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The Power of Philanthropy

Dallasites have long been known for their big hearts and even bigger fundraising events. here are the givers and galas to know this season.

Rhonda Sargent Chambers

Diamond necklace, William Noble Rare Jewels, price by request

Todd Fiscus of Todd Events is known throughout town as one of the best in planning.

Daniel Branch

Stacie Whitley

Gina Betts

The Art Ball

Ball of the Season
Glamorous and Creative
The Art Ball is much more than an expensive night at the museum with beautifully garbed people and a sumptuous repast. The hot ticket has reaped more than $20 million during the past 14 years for the Dallas Museum of Art, including a record $2.25 million this year. These funds support programs, special exhibits and collections, as well as this year’s groundbreaking decision to eliminate the general entrance fee. Gina Betts, 2014 Art Ball chairman, accepted the big job because “the whole Arts District has really put our city on the map, and the art museum is an important part of that.” She’s planning a “fun, elegant party” inspired by 1920s Paris with Hemingway’s fave drinks—watch out for Death in the Afternoon’s wicked Champagne and absinthe combo—and a hip afterparty featuring DJ Stéphane Pompougnac, the music impresario at the fabulously chic Hôtel Costes in Paris.

The Cost of Giving: Price Sheet 
What’s the price of getting all dolled up and partying during the season? >> An entrance-making designer frock runs $4,000 for a basic Tom Ford gown to $500,000 for Chanel couture, plus >> shoes, $645 for Saint Laurent pumps to $1,395 for Nicholas Kirkwood sandals >> clutch, $550 for a Miu Miu leather number to $3,975 for an embelished Alexander McQueen >> and in-home primping by a professional hair and makeup stylist, $250 >> Jewelry—if what’s in the vault doesn’t suit—plan to spend upwards of $50,000 >> Tickets are in the $2,500 range for most parties, but one particularly generous donor, Nancy Rogers, has already committed $250,000 for a table at the Art Ball.

Daniel Branch
Among the ranks of Dallas’ leading philanthropists is Daniel Branch, president and founder of Echelon, the National Young Adult Auxiliary of The Salvation Army founded in Dallas in 2010 to steward fundraising and various program initiatives.

The Dallas-born and -bred Daniel, a Vanderbilt alum who also happens to be the son of state Rep. Dan Branch, now running for Texas attorney general, has truly answered the call to serve, with prodigious ambition bolstered by compassion for the local community.

Echelon, now in its third year, has become a self-sustaining charity, with more than 300 members making financial contributions to the Salvation Army. And just this past year, it established Echelon’s 30M Gala Weekend.
“Our main initiatives for the proceeds from the April 2013 Gala will be a donation to the Salvation Army’s Youth Education Town Center, which will provide at-risk kids with supplemental education opportunities, as well as physical education and outdoor activities,” explains Daniel, of the center seeded as a legacy gift after the Super Bowl, with major donations by the NFL and the Jones family. The next gala is scheduled for May of next year. “We are also exploring the most effective way to supplement the efforts at the Carr P. Collins Center in Dallas.”

Credit Daniel’s commitment to his long affiliation with the Salvation Army, from dropping coins in its red kettles and a senior-year gift drive for its Angel Tree Program, to volunteering at Texas Stadium for the first Cowboy’s game post 9/11. “I’ll never forget the pregame ceremony to honor the victims,” he says. “I was lucky to be there.”
With gratitude always in his sights, Daniel soldiers on.

Local Cause
State of the Art
Gina Betts, who lives in Highland Park with her husband, Ken, and their two sons, has devoted her life to giving back—whether as a second-grader collecting the most toys for a local orphanage, an attorney providing pro bono legal services or an altruist as Art Ball chairman for the Dallas Museum of Art.

Betts has spent 20 years in philanthropic circles, chairing the 2007 Cattle Baron’s Ball (to the fundraising tune of $4,100,000 net) and holding committee and board appointments for various organizations, from the Crystal Charity Ball to the S.M. Wright Foundation. “There are no greater people on Earth [than in Dallas],” says Betts, trumpeting community involvement and encouraging parents to put their kids to work at local charitable events, as she requires of her own sons. “Teaching kids to give their most valuable possession—time—will make them better people,” she says.

Right now Betts is making time for next year’s 1920s Paris-themed Art Ball, which for the first time, will feature star entertainment and a tribute to literary lion Ernest Hemingway. “I hope people like Champagne and absinthe,” she says.

Proof that living large in Texas means giving in equal measure, Betts says, “What makes [Dallasites] unique is that our social lives are centered around doing good. … We know how to help others and have fun at the same time!” Clearly, she’s having a Ball.

Four to Trust
Prime Planners
Dallas has no shortage of fabulous party planners, and the top three have unique niches. Innovator Todd Fiscus of Todd Events caters to edgier evenings like Two x Two for AIDS and Art, not to mention a host of weddings with seven-figure budgets. Tom Addis Productions’ knack for enchantment serves well when conjuring dramatic wonderlands for the Crystal Charity Ball and other big galas, including next year’s Art Ball. The social register relies on Rusty Glenn Designs for sheer elegance at the Sweetheart Ball, plus weddings and deb balls, where he shines with breathtaking botanicals. “[Of] every wedding I’ve ever been to, the most glamorous has been done by Rusty,” says one social figure. As for caterers, it’s again an embarrassing bounty, but one stands out: Cassandra, whose exquisite fare often astonishes.

Top Five: The city’s most beloved fundraising soirees are ready for another year.
1. Art Ball: The Parisian-themed May 3 gala at the Dallas Museum of Art is always a showstopper.
2. Crystal Charity Ball: The lavish party for children’s causes celebrates Magnificent Manhattan Dec. 7.
3. Sweetheart Ball: Extreme elegance reigns when Dallas’ old guard gathers April 26 to benefit UT Southwestern Medical Center and heart disease research.
4. Opera First Night: Winspear Opera House’s Sammons Park will be decked out for a festive pre-performance dinner Oct. 25 to celebrate the opening-night performance of Carmen.
5. Dallas Symphony Orchestra AT&T Gala: The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center is the spectacular setting for dinner and a marquee concert at this bash.

Number Crunch: 1,000,000
Selling an item for $1 million at a charity gala is beyond the dreams of most ball chairmen. But it happened in 2011 at Two x Two for AIDS and Art, when Jamie Niven, chairman of Sotheby’s North and South America, brought the gavel down for a Mark Grotjahn painting. The winning bid for the colorful abstract oil on cardboard mounted on linen, “Untitled (In and Out of the Darkness Face 43.01),” helped push the evening’s bounty to an unprecedented $4.8 million, which was split between the Dallas Museum of Art’s contemporary art acquisition program and AmFAR’s research on AIDS. Remarkably, Two x Two has raised $40 million in 14 years.

Rhonda Sargent Chambers
Model, business owner, wife and mother of two, Rhonda Sargent Chambers has more than enough to keep her busy. She’s constantly juggling work fashion shows, football games, not to mention cooking.
That would be the limit for most women, but this Highland Park mom also devotes energy to a dozen organizations.

In fact, the Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse honored the poised blonde in September as Volunteer of the Year for helping to produce its annual BuzzFree PROMises & Tux Giveaway, an awareness seminar, runway show and prom wardrobing event that served 300 students from 12 school districts.

“I love to work,” she says. “I have no nanny, but with Kit, my husband of 24 years, we make it all work with careful planning and patience.”

Chambers has also leveraged her fashion-show business, RSC Show Productions, to supply free event services to Elisa Project, Girls Rock Dallas, Water Thirst Today and others. She raises money for Fashion Group International, emcees various fundraisers and mentors college students.

“None of these events and shows for nonprofits would happen,” Chambers humbly points out, “were it not for my incredible crew, great friends, sponsors and resources.” Spoken like a true giver.

Stacie Whitley
Although having served in a number of capacities for The Dallas Opera over 15 years—board member, event chair and “volunteer for pretty much anything!”—Stacie Whitley didn’t always sing the art form’s praises, until, that is, her mother-in-law took her to TDO’s The Barber of Seville in 1993. “That changed everything for me,” she remembers. “I had no idea that something so established and, frankly, old, could be so compelling.”

Soon enough, the Houston native, now residing in North Dallas with her husband, Mark, and their daughters, found herself in incubators of operatic tradition, like La Scala in Milan, and, when her career as a former finance professional beckoned, at the Met in New York City.

Whitley’s preoccupation with opera is still robust. This year’s pre-events chair for the First Night Gala for Carmen is so passionate about widening opera’s audience, she has more than once purchased masses of tickets to the Winspear Opera House for her daughter’s Hockaday School classmates (in one instance, enough for Hockaday’s entire lower school and their parents).

Consider it her encore to a dossier of do-gooding. As a child, the born benefactress designated half of her allowance to charity, put money in Salvation Army kettles and was involved with her church. Later, at the University of Texas Austin, the sorority president helped establish and co-chair the Greek Leadership Conference. Today, she backs a number of organizations, among them Heroes for Children and the Johnny III Foundation.

Because, for Whitley, without cause, there is no effect—in this case seeing her own kids embrace the act of giving. After all, she says, “We’re raising the future generation of philanthropists.”

Brava, Ms. Whitley.

Shops Give: Big-Hearted Businesses
Many luxury retailers support charity, but Neiman Marcus and Stanley Korshak are especially beloved by the benefit set. Neiman’s gives to innumerable causes, underwrites Crystal Charity Ball’s lavish luncheon and is a major donor to TACA, Tutu Chic, Art Ball and Ability Connection Texas. It encourages all employees to volunteer, even paying them on company time for up to 40 hours of annual charity work. Family-owned Korshak underwrites luncheon fashion shows for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Texas Ballet Theater, and gives to dozens of local nonprofits.

Personal Shopper: Gala Gal
Few fashion plates on Vanity Fair’s 2013 International Best-Dressed List are available to lend their inimitable styles to Dallas gala-goers. Nini Nguyen, winner of the mag’s first competition for a spot among the anointed, is a rare exception. The Dallas-based personal stylist with far-flung clients—including Rihanna—is obsessive about crafting head-to-toe looks, researching nail color, hair style and makeup, along with dress, shoes, bag and jewelry. “I just love the little details,” says Nguyen. “I like one-on-one.” She calls Tom Ford, Christian Dior and Neiman Marcus downtown for “drama gowns” or sometimes designs a custom look to be made by her seamstress and pattern-maker. Many women tell her they want to look “sexy and cutting-edge, but also remain refined and elegant,” while others are more conservative. But they all have one thing in common: “They love dressing up. Why not? It’s fun. A gala doesn’t happen a lot, so it’s important for a woman to go all out. It’s celebrating life.”

Giving Holidays: Volunteering Vacay
oing good in an exotic place with abundant creature comforts—that’s the premise of luxury voluntourism, an increasingly popular mode of travel that combines the joys of a fab vacation with an organized way to give back. Hands Up Holidays ( offers trips to 40 nations with myriad opportunities for service. Guests might help preserve the kiwi bird in New Zealand while staying on a pristine bay or perhaps teach a skill to kids in Buenos Aires and tour waterfalls, wineries and glaciers. The Ritz-Carlton Give Back Getaways ( combine a half-day of service with stays in properties from Moscow to Maui. If working doesn’t fit with your concept of vacay, but you still want your holiday to help out, sign up for a Micato Safari (, where every luxury trip funds all school fees for an impoverished Kenyan child.