Old Seattle money meets new media

Mar 8, 2010, 2:44 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who holds the grandest galas of them all? For many years, the answer to that was PONCHO – known for its lavish auctions, with local women wearing dresses that would rival last night’s Oscar gowns.

PONCHO – short for Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations – is the oldest charitable fundraising group in the region. They were the first in the area to hold an auction-fundraiser.

Auctions are common today for non-profit organizations and schools, but they weren’t in 1963. PONCHO began out of a need to help the Seattle Symphony with a $30,000 debt after their World’s Fair production of Aida.

LornaKneeland2“A group of community leaders met in someone’s living room one night and decided to throw a party and auction off some of their things to raise money for the Seattle Symphony,” says Lorna Kneeland, the new executive director of PONCHO. “Instead of raising $30,000 they raised $85,000 and realized this is something they should continue for the arts.”

The extra money was used to establish the Seattle Opera.

A party the next year had more items for auction. Years later, PONCHO started the type of auction we’re familiar with today, introducing the “raise the paddle” kind of bidding.

But the recession has hit everyone, including arts organizations. A year ago, PONCHO suspended the annual gala. Kneeland says they were “asking supporters for too much money through too many events.” Now they focus on two events – a spring wine auction and a fall auction of artwork.

Kat Morris admiring art

PONCHO Art Auction Committee Member, Kat Morris admiring art at the 2009 PONCHO International Fine Art Auction

“A lot of people in the community who once had the capacity to give, may not have that ability anymore, even though the need to support the arts in Seattle is greater,” Kneeland says.

While old Seattle money has traditionally taken care of the arts in Seattle, Kneeland acknowledges the organization needs to reach more people. A tool they’re using to reach people is social media. PONCHO is active on both Twitter and Facebook. Kneeland is using it in a relatable way, with the goal of helping people realize the organization is accessible to everyone.

LQ group“Before I got involved with the organization, I always admired it from afar. I was born and raised in Seattle, so it’s something I’ve always known about but never thought I could belong,” she says. Now she’s running the operation.

The PONCHO wine auction is set for May 22nd. In the past they’ve raised a million dollars from this single event. The art auction will be in October.

PONCHO gave $700,000 to various arts organizations in the last funding cycle. Since PONCHO started, 46 years ago, it has raised more than $34 million for the arts.

PONCHO was a beneficiary of the Neiman Marcus Gala. Pictured (left to right) are Board Member Stacy Lill, Gina Murray, Exec Director Lorna Kneeland and Georgia Taylor

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Old Seattle money meets new media