Working in the events industry can mean making a career of expecting the unexpected. Crazy weather, unanticipated guests, unreliable suppliers—professionals in our business have learned to prepare for anything and tackle tricky situations with grace. But sometimes life delivers unpleasant surprises that just can’t be planned for or handled easily. Faced with natural disasters, accidents, or health emergencies, many industry professionals find that they are quickly running through cash reserves and facing uncomfortable options that put them on the brink of losing their livelihoods. “We celebrate and hold parties for a living, so people in our industry sometimes think, ‘How bad could it be?’” says Kelly White, SEARCH Foundation chairwoman. “We know that even one medical emergency or weather-related incident can totally make or break a small business. And being out of work for sickness or injury is a disaster for those who are living paycheck-to-paycheck. That’s why we’re here to help whenever and wherever we can.”
Kelly White, SEARCH Foundation chairwoman
By events professionals, for events professionals
As the only nonprofit that directly funds events professionals—and that includes any event industry professional: caterers, lighting pros, design pros, florists, linen suppliers, and more—SEARCH Foundation was founded nearly 20 years ago to offer financial assistance during crisis. Relying on donations from individuals and corporations, the SEARCH Foundation grants as much as $5,000 in emergency funds to individuals who live anywhere in the world, and who work in any capacity in the events industry. Those who receive grants are not required to be a member of any professional organization.
White is passionate about the significant impact the organization has made on many colleagues’ lives. “Everyone who serves on our all-volunteer board of directors is aware of the many challenges that can beset event professionals. We’re all experienced in the industry,” she says. “We support this organization as a way to give back to an industry that’s been so good to us. If you earn your living in special events, and you need financial help because of a crisis, please apply.”
Simple, online application
The four-page grant application, which can be found on the searchfoundation.org website, asks for basic information about the crisis that has occurred, how it’s affecting business and personal life, current resources such as insurance, and long-term plans. Applicants are asked to provide supporting documentation, such as images of property damage or copies of medical bills. “Many of our applicants are not insured or are underinsured,” White says. “That can really be a game-changer in escalating a crisis.”
The process is simple and confidential. “Pride can be a stumbling block for many people, so I really want to stress that all application information is kept completely anonymous,” White says. “The only person who sees applicant names is our foundation administrator, and she blacks out all identifying information before anyone on the board ever sees the application.” Committee members read each application and then complete evaluation sheets. “Based on the evidence presented and the completeness of the application, an average score of 1 to 100 is determined,” White explains. “That final score is the percentage of the $5,000 maximum the applicant will receive.” The funds are available throughout the year, and applicants may reapply annually.
Should you apply?
“I want to urge those who are in need to contact us,” White says. The foundation has also made accommodation for those in a crisis situation who might not have the resources to complete an application. “If you’re dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, for example, you don’t have time to sit at the computer and complete an application,” she says.”That’s why we allow someone else to apply for a person in need. And if you know someone in trouble who isn’t reaching out, ask if you can apply on their behalf. It might make a big difference in their lives.”
Putting the “fun” in fundraising
SEARCH Foundation plays an active role at many industry gatherings, conducting fun events that generate donations and raise awareness of its mission. In addition, many industry professionals who are asked to speak at conferences will donate their engagement fees and stipends directly to the foundation. “We try to keep our overhead very low, so the more money we bring in, the more we can give away,” White says. “Our hope is that eventually we’ll have a full endowment, which will ensure our existence for the future. Right now, that’s still a goal to be achieved, so every little bit helps.”
Their biggest fundraiser happens annually in January. “This year, we brought back the format known as Cabaret, which was a fun chance for folks to submit their acts for approval and perform on the main stage,” White says.”Our event chair, Danny Bergold, really outdid himself, and the event raised nearly $40,000,” White says.
Interested in helping?
The 14-member, all-volunteer board of directors serves two-year terms, with elections held every year. “Anyone who makes a living in the events industry is welcome to get involved,” White says. “If you’re dedicated to giving back to our industry with your time and effort, we encourage you to consider volunteering. We would love to develop strong relationships with every event association, so those who need help know about us.”
For more information, or to view a video of award recipients talking about the impact of a SEARCH Foundation grant, go to searchfoundation.org.
Some of the board and staff of the Search Foundation. (left to right): Jerry Hellman, AFR Event Furnishings; Larry Green, Rentals Unlimited; Danny Bergold, About Entertainment; Rick Turner, Colortone Staging & Rentals; Joann Roth-Oseary, Someone’s in the Kitchen; Corinne Z. Dudine, SEARCH Executive Administrator; Kelly White, Faire La Fete Events and SEARCH Foundation chairwoman; and Kim Romano, Penton Media.