The Farb File

What's an event planner to do when a fundraiser turns into an organizational nightmare? These days divine intervention is no longer the stuff of wishful thinking. All it takes is a computer, an Internet connection and $1500.

Pricey, you say? Ah, but wait. This isn't any old ethereal intervention: It taps into decades of fundraising savvy. It dishes out advice before you even know to ask for it. It lets you follow in footsteps that have roused a million dollars in a single evening. Yeah, right, you scoff -- like Carolyn Farb's going to appear on the monitor and spontaneously hand over all her fundraising secrets.

Well, yeah.
Want proof? Just surf on over to Carolyn Farb's Web Page( -- where the specifics of Carolyn Farb's Guide 1.0 unfold with the gloss of an infomercial, Internet-style -- and behold the socialite's savior in a high-drama, honey-toned portrait, complete with gorgeously manicured index finger accentuating a firm chin line.

Don't mistake this image for the online equivalent of the equally passage-of-time-defying Florence Henderson hawking T-Fal cookware, or some other paid celebrity testimonial. Farb isn't merely lending her name to the software program; she actually worked on it.

Farb teamed up with the software's programmers, Houston-based Cadence Development, after the company asked her to critique a simple silent auction tracking application. No rubberstamper, Farb planted the seed for a full-scale event planner that would replicate how the party process actually works in the real world.

To figure out the method to Farb's million-dollar madness, Cadence's Frank Martini trailed her with a notepad through the course of several fundraisers. He designed the program's drag-and-drop table placement feature, for example, after he watched her and a committee move index cards around on a conference table as they settled on a seating arrangement. Farb also donated "boxes and boxes," says Martini, of sample invitations, letters and other documents from her personal archives.

You can get to this arcane knowledge by logging on to the password-protected portion of the Web site. As you type in data, which remains securely on your computer, it receives scrutiny and commentary by a constantly updated (as all those boxes of invitations get scanned in) on-line program called the Farb File. Enter a high-priced silent auction item, Martini explains, and an icon pops up that leads to on-line tips from Farb's experience.

Here's the strange and supernatural part. The icon takes the form of your choice of watchful visage: Farb herself, or her best friend Bogie, who happens to be an eight-year-old Maltese. (An appearance in the program isn't all he rates; Bogie also has a bio. A Sagittarian, the "pal behind the woman" is himself a fundraising vet and takes a particular interest in the SPCA telethon.)

Carolyn Farb's Guide version 1.0 slices, dices, generates timelines, manages volunteers, tracks guests (as individuals or couples), and monitors silent auctions -- with never a complaint or an oversight. Its computer-assisted design modules allow the graphic positioning of tables, A/V equipment, dance floors and musicians. It can even "explode" one large donation into many smaller ones or "bundle" smaller donations into one auction item (conceptually speaking, of course); the next version of the program, scheduled for release before year-end, will permit on-line previewing of auction items.

But you're still on your own with the tricky nuances of personal grooming and political infighting.

-- Kathy Biehl


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