Mar-a-Lago Adds a Layer to Everyday Hurdles for Nonprofit Galas in Palm Beach

August 27, 2017; Palm Beach Daily News

More than 20 charities cancelled their plans for fundraising galas at Mar-a-Lago last week. What’s less well known is that this number makes up a healthy portion of the 150 charitable functions that Palm Beach will allow this year. A cap has been in place since the 1960s to protect the wealthy residents from charity overload.

Why the overload? The residents, according to Forbes, have an average net worth of more than $29 million. This, of course, pales in comparison to Fisher Island’s $54.7 million, but is impressive still. Gala proceeds are only a small portion of the potential revenues that may eventually flow from the relationships made at such gatherings. They are a great place for well-placed board members to put the arm on their neighbors for a longer-term relationship, for instance. Thus, wildly politicized venues become a charity’s worst nightmare. “Do I stay or do I go?”

The town has a longstanding system that town attorney John Randolph says is there to protect the wealthy residents, who are like bright flowers to the swarms of fundraising bees. The regulations not only limit any single organization to two events a year, but they also require a special permit from the town clerk’s office. Additionally, any sponsor of an event must also register with the state.

Mayor Gail Coniglio says that legitimacy is still a concern. “Hopefully, the money goes to where the organization is attesting,” she said. “It’s always in my mind preferable that the money that is raised here stays in Palm Beach County and that [the charity] has roots in the community. It is the most generous community I think we could ever hope for.” She acknowledged, however, that many local donors have ties to (and probably second mansions in) the home bases of the charities.

Many of the charities that cancelled their events at Mar-a-Lago have moved to other venues, like The Breakers hotel and resort, but one can only imagine the donor sensibilities of this particular situation, in this particular place, where Trump’s first donor conference of the year was held.—Ruth McCambridge