Trends: Volunteers Gone Wild

Infighting! Back-stabbing! Meltdowns! In Philly these days, lending a helping hand isn’t what it used to be

Still, it seems that in recent years the nature of volunteerism has changed. Where previous generations had a breezy style of lending a hand, dropping in for a couple of hours here and there at the Devon Horse Show or school picnic, these days we’re all much more professional — and slightly hysterical — about it. If you ask a group of lawyers, bankers and party planners to put together a bake sale, it’s going to be one well-planned, financially savvy and gorgeous-looking bake sale, and there will be plenty of opinions offered by its principals. The downside: When you’re dealing with a bunch of perfectionists, the bake sale becomes more stressful than the most rigorous demands of your regular job.

Corie Moskow, who runs Gloss, a public relations and event planning firm (she represents this magazine), is helping her synagogue, Har Zion, juice up its annual Hanukkah bazaar. “I’ve been asked to assist in making the event more of a must-do, to create greater buzz for it,” she says. “I work with specialty retailers as my livelihood, and if I recruit them to an event that is less than terrific, I will look bad.” To that end, Moskow has cajoled the Bryn Mawr men’s store Pants to put on an informal fashion show during the bazaar, and added a gift-card raffle to lure Har Zion moms to the shop-extravaganza.

And that’s a key reason for the hysteria attendant with committee work: The event has to be fabulous. Exactly when events got so complex and high-end is hard to pinpoint, but ultra-chic, off-the-charts galas for everything from the SPCA to nursery schools seem to have trickled down via the glossy affairs we watch on VH1 or ogle in Vanity Fair. With the rise of event consultants and wedding and bar mitzvah planners, Philly socialites have seen ballrooms transformed into jaw-dropping leopard-bedecked jungles and Vegas nightclubs. We’ve grown accustomed to stylish restaurants and clubs, and now we expect events held in a school fieldhouse will be decorated beautifully (Decor Committee), will offer clever hors d’oeuvres (Dinner Committee), and will have live music or a DJ (Entertainment Committee). “I can’t go to another party and drink bad wine in a hot gym,” says PR consultant Peter Breslow, who opts to stay home when he foresees gallon merlot in plastic cups on the horizon. “You need an angle that’s truly unique for events these days.” (Breslow, who’s currently on a committee for a Center City hospital gala, is trying to convince his fellow volunteers to go with a Deal or No Deal theme and to Twitter their friends about the party.)