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Wowing the Wealthy

Power advice from the Naples Winter Wine Festival co-chairman.

Enticing wealthy donors with one-of-a-kind auction lots and private dinners unlike anything they have ever experienced is a key challenge the Naples Winter Wine Festival faces every year.

“A lot of people who come to the festival, who are generous donors, they can do about anything they want to do,” says co-founder Jeff Gargiulo, who served as the festival’s first chairman in 2001.

The 17th annual festival, scheduled for Jan. 27-29 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, is touted as the most successful international charity wine auction, having raised $146 million so far. Ticket packages start at $10,000 per couple, and 580 people can attend the three-day gala.

“You’ve got to have a product that’s unique or be first to market or to be competitive in some way,” says Gargiulo, who once served as president and CEO of Sunkist. “In a charitable wine auction, it’s kind of the same thing.”

Aside from auction lots, the Naples Winter Wine Festival also offers a lineup of world-renowned chefs and vintners, including this year Wolfgang Puck as the Chef de Cuisine and Honored Vintner Pierre Lurton.

“We certainly wanted the dinners to be unique. Then having auction lots that are something that people just couldn’t buy [elsewhere],” Gargiulo says.

Private dinners will be hosted in 18 elegant estates during the 2017 festival, featuring vintners from more than 30 wineries and chefs with a combined 11 Michelin stars and 13 James Beard awards.

The festival has grown by focusing on the beneficiaries of the weekend of wining and dining. The Naples Children & Education Foundation, the festival’s founding organization, has supported more than 40 local nonprofits that have helped around 200,000 underprivileged and at-risk children. In 2016, it distributed $6.6 million in annual grants to local children’s charities and $4.4 million to support long-term strategic initiatives.

Gargiulo says delegation has been his management style, in both his leadership roles with the Naples Children & Education Foundation and companies.

“I think the best thing you can do is let people do what they do best,” he says.

He believes the foundation harnesses the talents of each trustee—an uber-successful group of philanthropists and well-connected leaders in industries such as media, finance, manufacturing and real estate—by giving them a chance to talk about how they would like to contribute and giving them leeway to do so. The festival also uses 420 volunteers.

“The idea is that we do this as a team and not one person trying to do everything,” he says.

This year’s co-chair couples— founding trustees Gargiulo and his wife, Valerie Boyd; Denise and Brian Cobb; Simone and Scott Lutgert; and Debra and Bill Cary, who joined as trustees in 2015—met in person during the spring, once in the summer and then again during the fall. That’s in addition to frequent calls, emails and texts among themselves and the entire group of trustees.

“You have people who are passionate,” Gargiulo says. Their passion for [children’s charities] keeps them motivated.” 

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