Division A
Category 9 - Special Events    
Entry Name:  SWFL Wine & Food Fest

Situation Analysis/Research:  The SWFL Wine & Food Fest, an annual fundraising event featuring private Chef-Vintner dinners in supporters’ homes and a wine and food Grand Tasting and Auction on the following afternoon, has become the largest and most successful fundraising event in Lee County, Fla., and rivals the largest nationally when compared to Wine Spectator Top 10 Wine Auctions list.  Funds are raised from sponsorships, dinner fees, Grand Tasting ticket sales and auction bids.  Over its five-year history, funds raised have increased each year from $202,000 net in 2007 to $752,000 net in 2009 which afforded $600,000 in donations to the benefitting charities. With the belief that the event had even more potential in 2010, the event chairman set a goal to net $1 million for the event’s six-year anniversary with $800,000 ($200,000 more than the previous year) in donations going to the chosen charities.  The event committee extended Briggs & Rogers’ contract to run the 2010 event.  To achieve this increased financial goal in a declining economy, new strategies to increase the financial success of the event were needed.  Research included reviewing local, regional and national event fundraising trends, reviewing other successful wine fests, interviewing the most active bidders from prior years, reviewing websites of other similar festivals, analyzing prior years’ attendance and examining buying trends of auction bidders. Analysis of the previous events showed the live auction is the single most important key to success and that the silent auction raised little compared to the overall total. Further analysis revealed that the most popular auction items were experiential, the types of things that one simply cannot purchase but can only enjoy through connections or exclusive offerings, such as trips to unique places, and trips for women. It was also noted that other successful wine festivals featured fewer but better known wines.

Objectives:   1. To raise $1 million in net proceeds and provide at least $800,000 to support the chosen charities.   2. To recruit more interesting auction items in order to more effectively target attendees.  3. To improve the caliber of wineries and offer wine in more auction lots.

:  Several changes were made to enhance the event, including the solicitation of unique auction packages from beneficiary charities and event trustees.  By challenging the creativity of the donors, items such as a party at the Playboy Mansion was secured by one of the benefitting charities, a “Bond” package featuring Bond wines and a weekend trip to the Caribbean island where the James Bond film, Thunderball, was filmed were donated by a trustee.  A look-alike James Bond presented the package from the auction block.  A compelling “Lifesaving Lot” was offered where bidders could combine their bids to purchase items for the benefitting hospital, and the addition of a painting created by a young cancer patient helped to remind bidders of the causes they were supporting.  The child’s painting featured “Teddy Bear Tebow,” a bear in a Tim Tebow Gators jersey.  So as a surprise, Briggs & Rogers contacted the University of Florida for the Gator mascot Albert E. Gator to attend, and a local attorney, known as “Mr. Orange and Blue,” was asked to come and start a mighty cheer to introduce the lot and get the crowd excited.   A special Mother/Daughter Taylor Swift concert lot was donated by one of the trustees.  The first lot was a collection of magnums from all of the vintners involved showcasing their wines which was a big success based on the high quality of  vintners present this year.  Noisemakers and cowbells were placed at all the tables for attendees to get in on the celebration.  Music pertinent to the package was blared after each winning bid and to make the auction more of a party setting.   A hard-cover book was produced to recruit sponsors and supporters. The website was enhanced with video interviews with the event chair and signature vintner and a blog by the wine director was created to reflect the upscale nature of the event. It was updated regularly with the addition of vintners and chefs, sponsors and other news.  Monthly wine gatherings prompted many trustees to offer contacts with vintners and chefs, procure unique auction items, agree to host dinners and bring friends into the event.  Two local high-end lifestyle magazines and the local newspaper became partners in the event.  Save-the-date e-blasts, mailings and press releases were disseminated.  Attractively packaged auction books were sent to attendees weeks in advance to allow ample time to plan their bidding and a pdf copy was added to the website, with a link e-blasted to the event’s list of supporters and prospective attendees.

Evaluation:  1.) In spite of a torrential rain storm that dampened the event’s logistics and challenged the planners to find indoor seating for more than 50 auction attendees, the SWFL Wine & Food Fest came close to its goal netting $932,000, but accomplished its goal of a donation of $800,000 to the chosen charities. 2.) The Lifesaving Lot raised $172,200 from 33 bidders.  3.) The most popular live auction lots were the Playboy Mansion party and Child Art  4.) The event received extensive, ongoing media coverage targeting wealthy and niche (wine and food aficionados) readers/viewers in daily and weekly print newspapers (104 col. inches), online mentions on related websites (57), and editorial features in magazines (28 pages including one cover). The website contacts list exceeded 1,249 and the web traffic grew to 5,958 visits with 67.19% new visits) from June 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010.

Budget:  Total event costs were $180,000.  Includes food, wine and beverage, graphic design, wine glasses, lanyards, web fees, professional services, photography, etc..   Staff hours:  967 plus numerous volunteer hours.