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Big parties, big money: Fundraisers pose additional challenges

When it comes to planning a fundraiser, people often turn to Somerlyn Cothran. The president and CEO of Cothran Development Strategies Inc. has worked for 12 years planning events, from small nonprofits to large presidential campaigns. She faces the typical challenges for event planners: a vendor doesn’t show, an address isn’t on an invitation, the printer makes a mistake. But when it comes to raising money, there’s an added layer of complexity.


Her team works to figure out the client’s target fundraising goal, and then how to attract people who will be most likely to give to that cause. Her company has held fundraisers for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center and Dr. Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps Academy.


When it comes to high-profile political fundraisers, Cothran’s team also often works with the Secret Service, in addition to the usual fervor of a big event. Working with security detail takes meticulous planning and minute attention to detail, she said. At one event, she was coordinating with five separate teams from the Secret Service.


“One important thing I have learned is to be very close with vendors,” Cothran said. “Make sure to take care of your vendors like any business takes care of its customers.”


At another political fundraiser, the event was designed so the featured guest would speak on a bridge over a pool. With only 12 hours before the event began, the Secret Service nixed the bridge idea. She had less than half a day to move everything to the back of the private property. She had to order a stage, arrange a podium and move all the tables and food.


The key to preventing chaos is just not losing your cool, Cothran said. When you have a close relationship with vendors, it’s easier to call in favors on short notice.


“It’s not what you do first that gets you into trouble, it’s what you do next,” she said. “Don’t get upset. Count to 10. Take a deep breath and smile.”.

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