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A good cause

Expat charity balls are some of the biggest and most expensive draws on the social calendar. Where does all the money go?

by Karen Foster

While Japan has no tradition of high-priced events for the wealthy to raise money for charity, expatriate communities here regularly lay on glitzy, high-profile parties as a means of raising money for the less fortunate.

In many cases, however, a large amount, if not all, of the money generated by sales of high-priced tickets is going to fund the extravagant parties themselves, with the amount donated to charity often depending on cash generated on the night through raffles and auctions.

Some partygoers have expressed their dissatisfaction at the way in which the ticket money is being used, while one party organizer has said that some guests bid, for show, on the night for items in the auctions and then cancel the charges on their credit cards the next day.

In some countries, the spending of money raised at appeals is regulated by
law. In an Australian case last year, the Victoria State government threatened
to deregister a charity after it was discovered the group’s fundraising
dinner, which featured an address by Cherie Blair, resulted in only 8 percent
going to the charity. Under state law, charities must receive 60 percent of
the total funds raised at an event.

In Japan, The Australia Day Gala Ball uses all of its millions of yen in ticket income to fund the night’s events, according to one organizer.

Held in January at Tokyo’s Grand Hyatt hotel, the Australia Society’s annual ball cost 27,000 yen for members and 29,000 yen for nonmembers, and was, according to ball chairman Tony Scimonello, a charity event.

All of the money raised from ticket sales was used to cover the running of the night, according to Scimonello, at which there were over 500 people in attendance.

The society’s Web site description of the event, says the ball “will support Kodomo no Machi ‘Children’s Town’ and the Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery.”

The ball chairman said the event raised an estimated 4 million yen from the raffle and silent auction, though he said, “We haven’t decided how we are going to split the money” between the charities.

Asked if he knew how much money the charity ball made, Scimonello said: “No. I’ve got no idea. I haven’t sat down and figured that out. . . . It’s really no one’s business.”

Relying on auction and raffle proceeds to raise money for charity has its drawbacks, however.

One ball organizer said that one of the problems with raising money through auctions in the Tokyo community is that people want to show off in front of their peers.

Some bid higher than their wallets can handle and, in the cold light of day, they call up their credit card companies and cancel the promised purchases.

Meanwhile, those at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s Charity Crystal Ball, held Dec. 3 at the Westin hotel in Tokyo, who spent money on tickets alone did not give any money to charity.

An ACCJ press release on its Web site calls the evening of dinner and dancing “the season’s not-to-be-missed gala event, which mixed in the charity component . . .”

Vincent Lufino, charity ball co-chair, said the event sold out at 480 tickets, which went for 25,000 yen or 27,000 yen each.

“The ticket price covers the cost of the event,” Lufino said, while the money raised through corporate and private cash donations as well as a raffle and silent auction went to five charities designated before the ball.

However, even ticket income may not be enough to cover expenses.

Lufino said some of the money raised from the ball’s raffle and the silent auction — 2 million yen — might be used to cover expenses for the ball. He declined to give details, but said, “I know we donated 13 million yen to charity.”

Thomas Jordan, head of the ACCJ Community Services Fund, which deals with the charities, would only say: “We set a target of 10 million yen and we exceeded that.

“We don’t have the final figure because we don’t have the final bills. Some bills are still coming in.”

Jordan, who is a former president of the U.S. business group, said they would be giving out 2 million yen each to the five charities.

He did not know exactly how much the group had netted from the December ball, but that money over the 10 million yen “will be disbursed through our charity effort” to other groups to be selected by the service fund.

Jordan wouldn’t say how much the event grossed, saying that information was only available to ACCJ members.

Another organization that uses ticket proceeds to cover the substantial costs of its annual charity party — the Pink Ball — is the Run for the Cure Foundation, a Tokyo-based charity that raises money for breast cancer awareness programs.

The registered charity charged 35,000 yen per ticket for their Oct. 28 event at the Grand Hyatt in Tokyo’s Roppongi district, which saw some 300 people in attendance, according to founder and chairwoman Vickie Paradise Green.

According to the financial report of the event, they made 14.6 million yen the night of the ball — 9.9 million yen in ticket sales and 4.6 million yen from a raffle and silent auction.

Of that money, 2 million yen was listed as outstanding as of Nov. 25. Green told The Japan Times that the foundation recently “found it,” the cash having been deposited by some of the attendees in an old bank account set up before the group received nonprofit status.

Ball expenses — 7.0 million yen, including 5.3 million yen for the hotel, food and drink — ran to over 70 percent of total ticket proceeds.

After expenses, Run for the Cure recorded that the event made a profit of 7.6 million yen.

“The grant committee is now looking at ways to use that money,” said Green when asked who would receive the proceeds from the event.

Some attendees, however, have expressed surprise at the percentage of money from the event given to charity.

“If I knew (how the money was spent) I wouldn’t have gone,” said one expatriate, who asked not to be named, saying the foreign community was small and she knew some of the organizers.

“I would have given my money directly to charity. . . . Basically, be transparent. Say on your ticket what percentage goes to charity.”

On the night of the Pink Ball, 3.3 million yen was presented to Akebonokai, a support group for women with breast cancer, and 2.5 million yen was given to the Japan Society of Breast Health, which provides education to the medical community.

However, that money came from donations the foundation collected prior to the event, and 300,000 yen of the money for Akebonokai had been previously announced, according to Green.

“Partner sponsors” Grand Hyatt, U. Goto Florist and Northwest Airlines, gave the Pink Ball discounts, cash or gifts-in-kind totaling 5 million yen each, Green said.

Multiplying the number of sponsors by how much they needed to donate in cash to be listed at the event in the platinum, gold, patron or friend categories, also on the group’s Web site, indicates the ball made at least 16.1 million yen in corporate donations.

Those donations were not specific to the Pink Ball, but were general donations to the Run for the Cure organization, according to Green. She would not give a total figure for money collected from sponsors on the Pink Ball list.

Meanwhile, the National Council of YMCAs of Japan, which has a special arm dedicated to raising funds in the foreign community for its wide range of community programs, spends much less on its annual ball.

The Foreign Community Support Committee held the YMCA Grand Gala Charity Ball on Sept. 16 at a Western ambassador’s residence, generating 4 million yen gross.

Unlike the other events held in luxury hotels, the FCSC balls are held at ambassadors’ residences, which cover the major expenses. The venues are a “major drawing card,” according to FCSC Director Bernard Yu.

“After the event expenses were deducted it was about 3.8 million yen,” said Yu.

The Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) does not hold a ball but an auction to help fund its operations.

The nonprofit group charged 10,000 yen per person for its 10th Annual Connoisseurs’ Auction Nov. 18.

About 300 people spent an evening at the Australian Embassy with a light buffet and bid on wine and other items.

Some 16 million yen was generated through the event, which ended up with just under 13 million yen profit after expenses.

TELL said the 3 million yen spent on the event was used to pay for such things as catering, candles, outdoor heaters to warm the embassy garden, where the auction was held, musicians, shipping out the auctioned items after the event and the 5 percent charge by credit card companies on the amounts processed on cards — which most people used.

“We have a live auction, we have a silent auction, which was about 20 items. Then we have the raffle — which this year I think had three prizes — and then ticket sales,” event coordinator Catherine Sinegal said.

She said all the auction items were donated or purchased with cash donations.

“Some of it is done through cash donations and others will actually come from wine vendors or airlines or embassies.”

As with the YMCA ball, the costs of the event are kept low by asking an embassy to act as host.

Another popular evening out on the cheaper end of the scale is Metropolis magazine’s Glitterball party. The Tokyo-based English weekly holds its annual Halloween dance party at Velfarre in Roppongi.

It is not traditionally a charity fundraiser, but for the October event the magazine advertised that some of the money raised would go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Japan and the YMCA.

However, advertisements for the party did not specify how the money was to be raised.

Mark Devlin, CEO of Crisscross KK, Metropolis’ publisher, admitted the group was not as organized last October as they had been in previous years.

“We did not have a clear idea of who to give (the money raised) to,” Devlin said.

As they have been doing since 2003, 500 yen of the 3,000 yen advance and 3,500 yen door ticket prices was earmarked for charity, while those who received free tickets were asked to give a 500 yen donation at the door.

Devlin clarified the event, which had about 2,000 attendees last year, also makes a “moderate profit” for the magazine.

Crisscross donated 503,000 yen each to the two charities, according to Devlin.

Other balls in Tokyo also give some of their revenue to charity, but their explicit aim is not to raise money for charitable causes.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Japan held its annual Maple Leaf Ball — “never a charity ball,” according to CCCJ Executive Director Neil Moody — on Feb. 10 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo.

Moody said ticket sales fund the event and, this year, a silent auction raised money for the Seeing is Believing campaign, run by British bank Standard Chartered, to give funds for the treatment and prevention of blindness in poor countries.

Moody declined to say how much CCCJ balls have raised for charity.

The British Chamber of Commerce in Japan also donated some of its proceeds from the Brits Bash — held Nov. 26 at the Roppongi Hills Club — to charity, but, like the CCCJ, the ball’s primary focus is to raise funds for the business group.

This year, BCCJ Executive Director Ian de Stains said the chamber gave 10 percent of its profits to the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Japan and Special Olympics Japan, but would not give details.