Benefit Plan

Having fun while doing good.

Cleveland is famously rich in nonprofit organizations supported by a strong philanthropic infrastructure and spirit. Three of our area universities offer degrees in nonprofit management, and groups such as Business Volunteers Unlimited help connect committed executives with needy boards of directors. The Cleveland Foundation was the nation's first community foundation and, with current assets around $1.5 billion, it leads the region in charitable gifts.

But you don't have to be a millionaire to participate in all this do-gooding. Inspired by our town's nonstop nonprofit activity, the benefit circuit has always been a popular pastime of active Clevelanders.

Though the stereotype has wealthy (read: boring) patrons sipping champagne in black tie for the charity of the month, some fund-raisers are finding imaginative ways to draw slightly younger and slightly less wealthy supporters. Often these new-style benefits are infused with exclusive themes and include silent auctions of unique art or services unavailable elsewhere. Guest lists are less exclusive, ticket costs are lower, the vibe is looser and dress codes are more casual. These days, it's possible to party hard, stimulate your intellect and have it all benefit a worthy cause. Do some benefit planning this month and lose the guilt about splurging on an appropriately unique Cleveland experience.

Treasures: A Tour of Special Collections The Cleveland Public Library has a fantastic selection of books and art on display every day, especially in the world-class $65 million Louis Stokes Wing, with its million-dollar art collection and Maya Lin-designed water sculpture in the adjacent Eastman Reading Garden. On Nov. 6, join honorees Louis Stokes, Mary Louise Hahn and architect Robert P. Madison for dancing to the band Forecast, an hors d'oeuvres and dessert reception and a silent auction. Catch a glimpse of seven of the library's rarely seen special collections, featuring art and artifacts reflecting our region's rich history. Proceeds support the library's special collections and children's programs. Main Building, 325 Superior Ave., (216) 623-2821,

Gifts from the Heart Holiday Boutique Check out 75 exhibitors offering fine-quality arts and crafts Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. An easy $2 admission puts you in the middle of the fun with a raffle table, holiday music and possibly even a visit from Santa at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites, LaMalfa Centre, 5783 Heisley Road, Mentor, (440) 357-6978. If you get hungry, brunch is available for an additional cost. The second-annual event supports the Drew's Beads of Courage program at The Cleveland Clinic's Children's Hospital, which offers a bead for each event the child experiences in their cancer treatment, eventually creating a powerful document of their journey.

Signature Chefs Auction Sample gourmet food from 25 restaurants while enjoying live entertainment in the Grand Ballroom of the Cleveland Renaissance Hotel, 24 Public Square, Nov. 22 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Silent and live auctions of rare wines, original artwork and imaginative dining packages put together by Cleveland chefs in collaboration with local tourist attractions will follow. Proceeds will benefit the March of Dimes. (216) 518-1663, ext. 28, .

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