After the cows go home. (send fundraising events and galas packing)

It seems like my last post hit a nerve: a lot of people want to send the sacred cows (fundraising events like galas and golf tournaments) packing.

A couple of like-mind, but hesitant colleagues loved the idea of getting rid of galas.

“But what about the income from my gala? How do I replace that?”

It’s a great question, one that I will answer with a story.

Fundraising Events

A few years ago, I presided over a merger of sorts, on behalf of a community college. These were two institutionally related foundations under one college district umbrella. Both foundations had galas: one barely broke even, while the other netted $40,000 in its final outing. That’s before staff time was calculate.

As we brought the two foundations together into the new entity, the chancellor of the college district agreed, at my urging, to put the gala out to pasture.

A couple of months after we recovered from the final gala, we embarked on a new venture: a “middle donor” program.

What are middle donors, you ask? These are individuals who are giving at the upper levels of your annual giving program – between $500 and $10,000 for most organizations. They need more cultivation and stewardship than your direct marketing donors, but not the high level of attention you give to major donors.

We launched our program in February, using 1:1 solicitations by board members and our development director, as well as small group cultivation events. The program was designed to attract donors between $1,200 and $10,000 a year.

One of our board members – a generous local business owner – immediately stepped up with $20,000 challenge pledge.

In just five months – FIVE MONTHS! – we welcomed 59 donors to our program and raised more than $100,000.

We upgraded many existing donors to all-time high levels of giving, and recruited many new supporters.

And what did it cost? The design and printing of a brochure – no more than $2,000.

When was the last time you had that kind of return on investment with a gala?

Come back for my next installment, wherein I’ll delve deeper into middle donor programs. And if you’d like to learn how I could help you design your own program, give me a shout at or visit my website.

Image courtesy of tuelekza at


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