
Set-Up, Event Help, and Tear-Down:
Over 100 volunteers
The Park After Dark events that I have managed have all run smoothly and have been successful both in terms of revenue and as important relationship-building events for our donors. In 2016, 2017, and 2019, we met our revenue goals, netting approximately $100,000 each year.
2018 provided a new challenge -- weather. We had been blessed with beautiful weather for all of our past Park After Dark events, but a hurricane was looming in the week leading up to 2018's event. With four days to go, we decided to cancel the event for the safety of our guests, staff, and volunteers. (The hurricane subsequently turned and the evening of the event was beautiful, but we felt we had made the right call with the information at our disposal at the time.) Unfortunately, the cancellation saw us undoing all of our planning work and missing the revenue we would have generated at the event. To recover some of this revenue, I conducted the silent auction online, marketing it to our would-be Park After Dark attendees, social media followers, and email list. This method met our silent auction revenue goal. Because our sponsorships and tickets were non-refundable, we finished in the black despite the cancellation.