The theme of tonight's Gator Gala may be "vintage black tie," but the $5 million University of Florida athletics fundraiser is anything but old school.
The fundraiser, which comes at a cost of $50,000 a table for attendees, is unprecedented in the history of money-raising at UF and unique in the world of financial campaigns at universities. The university, which boasts an endowment of nearly $1 billion, has never raised so much money in a single night.
"I've never heard of one (event anywhere) that's netted $5 million," said Paul Robell, UF's vice president for development and alumni affairs. "This is quite spectacular."
The money generated from the gala will go toward endowed athletic scholarships for Gators in every sport, organizers say.
After two years of planning, UF found 100 donors who agreed to put forth $50,000 contributions. Several of those donors are former star Gator football players, including Emmitt Smith, Wilber Marshall and Trace Armstrong.
Most donors are bringing along guests for the event at the O'Connell Center, which is expected to draw 1,100 people.
Like many events across UF this year, the Gator Gala is promoting 100 years of football at the university. In keeping with the 100-year-old theme, some of the university's wealthiest supporters will be donning aging threads from a far-gone era tonight. One guest is said to have located a 100-year-old gown to wear, others will be sporting flapper dresses, top hats, canes and custom orange and blue tuxedos. The Gator football team will also be wearing retro gear Saturday, harkening back to the 1960s with white helmets embossed with a blue "F." Those helmets and jerseys will then be given to donors who gave $50,000.
"I don't think Gainesville's ever seen anything like this," said Danny Ponce, who led organizing of the event along with his wife, Nancy.
Ponce, an attorney and businessman who lives in Gainesville, is no stranger to hosting large-scale affairs in the name of UF. Three years ago, he helped pull together the "Party on the Plaza," a $1 million fundraiser that closed with a performance by the Beach Boys.
Tonight's event will also feature live music in the form of multiple bands, but Ponce said that organizers declined to bring in a headliner act as had been the case with the Beach Boys. "The music is going to serve the evening," he said. "The evening is not going to serve the music."
The evening is designed to bring in continual revenue for athletic scholarships by endowing them. UF only spends 4 percent of endowed funds every year, aiming to recover those expenditures through investments and thereby making the endowment "permanent."
This year, 416 Gator athletes are on scholarships at a cost of $6.9 million.
Ponce said he wanted to ensure donors that their money would go toward scholarships and not simply be blown on an extravagant event. He estimates that tonight's party will cost about "10 percent of what we've raised," but said all the expenses are being covered by corporate sponsors and not donors' funds for scholarships.
The public fundraising goal for the event is $5 million, but Ponce said that goal has been exceeded through further contributions. The total amount raised will be announced tonight.
Tonight's event is really the tip of the iceberg in what is already an aggressive capital campaign at UF. The university aims to raise at least $1.2 billion by 2012.
The $1.2 billion goal places UF in unchartered fundraising territory, looking for a single donor who will give $75 million to help complete the "gift pyramid." A contribution of that size would dwarf UF's largest-ever donation, which was $15 million given by the late Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight for the brain institute named in their honor. http://gainesville.com/apps/pbcs.dll...0309/1078/NEWS