Dedicated, Warm and Willing – The Keys to Fundraising Success.

Dedicated, Warm and Willing – The Keys to Fundraising Success.

Michael Weamer, President and CEO of The Marfan Foundation, resonated with compassion and assurance when he revealed the key to his organization’s successful galas.  “We hold three kinds of galas but work with one type of person,” he explained.  “Dedicated, warm and willing individuals with a connection to Marfan syndrome are the reasons that our galas are so successful in raising the much-needed funds.”   The events are entirely planned and managed internally by dedicated staff with only night-of production assistance.    “Success is assured by the folks that manage the event who know how to create the magic through supporters.”  The Foundation holds multiple galas each year:

  1. HeartWorks, an annual gala that they have run for almost two decades in New York City, is a social and medical event and is the primary fundraiser for the Marfan Foundation.  This annual gala started in a showroom in NYC with 20 people.  It has grown into a corporate supported ball at the Ziegfeld theater with 500 participants each year.  The current driving force is one of the extraordinary individuals that Weamer described.  “Karen Murray, of Sequential Brands, is Chairman of the Board.  Her commitment is integral to the annual success.”  Her ties to fashion and the dramatic arts bring a number of significant supporters from Broadway, television, fashion and more.  People attend due to their connections to the hosts as well as their personal connections to Marfan.

Weamer explained that they use several avenues to raise funds including: sponsorships of tables which accounts for about 75% of their fundraising, and a large silent auction as well as a live auction.   They also make a direct appeal to attendees to offer donations with their “night of financial giving.”

Other elements of the gala’s success come from the strategic planning of honorees and attendees.  At each gala, they honor several people who have ties to the community, who support the cause, and who have expansive relationship circles with people who are supporters.   They partner with key philanthropic individuals and focus on well-known people who are personally connected to the cause.

The model for the New York gala is to work around the busy schedule of large corporate supporters.  Marfan NYC galas are held 6:00 – 9:00 PM during the week and never on a Friday.  The guests enjoy early cocktails, have photos taken and mingle with remarkable people.   After dinner they hold a live auction and celebrate the honorees.


  1. Louis Gala. The conservative format of the gala at the Ziegfeld is strictly New York… in St. Louis, the gala is a late-night party and well-known, annual social event! The event is held on a Saturday night at the 4 Seasons Hotel. There is a band and the dancing goes until the clock strikes midnight.  The event is hosted by Dr. Alan Braverman and his wife Becky, another of the indispensable warm and willing couples on which the Marfan Foundation depends.  The 400+ guests, who are staunch supporters from the medical and corporate community and are either impacted by Marfan or are friends or supporters of someone who is, come every year to create a warm and welcome atmosphere.  The St. Louis gala also offers a silent auction, but at this event 80-90% of revenue comes from local supporters and donors.


  1. The third style of gala is the “Evenings with Heart”, which are currently held once a year in three cities, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. The events are led by caring families and attended by those who have deep relationships with the donors.  Each event is centered around friends of a family who are tied to the Foundation – always around someone who has Marfan or a related condition.  These small family-centered receptions are intimate events with about 100 people.  They have a cocktail gathering theme instead of a big corporate dinner.   The only similarities to the larger galas are the silent auctions, and the caring atmosphere.   When these evenings are planned, they always know exactly who will be in the room.  95% know someone who is affected with the condition.

What universally makes Marfan events unique is the personal touch versus a simple “fill the table” mentality.  Weamer personally noted that often at large fundraisers, it is difficult to hear what is being said on stage because each table full of attendees is doing their own thing, but at these Marfan gala events, people listen.  The guests are personally invested and dedicated to supporting the cause, so they really listen.  They care.

Go to the Marfan Foundation Website to learn more about the genetic disorder, Marfan, patient resources, how to donate and the galas that support the cause at