By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Think those private party cruises onboard the historic steamboats during Tall Stacks are only for corporate fat cats and their clients?
Not anymore. During this fifth Tall Stacks event, more nonprofit organizations are following the same model as their for-profit brethren.
While some use the events to raise a modest amount of funds, more are just looking to break even and "friend raise" - building stronger ties with current and potential future donors, just like a company showing its clients a good time in hopes of future sales.
"We all do fund-raisers, but this was a chance to do something different and fun," said Michael Bourg, development director for the downtown-based charity Boys Hope, Girls Hope.
"And while we're hoping to net between $10,000 and $15,000, we're also going to get new people who just want to take a Saturday night cruise.
"And what a better opportunity to tell our story?" said Bourg, whose organization provides shelter and support to academically promising but economically disadvantaged youths and has an annual budget of $900,000.
Of the 22 Captain's Club cruises this year, seven are being hosted by nonprofit groups, a big jump over past years, said Erin Loudner Emerson, Tall Stack's Captain's Club salesperson.
This is the first year that Bourg's organization, which relies solely on private donations, has done a cruise.
Tickets for its event Saturday night are $125 per person, with the charity getting $42 per ticket and the rest going to the cruise ship and the Tall Stacks management team. For that, up to 280 ticket holders get a cruise on Deck 1 of the Majestic, plus a buffet dinner.
Most other nonprofit cruises are along the same model, with 200-300 people getting dinner and a great view of downtown for their money, with tickets from $75 per person to $360 a couple.
Another first timer is WVXU-FM, Xavier University's nonprofit public radio station. The station has done other luxury cruises in the past as fund-raisers for donors and members, and broadcasting director Jim King said that Tall Stacks was a logical next step.
"This is a combination fund-raiser and thank-you to donors," said King, whose station sold tickets at $360 per couple for a Thursday night trip on the Belle of Louisville, dinner, drinks, posters and two tickets to the Tall Stacks events during its recent fund drive. "We should make about $8,000-$10,000 on this, which isn't a whole lot of money. But the bonding time will be even more valuable."
Others, such as Northern Kentucky University, have done them in the past, but have seen the size of its party grow.
And following the nonprofit model, some of these other organizations are looking to just break even on their cruises.
"We had originally hoped that this would be a fund-raiser; but in the end, it is more of a thank-you to our donors for scholarships," said Kathy Stewart, NKU's director of special events. "This is definitely more of a friend-raiser than fund-raiser, and a great way to stay in front of current and potential donors."
NKU's cruise on Wednesday cost $75 per person, and university officials had to add tickets because the demand was so great.
St. Elizabeth Medical Center also had to get more room for its dinner cruise on Saturday on the Harriet Bishop, going from 240 spots to 300 this year on a bigger boat. This is the third time the hospital has done such a cruise for donors, with ticket prices now at $100 a person.
"It has worked for us all three times, to be sure," said Barbara Cunningham, St. Elizabeth's vice president of development.
"And when it was announced that Tall Stacks was coming back, we immediately started getting phone calls, asking if we would do a cruise.
"So given the potential impact, it was a no-brainer for us."
Seven of the 22 Captain's Club cruises during this year's Tall Stacks were booked by nonprofit organizations. Here's a breakdown:
Wednesday: Northern Kentucky University, dinner on the Keystone Belle.
Thursday: WVXU, dinner on the Belle of Louisville; Mariemont Preservation Foundation, dinner on the Creole Queen.
Saturday: St. Elizabeth Medical Center, dinner on the Harriet Bishop; Boys Hope, Girls Hope, dinner on the Majestic.
Sunday: Indian Hill Historical Society, lunch on the Spirit of Jefferson; Bethesda Foundation, dinner on the Creole Queen.
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