Big ideas and big plans often yield grand results for the nation’s most prominent African Americans of influence. In the complex world of high society, often viewed as one of privilege, there is more to being a socialite or a “black socialite” than a strong fashion sense or having a triple-booked social calendar—true philanthropic efforts are often involved. The philanthropic season, in full swing twice a year—generally March to May and again from August to December—equals no more than six to eight months total. The entire high society and or philanthropic calendar can often appear overwhelming. However, giving, and getting others to give, is the name of the game and it takes more than one would imagine to make the magic happen.
In New York City, the noteworthy names such as Alicia Bythewood, Kathryn Chenault, Susan Fales-Hill and Grace Hightower De Niro immediately come to mind. On the West Coast, by way of San Francisco, it’s Pamela Joyner who dominates both the society and philanthropic circles with her art world successes—which often make national headlines. We recently consulted Ivy Leaguer, Delta Sigma Theta sister, and Links member Helen Shelton of Finn Partners, a well-seasoned PR expert. Additionally, we spoke with rising New York socialite Dr. Shirley Madhere, a highly regarded cosmetic surgeon and lady of leisure on her favorite philanthropic causes. Each provide valuable insight and key elements we all must concentrate on should we wish to head up our own charitable event.Media & PR Expert, Helen Shelton of Finn Partners (Image: Alex Lipowec)
The Scoop—Who, What & Where
How long have you been involved with charitable events? What aspects of planning events do you enjoy most? How do you determine which organizations to devote your time to?
HS: Professionally, 15 years; personally all of my life. From a professional standpoint, my favorite aspect of production has always been the creative process. I am always thrilled to see an actual campaign I’ve created come to life.
SM: The cause must resonate with me with substance on many levels: the people. the purpose, and the spirit.
What are a few of your favorite African American organizations?
HS: I am a proponent of what I call “mothership” organizations, such as the NAACP and the New York Urban League. I’m a board member of ColorComm, the national organization that advances women of color in the communications industry.
SM: The Studio Museum in Harlem and various Haiti-related organizations.
What host committees have you been part of? If applicable, how does it differ from working from the PR side?
HS: ColorComm, The Links. In my personal charity work I somehow end up playing the role of communications chair, on top of the duties of actually facilitating the event and working on behind-the-scenes production aspects, such as video production.
SM: I must admit, the recent Youth America Grand Prix an event that I co-chaired at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) was breathtakingly inspiring. I have supported, ABT, Beauty 4 Empowerment, and the Smart Woman Project.
What prominent African American women do you feel are true leaders in a hosting/socialite capacity now? And who are historically influential?
HS: Dr. Marcella Maxwell (a Delta Sigma Theta member like myself), Alma Rangel (wife of Charles Rangel), Kathryn Chenault, Leslie Lewis Sword, Susan Fales-Hill, Pamela Joyner, Desirée Rogers, Cathy Hughes, and Sylvina Shelton, wife to Charles E. Shelton formerly of The New York Times.
SM: My mother, my aunts, fashion designer Stella Jean, Oprah, Beyoncé, have influenced me positively. Numerous other women of various other cultures who have created, disrupted, fallen then risen, enhanced the game, shifted paradigms, and continue to astound with their contributions to humanity.
How can YOU be a success heading up your own charitable event?
When it comes to successfully heading up your own charitable event, Madhere suggests you “become engaged, committed, and excited.” According to PR expert Shelton, follow these essential steps to be a success heading up your OWN charitable event…
- Have a great cause that people can relate to. This is a competitive environment and every sponsorship dollar or investment needs to be accounted for. Accountability, is of the utmost importance so delivering on return for your sponsors is essential.
- Create a fabulous environment and offer a wonderful experience. Sometimes less is more , so it is not always necessary to have champagne flowing—as an example—if you have beautiful florals, delicious food, and wonderful entertainment, you can’t go wrong. If people are having a great time, they have no problem returning and becoming long-term supporters of your cause.
- Set realistic fundraising goals and have a sponsorship package that is appealing to a cross-section of interests and above all, network, network, network!