For the last 38 years, the Dallas/Fort Worth Black Tie Dinner has been raising money for local LGBTQ and AIDS/HIV organizations and for the Human Rights Campaign Foundation based in Washington, D.C. In fact, Black Tie Dinner — known as the largest fundraising event of its kind in the country — has over the course of its history distributed more than $25 million dollars to its beneficiaries.
Black Tie Dinner has evolved over the years from a more low-key formal, sit-down dinner bringing together some of North Texas’ wealthier LGBTQ people and their allies for some checkbook activism into one of the premiere LGBTQ fundraising events in the country, featuring big name entertainers and activists, all committed to raising money and awareness for LGBTQ people and issues.
And this year, Black Tie is making another big evolutionary leap, changing — at least temporarily — from an in-person, sit-down dinner to an hour-long live television broadcast, at 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, on WFAA Channel 8. And as with many other annual fundraisers, this year’s big changes for Black Tie were forced by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, Black Tie Co-Chairs Jeremy Hawpe and Brad Pritchett sat down with Dallas Voice to answer a few questions about how DFW’s big party made some big changes in order to keep on raising big money, even in an epidemic.
— Tammye Nash
Dallas Voice: Tell me how you guys came up with the idea of doing a TV broadcast when so many other events went virtual. What advantages do you have by doing the broadcast versus doing a virtual (online) event? What are the drawbacks, if any? Black Tie Co-Chairs Jeremy Hawpe and Brad Pritchett: Black Tie Dinner is always trying to do something different. Channel 8 has been a longtime supporter of Black Tie Dinner. As we thought about the different options and what other organizations were doing, we knew we had to step it up and give our community something new.
We also realize that “Zoom-fatigue” is a real thing. In March it was cute to have a Zoom happy hour with your co-workers. Now, most of us don’t get out of our athleisure to log into Zoom! We wanted to take advantage of the setback of not being able to host 3,000 people in a ballroom and broaden it by taking our message and need to the mass market through television, thus adding thousands more that would lend a listening ear.
So, we approached Channel 8 about our idea and started the discussion to see if this would work. They loved it. Our sponsors, supporters and beneficiaries have loved that we’re trying something new.
The first Black Tie Dinner was a small group of people in a living room. What we loved about this idea is that it’s a nod to the very first Dinner in 1982. We hope that people can gather in small groups — socially distanced, of course — to watch Black Tie LIVE.
Because of the necessary changes, you guys are working to keep everything hyper-local, right? And that means that some of the national awards are not going to be presented this year. But are the local awards going to be presented, and if so, have those been announced yet?
That’s right. Given the current climate, we didn’t think having awards was going to set the right tone of our event. However, in the spirit of keeping things local, we wanted to make sure that we kept one tradition this year: the Kuchling Humanitarian Award, which recognizes a local leader for their efforts for our community. We will be announcing this year’s Kuchling recipient later this month.
me about the entertainment you have lined up for the broadcast. Even though this is a different year, some things will remain the same. You’ll have to tune in on Oct. 18 to see the entertainment! We may give our audience a tease as we get closer!
Tell me about the auctions. The silent auction will begin online ahead of the broadcast, right? If so, how far in advance? How can people register to bid in the silent auction? Will there be a live/luxury auction? If so, how will that work? Our auctions are one of the biggest areas where we can impact the final distribution to our beneficiaries. As in years past, we’ll be using the OneCause mobile bidding platform, and anyone around the world can participate in the silent auction. To sign up and register, BlackTie.org.
hope to still have some unique items in our auction, but we probably will not have lots of “luxury” items. First, most of those items were foreign travel packages, and currently not many countries will even let Americans in. And secondly, we realize that this pandemic has touched most people’s pocketbooks.
We just don’t expect our viewers and supporters to have the appetite to buy expensive, luxury experiences that they may not get to use for a couple of years.
In a “normal” year, table captains are a big part of the fundraising for Black Tie. How can people fulfill that role this year? Our table captains are a loyal and dedicated bunch. They have historically been an integral part of the success of Black Tie Dinner. Those table captains are excellent in organizing a group of 10, and we are hoping that they will be engaged (and using those organizational skills!) to participate in this year’s Black Tie Ambassador program. If those table captains can persuade their former guests to give even a fraction of what they used to pay for a Dinner ticket, those funds will go a long way to impacting our overall distribution and what we are able to give to the beneficiaries this year.
Obviously, a lot of the avenues through which Black Tie raises money are being impacted this year. How much do you expect to see that offset by possibly lower expenses? Our televised program will definitely be cheaper than a 3,000-person ballroom with a grand stage, rigging, production and lighting. That means that every sponsor’s and supporter’s dollar goes a lot farther this year than it did in the past.
Black Tie Dinner is very lucky in that it has low overhead. However, most of the organizations we support are not that lucky. They have a payroll to meet, electricity bills to pay, rent payments to make. That’s why Black Tie Dinner is committed now more than ever.
We realize that this global pandemic has hit everyone’s personal finances, but we hope that our community can continue to be as generous as possible — even in very small donations — to help these amazing beneficiaries.
Who are this year’s beneficiaries, and how you are promoting them? How are they helping in bringing in revenue? Our beneficiaries are: Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Resource Center, AIDS Services of Dallas, AIDS Outreach Center, Promise House, Celebration Community Church, Cathedral of Hope, Turtle Creek Chorale, Uptown Players, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Equality Texas, Lambda Legal, Legacy Counseling Center, Northhaven United Methodist Church, Health Education Learning Project (HELP) and Coalition for Aging LGBT.
They are helping bring in revenue through many of the traditional streams — and some new ones! They are still cultivating items for our silent auction. They are still out there selling raffle tickets for the chance to win a new Mercedes-Benz, and finally, they are promoting the peer-to-peer campaign that we launched last week, Black Tie Ambassadors.
Y’all tell me a little about how this is affecting the two of you on a personal level? Jeremy, this was your final year as co-chair, and Brad, your first year; what does it mean to each of you, personally, to be faced with this and to have come up with an innovative solution and not have to cancel? Jeremy: This is not how I expected my last year as co-chair would end! I was hoping to break another fundraising record in 2020. But the resilience and dedication of our board, volunteers, sponsors and allies has been incredibly inspiring. I’m so excited for Black Tie LIVE. Perhaps the thing I’m most excited about this year is that we get to tell a whole new audience about Black Tie Dinner and our amazing beneficiaries. For the folks that were on the fence about attending our in-person Dinners in the past, for the people that maybe just did not have the financial resources to attend or those people that have never heard of us, Black Tie LIVE will be a great introduction and provide many avenues to allow them to support our mission.
Brad: I attended my first Black Tie Dinner a decade ago and distinctively remember the energy of the ballroom, the love in the air and how impactful the leaders were on that stage. I left on such a high and with a personal drive to do better and do more for our LGBTQ community. I immediately set a personal goal to stand on that stage one day and chair this life-changing organization. Fast forward 10 years later, and here I am — amidst a global pandemic — with no Dinner. Obviously, when Jeremy and I realized with our board that we would have to pivot, it was sad, tough and something I personally had to mourn — but not something to wallow in. Our community is known for our resiliency, and it was time to step up. By implementing something like Black Tie LIVE, a first ever for our organization that will reach even more people, that has helped soften the blow of having to reimagine our program. At this point, we are ready for any roadblock that Miss 2020 throws our way. Bring it.
I can’t think of any other questions right now, so what have I missed? What do you want folks to know that we haven’t talked about? Just a reminder that anyone reading can support Black Tie Dinner this year in the following ways:
• Donate an auction item or play in our auction! The auction will open one to two weeks prior to Oct. 18.
• Buy raffle tickets to win a Benz!
• Text to give (that will launch during the LIVE special).
• Give a general donation through our Ambassador program.