SRA in the News

Nonprofits Get Creative to Maintain Fundraising, Presence

by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

Just because supporters of nonprofits can’t get together in person during the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t mean fundraising stops. Enter virtual events.  

Springtime on the west coast of Florida usually means a full schedule of events, from luncheons to galas to sophisticated soirees, all benefiting nonprofits. For many organizations, the events are some of their biggest moneymakers of the year.

Cancelling or in some cases postponing them in the face of the Coronavirus crisis has caused financial headaches and uncertainty. But many organizations aren’t sitting idly by. They’re altering plans and turning to virtual events to help gather an audience of supporters and continue to raise money.

Having a strong team to help put the event together in seven or eight days was key, Kelly says. That team included auctioneer Scott Robertson, Harmon’s Audio Visual, public relations and marketing consultant Elly Hagen, and emcee and area media personality Gina Birch. “Go with the professionals,” Kelly says. “We could have spent less money on the front end for sure, but it would have been a totally different event and we wouldn’t have been happy about it.”

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Amy Scherzer’s Diary: Weekly Wrap-Up of the Tampa Social Scene

The journey continues to arrive at a cure for the degenerative neuro-muscular disease Friedreich’s ataxia. You can’t ask for more devoted guides than Paul and Suzanne Avery, who celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary Saturday by raising more than $2.2 million at the 10th FARA Energy Ball to develop more drugs and gene therapies for their daughters Laurel and Allison Avery and others aided by the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance and the University of South Florida Ataxia Research Center.

“We’re going to get it done,” said Ron Bartek, president and co-founder of FARA, who was joined by the organization’s four other founding board members at the Marriott Waterside ballroom, including neuroscientist Massimo Pandolfo who discovered the FXN gene mutation.

Sharing in the enthusiasm were emcee Wendy Ryan; Journey to the Cure co-chairs for the third year, Janell and Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Steve Griggs; and 725 guests. They included Tom and Karen Hamilton and Bill and Patty Finneran, who offered to match all Fund A Cure donations up to a $1 million. The tally rose to $530,000 which instantly became $1.6 million.

Scott Robertson’s live auction was also off the chain: Two $35,000 bids for Abaco Island vacations (via private jet); two Patron Tequila trips sold for $20,000 each; and two visits to the Avery ranch in Montana raised $35,000 each.

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Gulfshore Life: Scene & Heard: Mike Ditka Surprise Visit

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You never know whom you’ll run into in Naples. A crawfish boil invite led to a chance meeting between Super Bowl-winning coach Mike Ditka and young sports fan Vance Landry. Vance and his dad, Bryan Landry, were invited along with several other Little League baseball families in March to the home of Troy Melancon, who just happens to live next door to Ditka. “He’s tough as nails, no doubt, but I think it was nice for him to walk over and take a picture,” Bryan told me. Landry said the coach talked about losing money playing golf that day, then winning it back playing the game of gin. See? Iron Mike does have a softer side.

Supporters of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida dressed in eco-chic attire and raised a record $1.9 million this March during Magic Under the Mangroves. I was honored to emcee the 14th annual gala alongside auctioneer Scott Robertson, who took a leap of faith early in the night. “The organizers did the math and realized $250,000 would endow an internship [at the Conservancy] forever,” Scott told me. “They said,  ‘We may not get it, but I think it’s important we offer the opportunity.’” Dolph von Arx put his paddle in the air first. “Then I whirled around and saw Patty and Jay Baker,” Scott remembered. Edie Andrews also raised a paddle to give $250,000. The rest of the room followed with gifts totaling more than $700,000 to invest in the Conservancy’s internship program. Then came the dinner, courtesy of green-certified caterers who travel to Naples all the way from Washington, D.C. Chef Henry Dinardo brings down his Windows Catering team exclusively for this event. “Henry and I made Naples our winter home in large part because of the area’s natural beauty,” explained Carol Dinardo, chair of Magic Under the Mangroves and Conservancy board member. It proved to be a magical night indeed.

Sandi Moran from Naples is making her mark on the Great White Way. In the last three years she has co-produced six musicals, including two currently on Broadway: Once on This Island and Anastasia. I saw firsthand at the Broadhurst Theatre in March why Anastasia received two 2017 Tony nominations, one for costume design and one for Mary Beth Peil’s performance as Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. The story weaves an enchanting tale surrounding the fate of Anastasia Romanov, the Grand Duchess of Russia, during the Bolshevik Revolution. “International interest has been huge,” Sandi told me. She’s confident the show will have a long run on Broadway and beyond. “[Anastasia] is opening in Germany and Spain in the fall.” Proof that Sandi has a keen eye for musical theater and smart investment.

It was cheers to 10 years at March’s Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, which celebrated the decade by raising a whopping $2.9 million dollars for SWFL Children’s Charities. The main event at Quail West Golf and Country Club was a glittering affair with beautiful billowing drapes decorating the ceiling of the main ballroom as many guests showed up in shades of silver and white to drink wine and bid high and often.

And while the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Festival is a large-scale fundraiser with lots of moving parts, sometimes the smaller communities can come together to make a huge impact, too. In fact, Gulf Harbor Golf & Country Club is one such community. The annual Love Your Neighbor event that happens there every year brought in a record $443,000 for the Heights Foundation in February. Then, a few weeks later, residents of Gulf Harbor came together on a Monday night for Alzheimer’s research with An Affair to Remember. It included fab auction items like a Useppa Island Getaway with Cliff Williams (bassist for AC/DC) and his wife, Georganne, on their private yacht; a trip to Cuba with chef Gloria Jordan; and more. The guest list twinkled—think Norman and Mary Love, Vicki and Richard Pitbladdo, Debra and Larry Hobbs, Joe and JoAnn Catti, and more…

There’s no doubt folks in this area are giving to good causes when an event as simple and lovely as an afternoon tea can bring in more than $65,000. Benefiting PACE Center for Girls, the Grande Dames Tea also celebrated its 10th anniversary in March, as Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre was standing room-only and filled with ladies in gorgeous hats and fascinators. Sadly, two of the grande dames to be honored this year, Dena Geraghty and Betty Sanders, had both passed away just before the tea. Still, Dena would have been so proud of her eldest daughter, Kelly Price, for sitting in her place—and Betty’s sister-in-law, Deanna Sanders Hansen, did a lovely job of speaking for Betty. Artist Barbara Yeomans rounded out the group of honorees and dispensed great advice to the PACE girls, urging them to follow their dreams.

An unexpected March trip to New York City created a whirlwind series of unforgettable moments for Bonita Springs resident Christina Jordan and her teenage daughter, Kat (pictured). “I’m exhausted!” Christina said to me afterward. First, Christina received notification while at work that she’d won the Hamilton ticket lottery and scored two free seats to the toughest ticket in all of New York. As if that weren’t unbelievable enough, she then got to tell the tale to a national audience live in Rockefeller Plaza. She was picked from the crowd at the TODAY show for a live interview. “I got on the phone, collected frequent flyer miles from family, surprised (Kat) at school, and then we hopped on a plane,” she told Hoda Kotb that cold New York morning. After that, producers selected Christina and Kat to take part in a trivia game on Kathie Lee and Hoda’s fourth hour of TODAY. The two won $100. Oh, and they also met American figure skater Adam Rippon during the trip. Not too shabby for Kat’s first time in New York.

Auctioneer Scott Robertson is known for donning wildly colorful vests, but at this year’s Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest in March, he took it up a notch. “Since it was the 10th anniversary,” he says, “I found a silver sequined jacket that was so full of bling, it looked like it came out of Liberace’s closet.” When he was auctioning off a luxurious getaway to one of guest vintner Barbara Banke’s Jackson Family wineries, the bidding got up to $100,000. Scott called out to Barbara from the stage, “Since this trip is so popular, how about we auction off TWO of them.” Barbara generously agreed—but only if Scott would sell the jacket off his back for the cause. A man of his word, Scott offered his sparkling blazer to the highest bidder. Can you believe the bidding started off at $1,000 and climbed all the way to $20,000? And not only that: The lucky winner was Ed Bell, the father of 12-year-old Jack Bell, a cancer survivor who was a patient at Golisano Children’s Hospital (one of the wine fest’s primary beneficiaries) when he was diagnosed with liver cancer as a toddler. Jack is healthy and cancer-free—and his dad is the proud owner of a jacket that could outshine a disco ball.

The Selfless Love Gala Raises $1.2 Million at Its Inaugural Event in Palm Beach

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“Our foundation’s mission is to transform the lives of current and former foster children. Together, we are fostering dreams.”

Last month, the Selfless Love Foundation hosted its very first gala in Palm Beach, Fla., to raise funds for former and current foster youth across the United States to provide education and housing opportunities. The charitable organization was established by power couple Ed and Ashley Brown, whose expectations for the event were far exceeded. By the end of the evening, the foundation had raised $1.2 million, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to support the charity’s work.

Ed Brown, president and CEO of the Patrón Spirits Company and cofounder of the Selfless Love Foundation, utilized his 20-year experience in the spirits industry to contribute to the foundation’s cause, while his wife, Ashley, was motivated by her own experience as an adopted child to initiate the program and form their mission statement of “Fostering Dreams.”

The event’s success exemplifies the impact of philanthropy across industries, a paradigm we witnessed last December at the inaugural Boca Raton session of Robb Report’s annual Car of the Year (COTY) competition. Joining forces with the Selfless Love Foundation and its partner, Brown’s Harbor—a supportive housing program to assist young adults with independent living—Robb Report offered 20 people the chance to drive one of the 13 luxury automobiles being judged at the full-throttle event (including the Lamborghini Huracán Performante, the 2018 COTY winner).

The recent gala took place at the striking beaux-arts-designed Flagler Museum, with notable guests including self-made billionaire and former foster child John Paul DeJoria, who presented a Brown’s Harbor graduate with furniture for her new home. A live auction included buzzworthy lots like a three-night stay aboard the Patrón Tequila Express Train and a judge’s spot at COTY 2019 in Napa Valley—which alone raised $17,500—all contributing to the foundation’s million-dollar-plus takeaway.

Learn more about the Selfless Love Foundation, and support its mission to improve the lives of foster youth.

Gulf Harbour raises more than $400K for Alzheimer’s

Original post can be seen here 

‘An Affair to Remember’ helped raise $415,000 for The Alzheimer’s Association held on March 12 at Gulf Harbour Country Club.

That’s nearly double of the money raised in 2017, which was the first year of the event.

More than 200 people attended.

Guest speakers included Angel Duncan from the Neuropsychiatric Research Center of SWFL and Carol Poole, an early stage Alzheimer’s patient and advisor. Emcee Kellie Burns and auctioneer Scott Robertson also participated.

There also was a special message from Dr. Fred Schaerf, who spoke at the 2016 event.

In a video, Schaerf shared that he has ALS – Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

For almost 20 years, Schaerf a board-certified neuropsychiatrist, brought his training and experience from Johns Hopkins to Fort Myers and created the only research center in Lee, Collier, Charlotte and Hendry-Glades counties solely dedicated to Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias.

His Neuropsychiatric Research Center of Southwest Florida has been a nationally recognized destination, providing state-of-the-art clinical research trials in Alzheimer’s disease and other memory impairments to the citizens of Florida.

Boogie Bash raises over $415,000 for local foster children’s educational future

Original post 

Friends of Foster Children Forever (FFCF) held their 11th annual Boogie Bash fundraiser on March 23 at Grey Oaks Country Club. The ‘boogie through the decades’ themed fundraiser had over 250 supporters in attendance and raised over $415,000 to benefit FFCF’s one-on-one educational mentoring programs for local foster children. The Fund-a-Future fundraising portion of the evening brought in $215,000 to fund the FFCF mentoring program for foster children who are failing academically. This amount was double what was raised in the previous year. Party-goers enjoyed a cocktail reception and silent auction followed by a surf and turf dinner, a live auction, and dancing to the sounds of Society Hill presented by Forman Productions. Edee Deluca and Rio DeArmond were this year’s event chairs, celebrity emcees were Pzazz Productions’ PJ Fuerstman-Meyer and local chef Brian Roland of Crave Culinaire. Auctioneer Scott Robertson encouraged bidders to give until it felt good. Making the evening possible were Hand-Jive sponsors: Children’s Network of Southwest Florida, HBK CPAs & Consultants, NEST Multi-Facility Management, and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Schroeder; Moonwalk sponsors, American Eagle Mortgage/Lauren Maxwell, First Florida Integrity Bank, Home-Tech, Naples Auto Donation Center, and The Woodruff Institute; and media sponsor, Naples Daily News. The FFCF mission is to focus on the children they serve by providing targeted educational and enrichment opportunities that allow each child to fulfill his or her potential. The charitable organization works to fulfill the unmet needs of every child who enters, or is at risk of entering the foster care system in Collier, Hendry and Glades Counties. For more information about Friends of Foster Children of Forever (FFCF) or how to help, visit or call (239) 262–1808. (Photo ID: Scott Robertson, Auctioneer and Edee Deluca, co-chair celebrate a great night)

Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest Auction raises $2.9 million for local kids

Published by News-Press 


The wine flowed, the bidding paddles flew up and down, and the audience hooted and cheered as the big bids got bigger at Saturday’s Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest Auction:

• $35,000 for a seven-day wine-tasting trip to Argentina.

• $75,000 for a five-night “super yacht adventure” to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

• $100,000 for a five-course wine and food tasting for 40 people at New York’s famous Rao’s restaurant.

By 4:20 p.m., the rowdy, wine-drinking audience had raised $1.5 million for Southwest Florida kids. And the bids kept coming.

“The afternoon is still young!” said auctioneer Scott Robertson. “What generosity!”

When the ringing bells and other noisemakers finally quieted down at 6:10 p.m,, the 10th annual Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest had raised a whopping $2.9 million (according to an early estimate).

Click here to read more & see photos and video from the event! 



Tenth Annual “Love Your Neighbor” Raises Record $443,000 for The Heights Foundation and The Heights Center

*Published by The Heights Foundation

“Love Your Neighbor”, the 10th annual event benefiting The Heights Foundation, raised a record $443,000 for educational programs for at-risk kids in Harlem Heights. The event was held at the Gulf Harbour home of Mary Jo Little. The VIP Pre Party was held at the home of David and Susan Knust. Mark Loren, Norman and Mary Love were honored for their years of support of The Heights Foundation. Norman Love Confections and Mark Loren Designs helped create this signature event and have supported it since its inception.

A $100,000 giving challenge was made by Bill and Caroline Bloomhall, residents of Gulf Harbour and long-time supporters of The Heights Foundation. If the audience pledged a minimum of $100,000 in donations during the Fund-a-Need in the live auction, the Bloomhalls would match the amount. Attendees generously met the challenge and donated $131,250.

Read more and see photos!

Taking Care of BIDness


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Scott Robertson owns 10 tuxedoes that he accessorizes with 74 vests—some bought off the rack, some specially made. By color or pattern theme, each represents a fundraising auction he has called. They also represent his philosophy about being an auctioneer specializing in charity events. Whatever the gala, “I want to be a part of it,” he explains.

That’s one tactic that has allowed him to just about corner the market on Southwest Florida charity auctions.

Whether it’s done by hand, paddle or keyboard click, the auction as a method of sale thrives in this area, being used to sell houses, land, livestock, vacations, antiques, estate lots and more—in person and online. And nearly everything about this method of sale changes depending on whether the buyers are in cowboy boots or cummerbunds.

“I’ll be the only one in a tuxedo, besides the wait staff,” Robertson says before the mid-November ForEverglades Naples fundraiser at the Naples Beach Hotel. And while the audience was in cocktail chic, the staff was in black tie—and so is the auctioneer, standing stage left during the pre-auction dinner and already in command of the room.

He is both part of the fabric of the event and a man apart as its salesman and leader. For the Everglades fundraiser, he wore a vest and tie of light turquoise: “one of the decorating colors” that night, he says.

Dress is only one aspect of the style a charity auctioneer adopts.

“With commercial auctions, you’re selling a product,” says Robertson. “You’re trying to get the most money you can for that product. With a charity auction, you’re selling [a concept] to people. So it’s a whole different mindset.”



Sara Rose Bytnar wins International Auctioneer Championship!

Originally published in FAA News. 


Sara Rose Bytnar of Naples, Florida was recently crowned winner of the Women’s National Auctioneers Association (NAA) 30thAnnual International Auctioneer Championship in Columbus, Ohio. The 31 year old Rose Bytnar, a third generation auctioneer, grew up with four female auctioneers in her family to guide and mentor her, to which she credits much of her success. She finished second last year to her mother, Beth Rose, by one-tenth of one point.
Twenty women competed for the right to be known as one of the best auction professionals in the world. Rose Bytnar, Certified Auctioneers Institute (CAI), Accredited Auctioneer Real Estate (AARE), Auction Marketing Management (AMM), received a $5,000 cash award, trophy and championship
ring. The contest included a preliminary bid-calling round, an interview round, and a final round of bid- calling that included seven women.
As part of her responsibilities as auction champion, Rose Bytnar will travel to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN later this year to conduct the annual NAA Toy Auction for patients and their siblings. All of the children leave as winners after bidding successfully on a toy to take home. The NAA formed its partnership with St. Jude in 1995 and has raised more than $5 million to support St. Jude.
“I am honored to have won the auctioneer championship and be recognized by the world’s largest association dedicated to auction professionals,” said Bytnar. “My involvement with the NAA has provided an opportunity to network with the best auction professionals in the business and the educational opportunities to keep me at the top of my field.”