Harry Santa-Olalla

Harry Santa-Olalla

He puts the fun in fundraising

Bringing a wealth of energy to the benefit scene, Harry Santa-Olalla is a one-man distillation of enthusiasm and showmanship when he takes the stage to ensure guests are having a blast as they open their hearts (and wallets) to support worthy causes around the world. On June 4, he will take the same spirit to The Floating Hospital’s Golden Legacies Gala as the evening’s auctioneer. (Simon Jones of HBO’s The Gilded Age, will serve as MC. See related news article).

Whether simulating shushing down the Rockies, doing backflips off a trampoline, or yukking it up on stage with Neil Patrick Harris or Seth Meyers, his stage presence and sense of fun unstuff the stuffy and animate the humdrum.

His apparent effortlessness on the dais is the product of much effort put in before the event. “I work with clients really closely in the buildup, as I did with The Floating Hospital,” he said. After site visits and meetings with staff, committees and board chairs, he helps “build out a fundraising narrative, including the run of show, and support them with advice on the best sort of technologies and ways to operate on the night itself.”

The hospital’s mission is one he sees as critical to the communities it serves. Coming from the United Kingdom, he is accustomed to certain rights, including health and dental care. “When I moved over to America, I was really taken aback by the amount of people that slipped through the cracks for basic healthcare in a country as big and powerful as the U.S,” he said. “So I think The Floating Hospital is just an incredible organization that’s doing everything it can to provide basic support to people that deserve it.”

“When I moved over to America, I was really taken aback by the amount of people that slipped through the cracks for basic healthcare in a country as big and powerful as the U.S.” Harry Santa-Olalla, Auctioneer, Master of Ceremonies, Fundraising Consultant

He’s so natural in the role of rainmaker for nonprofits, it seems like something he always aspired to do. Yet, he was surprised such a role existed. “I did not expect this to be my career path,” he admitted.

It was a happy accident that he became a fundraising host. “I don’t like the term auctioneer, because it conjures up images of fast-talking gibberish and caricatures of people.” In fact, how he started and how, even now, he spends most of his time is behind the scenes, helping craft a successful benefit experience from concept and ticket sales to final tally.

Not surprisingly, his background is in the theater. “I had a lot of experience on stage growing up and was trained when I was younger. I have no problem with a microphone in hand and I really enjoy the performance side of being onstage.”

In 2010, he joined Givergy, a London-based fundraising platform, when it was still in its embryonic stage. When the company grew quickly and spread to the United States, he followed, first flying back and forth and then moving here permanently in 2014 to spur the growth of the U.S. team.

In that role, he watched the platform being used at “a lot of these high-profile events… At some point, it was a combination of me being a little frustrated by the people on stage not quite utilizing the platform well enough, and also a client needing some help on stage.” Before he even realized it, he was onstage himself, becoming part of the program. The rest is history.

Guastavino’s interior

It snowballed “from a handful of events for a few clients to just an overwhelming amount of requests.” He finds himself alternating between some of the largest nonprofits and some of the smallest. “Last week, I was on stage with John Legend raising millions for City Harvest, and this evening I’m on stage for EMERGE125, a dance company based in Harlem that’s looking to raise 50 grand.”

He said the variety is rewarding and he enjoys shaping the narrative of the event to maximize interest and the generosity of guests making donations. “I am not just an auctioneer that became a fundraiser, I’m someone that came from a fundraising background that understands the technology, understands the run of show and how important it is. And the performance side comes really naturally.”

“Anyone who has seen me in action will probably assume that the biggest added value is what I bring on stage, which is high energy, and hopefully a lot of fun,” allowing the audience to “really enjoy the process of fundraising,” he said. “I believe that people spend a lot more money when they have a smile on their face.”

The Floating Hospital’s Golden Legacies Gala will be held on June 4 at 6:30.

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The Floating Hospital provides high-quality healthcare to anyone who needs it regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, immigration or insurance status, or the ability to pay. By providing unrestricted medical care in tandem with health education and social support to vulnerable New York City families, The Floating Hospital aims to ensure those most in need have the ability to thrive, not just survive.

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