From Auction to Party

The Metamorphosis of Parker’s Annual Fundraising Event


Photo credit: The Parker Weekly.

From Auction to Party – The Metamorphosis of Parker’s Annual Fundraising Event

On April 1, 2022, the entire Parker community was invited to gather at Morgan MFG for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The event formerly known as the Parker Auction was rebranded for the 2022 event as the Parker Party. Despite the name change, the purpose of the Parker Party remained unchanged: to raise funds for Parker’s Financial Assistance program. As previously reported by The Weekly, the fundraising goal for the Parker Party was $1.2 million. In an email sent to the community, Lira announced Parker fundraising efforts “have currently raised over $950,000 for Financial Assistance, with additional funds still coming in.” This current number falls $250,000 dollars short of the original fundraising goal. 

The metamorphosis from Parker Auction to Parker Party occurred following two years of virtual fundraisers for the Financial Assistance program. The 2020 Auction, originally scheduled for March 2020, occurred virtually in May 2020. The Cooke and the Colonel Scholarship dinner was held virtually in April 2021. 

After three years without a full community event, the parent volunteer co-chairs, Anny Gary, Susan Brown, Kira Price, and Jen Friedlander, conducted an anonymous survey of the Parker community to determine what type of event the community desired.

The result of the survey indicated that the Parker community wanted a less formal fundraiser experience. “We opted to not have a traditional sit down dinner and instead had a cocktail reception style event with passed hors d’oeuvres and multiple dinner stations,” Associate Director of Institutional Events Chuck Lira said. Emails sent to the entire Parker community before the event encouraged attendees to dress “casual and fun! [and that] the Co-Chairs will be wearing jeans with festive tops.” 

The changes to the format of the event did not impact community attendance. “We sold over 550 tickets,” said Lira. “With the exception of our 2021 and 2020 events, which were virtual, ticket sales have steadily always been around this number.”

Just as the planning for Parker Party began with a survey, the parent co-chairs conducted a post-event survey to gather feedback. “All of the measures related to inclusion and positive attitudes/perceptions about the event improved exponentially,” said Gary. With this feedback, Lira said he “will find areas for improvement that I plan to review over the summer as I prepare for the next school year’s event schedule.” 

While Lira reported that “those who attended enjoyed the new casual, cocktail reception style format,” not all members of the Parker community agreed. An anonymous Parker parent said that the “best auctions were the ones at Navy Pier…There was an energy created by having them [the entire event] one room rather than spread out this year.” In discussing this year’s event, the parent said, “the auction was decentralized…nobody focused on the live auction and it lost its effectiveness.” 

The long-time parent finished by saying “it was a terrible presentation of an auction at Parker. It was the worst one I’ve seen, and I’ve been going to Parker auctions for fifty years.”

A previous Auction co-chair conveyed a different type of frustration with the Parker Party. “I was disappointed during the Parker Party event when the audience (Parker parents, faculty, staff and guests) didn’t stop talking while the Parker Party Co-Chairs, Development staff, and the Head of the School were presenting,” parent emerita Maggi Valdes Steib ‘84 said over email. 

The event also closed all food and bar service to encourage “undivided attention during [the] brief program,” which included the community appeal and the live auction.

Steib, who co-chaired the Centennial Auction in 2002, noted that since “the community preferred to have a more casual, party-like event, with less emphasis on the auction and live bidding, [the Co-Chairs] found other ways to raise money that extend beyond the actual event.” 

As a means to extend the fundraising aspect of the Parker Party beyond the actual event, fundraising began in December 2021 with the Polar Party Fun Run for Financial Assistance. This year, Lira stated that there were six Parker Party pre-events. In addition to the Fun Run, which raised approximately $48,000 for the Financial Assistance program, other events included wine tasting at Lush in Roscoe Village, shopping at Frankie’s on Clark Street, dinner at Eataly off of Michigan Avenue, and dining days at local restaurants.

These events not only raise funds for Parker’s Financial Assistance program but also have community related purposes. Parker Party Co-Chair Anny Gary said that these events “were definitely intended to generate engagement and inclusion.”

For each event, there was both a fundraising and community connection component. The Parker Party Cookie Decorating party, which cost $20 per kit to attend, welcomed both parents and students into the Parker cafeteria – a first for many families since the onset of the pandemic – to decorate heart shaped cookies. For those unable to attend or concerned about large group gatherings, parents were also offered the option to purchase a $20 “to go kit” for cookie decorating.

Following the event, Lira said there are eight planned post-Parker Party events. “These are all geared toward Lower, Intermediate and Middle School students,” Lira said. Certain of these smaller fundraising events remained open for registration after the Parker Party. 

These events included faculty experiences, such as “Biking and Tacos with Mr. Fuder, Mr. Shaker, and Mr. Stanton” for $50 per participating student, and parent driven events, such as “Top Golf and Brunch” for $125 per participating parent. “The Power of Change,” a program in which families can donate spare change at Parker, will remain in the Front Alcove through the end of May.