Is There an Alternative to Another Gala? Help!

July 16, 2015

Dear Rich,

I have $50,000 in revenue budgeted to come from our annual gala this winter, but I am absolutely dreading another cycle of planning, pricing, scheduling, begging for sponsorships, and nagging the board to follow through on their commitments. Board members always make big promises, and then staff end up picking up the slack and they’re overworked as it is. We need the dollars and it’s always good to get together with our donors, but I’m wondering if there isn’t a simpler, less stressful alternative. Help!

Dear Friend,

When burnout sets in before you’re even at the planning stage, it’s time to seriously reconsider the purpose and goals of your special event. Sometimes the purpose of a special event is not specifically to make money. You might want to reward volunteers, ‘position’ your organization with the media and key constituencies, or celebrate an organizational milestone. What makes a gala or special event special is turning new participants into small donors and then increasing their gifts and involvement over time. This is really the value of hosting a special event from a fund raising perspective.

If you’re already feeling event fatigue, chances are your board and staff are too. My suggestion is to pull together a small group to brainstorm alternatives to the gala that will bring in the $50,000 (or more) you need to balance your budget. Invite:

  • Board members – especially those relatively new to the board who aren’t wedded to “this is the way we’ve always done it.”
  • Staff members – including those lower down in the hierarchy who may be excited to step up and take on more responsibility.
  • Volunteers who enjoy planning and are willing to try new approaches.
  • Donors – particularly ones with access to other wealthier donors, and who are invested in your organization’s success.

Then just open up the floor to any and all ideas. Consider everything from a series of small events, to “non-events” where people pay NOT to attend, as well as alternatives such as a doubled-down focus on major gifts. Are “third party benefits” an option for you? Do you have connections with a service club or college fraternity/sorority that might welcome the opportunity to throw a party or run a marathon with you as the beneficiary?

Whatever event or event alternatives you come up with, the board chair must show leadership and make sure that the board assumes its responsibility rather than simply make unfulfilled promises. Your question, unfortunately, is all too common with smaller organizations where the staff is already overworked and frequently underpaid and then has to assume 95% of the work on the special event because board members didn’t follow through.

Check out these Rich Tip columns from the archive to get the ideas flowing:

Fresh Ideas For Special Events

How To Make Your Special Events Special

Good luck

Rich

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