Annual event, businessman inspire a younger generation to give

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published January 21, 2015

 Shane Pliska, of Bloomfield Hills, talks to Anna Karana, left, of Farmington Hills, and Crystal Miller, of Warren, about buying tickets for the annual event, Engage, happening 9 p.m.-1 a.m. March 27.

Shane Pliska, of Bloomfield Hills, talks to Anna Karana, left, of Farmington Hills, and Crystal Miller, of Warren, about buying tickets for the annual event, Engage, happening 9 p.m.-1 a.m. March 27.

Photo by Sarah Purlee


ROYAL OAK — Inspiring a new generation of givers has become a passion for Royal Oak businessman Rick Van House II.

He and his wife, Nicole Van House, created more than two years ago to draw younger adults toward charitable organizations through engaging opportunities.

Rick Van House, 35, is the founder of Know Advertising in Royal Oak. He began the business in 2005 out of his basement and moved his company to the Know advertising building on West 11 Mile Road and Lafayette Avenue in 2008, where the business stands today.

The couple began their passion for giving back after Nicole’s grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease.

After finding themselves at a fundraising event benefiting the disease, which was targeted at a younger audience, and seeing only four people there, the couple knew they had to do something.

“We thought, ‘Why can’t nonprofits talk to our age group?’” Van House said. “They don’t understand how, and I don’t know if our age group understands how to engage with nonprofits.”

That is when the light bulb moment hit — how could the younger generation connect with philanthropic opportunities in an engaging, hip way that would result in a millennial feel-good experience while helping charitable organizations.

This is what seeks to accomplish. The nonprofit organization acts as a bridge between nonprofits and younger generations mostly by hosting an annual event where philanthropic seekers can gather, red-carpet style, for a night out rooted in charitable involvement.

“This isn’t a sit-down with lemon chicken dinner and bad food and big round tables,” Van House said. “It’s much more engaging than that.”

Instead, partygoers attend the event for a good time while meeting with chosen charities to see if they would like to volunteer for their causes.

The past two events have featured guests dressed to the nines ready for a fun party with disc jockeys, drinks and appetizers, while three featured charitable organizations provided on-site, interactive presentations about their causes.

Van House stresses engaging presentations. He said there are no long tables with a representative passing out pamphlets.

“It’s not boring. It’s not your parents’ event,” Van House said. “We call this #newworldcharity.”

Van House said utilizes two major strategies to educate and engage the younger generation.

He said the organization heavily utilizes online resources, including the cause-finder, a tool on the website that matches a person’s interests and living location with an appropriate nonprofit organization.

The second strategy is producing the annual event. He said the charitable organizations featured at this year’s party are not going to disappoint.

For the 2015 campaign and party, the organization has teamed up with The Empowerment Plan, Humble Design and Forgotten Harvest.

Marc Berke, Forgotten Harvest senior director of major gifts, said he met Van House three years ago at the Alzheimer’s event. Berke was working with the cause at the time and became interested in Van House’s ideas.

“Every nonprofit struggles with how to engage young adults with their nonprofit,” Berke said.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Berke is partnering with Van House.

“He wanted Forgotten Harvest to be one of the organizations, and we are thrilled,” Berke said.

Forgotten Harvest will be partnering with Whole Foods during the party to bring the vision of packing and donating fresh foods to life.

All three charitable organizations will be at the 2015 Give Engage event March 27 at The Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. Tickets are $40 for general admission and $75 for VIP.

“One big thing about this season is we moved to Detroit,” Van House said. “I believe in the growth of Detroit … and I think turnout this season is going to far exceed the 200-250 that we’ve gotten before, and I hope we’re going to break into 300 because of the fact that we’re in Detroit.”

Everyone is invited to attend, and all ticket proceeds will go toward the 2016 Engage event and campaign, where another set of nonprofits will be highlighted to those looking to give.

“We don’t do this to make a big profit,” Van House said. “We do this to do this again.”

Formerly called the List Event, Engage is the third awareness party.

Van House said he hopes this year’s turnout will be the culmination of the hard work of years past.

“My mom always said that when you plant a new tree, the first year it is just kind of there, the second year it’s starting to get its roots, and the third year is when you really see it start to grow, and I really think that is the case here,” Van House said. “I think that this is going to be the best year yet.”