Organizing a successful Hollywood fundraiser is an art. From selecting an honoree to crafting the program to finessing the all-important, politically charged gala seating chart, the dynamic femme trio of Judy Levy, Ellen Pazanti and Lauran Huff specialize in managing high-profile events for showbiz-affiliated nonprofits.
In contrast to most party planners, the 35-year-old firm of Levy, Pazanti & Huff functions more like to an executive producer: “We help oversee and work with clients,” says Levy of their work as event coordinators. Whether it’s securing vendors, writing invite copy or targeting donors, the firm remains behind the scenes and keeps a low profile, helping raise millions of dollars for charities.
LPH’s track record in helping orgs achieve fundraising objectives stems from its ability “to listen to a client and tell them the truth about their goals,” Levy says.
If past credits are an indication, that honest feedback is in demand. The firm helped launch the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation and the Magic Johnson Foundation. Recent events range from the annual Producers Guild Awards, the Triumph for Teens Awards Gala (benefitting Phoenix House) in June to the upcoming SAG Foundation 30th anniversary gala in November and the 75th anniversary of the American Ballet Theatre at the Beverly Hilton slated for Dec. 7.
Levy founded the company in 1980 (joined in 1983 by her sister Ellen Pazanti, and last February by Huff) after a career in politics. She always credits her “great mentors,” the late studio chief and showbiz power broker Lew Wasserman and his wife, Edie, who were longtime benefactors for numerous causes. “They were so smart when it came to organizing fundraisers” Levy says. “You always want to learn from the best.”
“I was lucky enough to inherit Judy and her sister,” says Iris Grossman, Women in Film’s president emeritus and Paradigm tenpercenter (Women in Film has been a LPH client for more than 20 years). “They not only care about organizations they help raise money for; Judy (also) introduced us to sponsors and led us to grants.”
Vance Van Petten, national executive director of the Producers Guild of America, describes LPH as “really great partners.”
The guild relies on it to handle outreach, administer and raise funds via its annual awards gala (the guild’s only fundraiser). “They know the politics of the business,” adds Van Petten — an essential skill when it comes to positioning and seating all the powerful players in the room.
“These are not private parties; you have be cognizant that they are fundraisers,” says Levy, noting the two-pronged objective should be to raise money and build awareness. Despite an improved economy, donors are more skeptical these days and want to be assured funds are going to an organization’s coffers rather than adding “bells and whistles” to an event.
Formal, sit-down dinners still work as moneymakers, notes Levy as long as “they are tweaked so they are not so deadly and boring.”
An interactive element (texting to a posted number for in-the-room-donations) keeps attendees engaged and in the moment. Levy also recommends a heartfelt personalized program that’s enjoyable and informative. There is always the potential to educate attendees (who may be guests of a table host and not familiar with the charity) and get them involved.
“Not all organizations can do everything,” Levy says. “They need to pick and choose what will elevate the event.”
Throughout the process, LPH works closely with a nonprofit’s personnel — board of directors, staff and volunteers — to realize the client’s vision. Megan Chernin, chair and founding CEO of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, lauds the team’s abilities to communicate with donors and sponsors and actually get things done.
“They are an incredible resource if you have an idea, a project or a vision for something important you want to accomplish,” Chernin says.