By Shawn Kiser, DWOS Executive Producer
When you raise $200,000 you deserve to be called “The King” and that’s exactly how I referred to Jim Rivett following his record-setting fundraising campaign for “Dancing with Our Stars” in 2014. I’m blessed to have held a front-row seat for this epic journey and am honored to share some of its most memorable moments as we celebrate the life of this amazing man.
I first met Jim at the historic “Drive for the Red Party” to support Betina and Donald Driver’s DWOS 2013 campaign. That star-studded event took place at the beautiful home of DWOS original Tracy Alpert and several of Donald’s Packers teammates were in attendance. The energy level was high as people danced, wined and dined while placing bids on oral and silent auction items. The biggest ticket was dinner in your home with the Drivers which fetched a winning bid of $25,000! Two others would match it for a total of $75k just for those three meals! In total, $141,000 of the then-record $158,000 the Drivers raised came in that night. Even though he was not connected to the American Red Cross at the time Jim was just as excited as me by the success and pledged that night to take part in DWOS 2014.
When it came to setting the goal for his fundraising, Jim knew exactly how much he wanted to bring in. “$160,000”, he said with a confidence I’d never seen before.
“If I’m going to do this I want to top what Betina and Donald did and raise a record amount for the Red Cross. The organization provides critical services in our community and I’m going to rally everyone I know to donate to the cause,” Jim proclaimed.
It was certainly music to my ears as I feared there was nowhere to go but down following the impressive overall total of $370k from 2013. I would quickly learn that would be the last time I’d doubt the powerful abilities of Mr. Rivett.
We met at Arketype, a marketing firm Jim led at the time. It occupied the former Grace Presbyterian Church in downtown Green Bay. Jim and his team did an outstanding job repurposing the building into one of the coolest work spaces I’ve ever seen. My spirits were immediately lifted when I walked in there for the first time and I’d feel that same way in the many visits to come.
During this initial get-together Jim was rattling off names of people he wanted to reach out to for sponsorships and donations. He frantically wrote on every inch of several pages of a note pad as a name or an idea came to mind. True to his marketing prowess, he titled his effort “Red, White and You.” I felt very inspired and knew our similar drive to succeed would make for a great partnership.
A key piece to his fundraising puzzle was an event he famously dubbed “Mirror Ball Bash” which took place at Arketype. It served as the perfect venue for this disco-themed dance party. More than 300 people donned bell bottoms, leisure suits and platform shoes while boogying to some of the best tunes from that era.
Jim raised $50,000 just that night from auction items to selling undergarments with disco balls printed on them! It provided him a great start toward his $160k goal.
Another event he hosted was a benefit concert featuring musicians Jeremy Lister and Andy Davis. Hundreds of people packed the historic Meyer Theatre to enjoy the great music and support the Red Cross. It brought in another $20,000.
The previous year I unsuccessfully tried to bring in Donald Driver’s professional dance partner from when he appeared on ABC-TV’s “Dancing with the Stars.” The stars just weren’t aligned in 2013 for Peta Murgatroyd to come to Green Bay to serve as a judge for DWOS. The main conflict was she started rehearsals for the spring season of the TV show the day after our event and her agent was not willing to take a chance with our Midwest winter weather possibly delaying Peta’s return to Los Angeles. It was at that moment I decided the following year we’d move our event one week earlier to avoid such a conflict.
I pushed for Peta’s appearance fee and travel expenses to be included in the 2014 event budget but the powers that be would not approve it. They did allow me the ability to try and find someone to underwrite those costs, though. Knowing Jim also subscribed to the motto “Go Big or Go Home” I immediately called him and talked strategy. He loved the idea of bringing in Peta and we went to work on how to make it happen. We created a couple of experiences tied to her visit and found donors willing to claim them. News of Peta’s participation took the buzz surrounding the event to another level.
Despite his fundraising success to date Jim faced a formidable challenge from Chris Lofgren. The President & CEO of Schneider was closing the gap by securing one major donation after another. Chris became like a bright orange Schneider truck picking up steam as it drove downhill. In the other lane stood what Jim dubbed himself, “The Little Guy.” With about one month to go in the campaign Chris pulled ahead in the race for the coveted Fundraising Mirror Ball Trophy.
Rivett rallied his supporters, regained the lead and with one week before the event reached his goal.
“We made it, Shawn!” Jim cheerfully said. “We raised $160,000!” “That’s wonderful, Jim! Congrats,” I replied. And without taking another breath I asked, “Do you think you could make it to $200,000? I mean, it’s great you hit your goal but if you want to leave no margin for error and put plenty of distance between you and Chris, $200k is the way to go.” Never one to back down, Jim said, “Challenge accepted!”
We’ve finally reached Saturday, February 15, 2014: event night. Finishing touches were taking place inside our new home, the lower ballroom inside the KI Convention Center. We’d outgrown our previous two venues and were excited to break in a new spot while welcoming a record crowd of more than 1,000. Jim was still sitting on $160k and I was questioning how much more he’d be able to score before the final votes would be counted at the end of the night.
I was making may way through the ballroom as guests were just starting to trickle in and ran into one of Jim’s biggest supporters, Kurt Vos. He handed me an envelope which felt heavy and asked me, “will these contributions count toward Jim’s total?” “Of course they will, Kurt,” I replied, “we accept donations right up until the end of the last dance.” Once more he asked, “Shawn, will these contributions I’m giving to you count toward Jim’s total?” “Yes, Kurt, I assure you they will count.” He then said, “There is $40,000 worth of donations inside this envelope.” WHOA! My eyes lit up, I cracked a huge smile and Kurt did the same. He knew what those donations just did. It put Jim over the top and landed him on $200,000 and brought the overall team total to more than $500,000! Kurt and I shared a warm embrace as I laughed in amazement at the gravity of what just took place.
It was now time for the dancing to take place which to me was just the icing on the cake but to the performers was the real treat. Jim’s first performance with his pro partner Therese was a Quickstep. One of Jim’s table favors was stress balls and at the end of this performance his 70+ guests tossed them onto the dance floor!
His second dance paid tribute to the time he’d spent working in Latin America years ago. Jim and Therese spiced things up with this Samba.
Once the dancing wrapped up it was onto the awards and finding out who won the battle between Jim and Chris. When it was announced Lofgren finished second with about $140,000, Jim’s supporters knew he was the top dog and the began chanting “Jim! Jim! Jim!” before co-host Cami Rapson even announced the winner. After declaring his feat of raising $200,000, Peta Murgatroyd came forward and presented Jim with the Mirror Ball Trophy. This photo remains my all-time favorite from the 10-year DWOS dynasty.
Those who know Jim know how selfless he is and true to form he deflected the praise for his individual success and instead placed the focus on the team for bringing in more than $500k. He told his fellow participants they all earned a piece of the Mirror Ball and he would be making it a traveling trophy. Each of them would carry it for one month before passing it along to another compadre. It’s the same love he showed them during the campaign by attending nearly all their events. That was Jim, the ultimate team player.
And so, the “King of DWOS” was crowned. I’m still amazed when I think about how he raised all that money. Jim secured donations from more than 500 unique donors with amounts ranging from $5 to $15,000. He applied his marketing skills to his campaign, mailing potential donors creative materials engaging them in his journey and encouraging them to contribute. He also offered help to other participants, providing them with free printing or ideas. That support would continue in future years as he helped recruit and coach others who took part in the event.
Jim desperately wanted to participate in the Dancing with Our Stars finale this past February but a major project he was involved with at his new agency, Khrome, required his full attention. He did make a cameo appearance in Jody Weyers’ “Last Dance” and was also recognized in the dedication for the surprise dance I performed.
Jim Rivett – thank you for sharing your love, kindness, talents and treasures with us. Your story continues and your legacy lives on through the many people and organizations you positively impacted. May you dance in our hearts forever.