For years, I’ve preached against one of the sacred cows of fundraising: the gala.
Whenever a client suggests that they want to start one, I talk them out of it. When a client has one, I demand to see the event financials. Often, they’re dismal. And more often than not, the organization hasn’t bothered to factor in the value of the staff time that goes into the production.
You ask why I am so adamantly opposed events like this? It’s about time. Frankly, ticketed events like galas are a major time suck. I’ve seen development directors in small and moderate-size shops spend half their year working on a gala that nets little. Far less than what that development director could have brought in engaging some major prospects, and for far less cost.
I’m not alone in this thinking. Give any development director a cocktail and they’ll fess up.
My opinion was validated a few years ago when my fellow consultant Steve Klingaman wrote in his exceptional volume on community college fundraising, “‘Kill’ your gala and replace it with an Annual Fund campaign.” I practically hugged him when I met him a few months after the book was published.
The issue came to the fore in a big way in the March 2016 Chronicle of Philanthropy, which explored how nonprofits can give up their old ways and be smarter about their fundraiser. “First, We Kill All the Galas,” was the blaring headline in the opening piece.
Everyone involved in nonprofit management — executive directors, development directors and especially board members — should pick up a copy of this issue and digest it. You’ll come away inspired…and hopefully ready to banish one of your organization’s sacred cows.
Post Script: I received a lot of great feedback after this post was published. Check out the follow-up to this piece, “After the Cows Go Home.”
(If you can’t access the content on the Chronicle’s website, just email me at email@example.com. Visit my website to learn more.)