The Gifted Gown is an Indianapolis-based 501 c3 nonprofit that accepts donations of prom dresses and tuxes and then distributes them, free of charge, to youth all around the metro area. On the eve of their annual event PATTERN chatted with their Board President, Patty Hyatt, to discuss their success.
Bridget Barbara: How did The Gifted Gown start?
Patty Hyatt: In 2012 Julia Rutland, the Executive Director of The Gifted Gown, assisted at a prom pop-up shop at Pike High School. Dresses cost $20, shoes were $5, and accessories were $2. She saw that there were still kids who couldn’t afford that. She decided that there had to be a way to help these girls who couldn’t afford that small amount.
BB: What sparked your interest in joining The Gifted Gown?
PH: Julia and I have been friends since high school. She told me what her vision was and asked me to get involved. My daughters and I showed up to the first event in 2013 and we only had 25 dresses. We now have over 1,000 gowns and have been able to help about 24 schools.
We have our annual event right before Prom season. Anyone who needs a dress can come. There’s always a chance that someone is going through a hard time, so we don’t have them fill out any kind of financial paperwork. They come to the event, somebody checks them in, we get their name, their high school, and their prom date.
We have all the dresses set up by sizes and they can pull any dress they want. They can try them on, and we have people who can help them shop if they need any help. We have shoes, purses, and accessories they can try on too. It’s an all-day event, so people filter in and out. We have a rush in the beginning, but after that it slows down.
It’s not a dress giveaway; it’s a shop. We want it to have a boutique atmosphere and shopping experience.
BB: You guys recently received your 501c3 status and the organization is growing. What are some things that you guys are working on and how has getting the 501c3 status changed things?
PH: It’s been crazy and amazing. We’re busting at the seams. The community has been huge in helping us. We have permanent drop-off locations where people can drop off items all throughout the year. We’ve had people who wanted to give us donations in the past, but couldn’t until we got our 501c3. Now that we have that status, we have more people who can donate and help. That’s been very positive for us.
Having a Board of Directors is a new experience for us, so we’re still trying to find our footing and how all board members can participate. I do community outreach, and right now we’re trying to find our permanent home. We’re fortunate enough to have The Hatch for the April 8 event, but our biggest concern right now is space and publicity. We’re also focusing more on the fundraising aspect of The Gifted Gown so we can help more kids.
BB: How have you guys gotten the word out?
PH: Social media is our biggest outlet. That’s everything. Luckily we have a couple people on the board who are social media buffs. They’re perfect. This year we haven’t done as much publicity as we have in the past, but I feel like we haven’t suffered from that. Being on TV a couple of times last year helped, but there’s no better advertisement than word-of-mouth.
BB: What was the process of getting your 501c3, and how did you celebrate after receiving that nonprofit status?
PH: On May 22nd, 2015 we became incorporated. On October 5th, 2016 we received our IRS determination letter approving our nonprofit status. So it took us five years to get it. We did a lot of fundraising through selling our shirts last year to earn that money.
It was a lot of happy tears, but it was amazing. All the people involved on the board have been there since the beginning. The group that sits on the board has been friends for years, so you can imagine the excitement. It’s something we’ve been waiting for and have worked really hard to get to.
BB: What has been your biggest success and struggle as the organization so far?
PH: The biggest success would be the 400+ kids we’ve helped since we’ve started this. You see a young woman or a young man walk in the door with a defeated look. They’re embarrassed, frustrated, and you can tell they don’t want to be there. They come in with one attitude of being shut down and not making eye contact. By the time they’re leaving, they’re hugging us. There’s no better feeling than seeing that change.
Our biggest struggle is our next step: finding our location. We want some place where kids can come year-round for dresses. Additionally, we only have about 25 tuxes and we need more.
I was just joking with my daughters and their boyfriends about the prom-posal thing. This was not an issue when I was a child! When I was in high school, if you were dating someone, that was your prom date [laughs]. The money that the guys are spending is just as much as the girls, so having the tuxes to help them is huge.
BB: What other groups and businesses partner with you guys on your event or you work with?
PH: We’ve reached out to a lot of the other prom groups like us, and we advertise for some of them. We can’t provide for every single prom; some schools have prom next weekend and our event isn’t until the following weekend. We want people to know that there are other events if they can’t make it to ours.
The Glass Slipper in Brown County just reached out to us. They had dresses that haven’t moved over the years and sent them to us. It’s not a competition; it’s a partnership.
We partner with Deering Cleaners every year. With every dress we give out, we also include a voucher for one free dry cleaning
In total, we have over 20 community and business partners!
BB: How do you plan to keep that growth going in the years to come?
PH: A permanent home [laughs]. A place that people can come year-round. If there’s a wedding and bridesmaids may be struggling, we could help them. If there’s a military ball and they need gowns, we don’t care why, we just want to help them. We want a daily place to get what people need.
We want the memories, not the stress.
BB: What do you recommend for individuals who’d like to get more involved or volunteer with The Gifted Gown?
PH: Go on our website! There’s a ‘donate’ button where you can donate if you want to. We have three locations where you can drop off donations of men’s and women’s formal wear. There’s a ‘volunteer’ button where you can help out at events.
Need a gown or tux? Make sure to attend The Gifted Gown event on April 8th!