by Molly Galo, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, galas play a critical role in an organization’s philanthropy plan — they raise needed funds and they foster feelings of good will among party-goers.
The most successful galas, I believe, are those that are truly mission-focused. Here’s a case study to illustrate my belief:
Two years ago, the nonprofit social service agency with which I work raised $190,000 net through its annual gala. The paddle raise — in my mind the critical piece of the event — raised $40,000. Fast forward two years: the gala raised net $292,000, had reduced expenses by 25%, and the paddle raise alone raised nearly $120,000.
Why? One simple reason: every decision the staff and committee made — from planning to execution — was focused on engaging guests in the organization’s mission. Sure, we wanted guests to have a good time, but we wanted them to leave feeling like they both understood and helped have an impact on the people we serve. For this organization, that meant:
- Streamlining the Party Experience. Specifically, we moved away from an elaborate party theme that changed each year to a simple, yet elegant theme. Guests weren’t distracted by over-the-top decor and theme-related flourishes, and our decor-related expenses were significantly decreased. In addition, we eliminated the silent auction component of the evening. Instead, guests were able to participate in simpler raffles, which increased dollars raised while lessening the strain on the volunteer committee.
- Communicating the Organization’s Impact on Clients. Of course, the remarks of the featured speakers — the CEO, the board chair, special guests — were brief and aligned: all touched on the theme of “the impact we can have, together.” Likewise, the video let the guests in on a conversation among stakeholders (clients, board, staff, business leaders) who shared their impact stories. The video participants were in attendance, and were able to share their stories personally with guests. Finally, throughout the cocktail hour, and again after the program, guests could view the mission, the impact the organization has on its clients and community, and the impact the donor can have, projected on large screens.
- Engagement of Guests by Board Members and Staff Ambassadors. Board members came to have a good time — but more importantly to be advocates for the organization, and stewards of its donors. Several board members visited specific donors at their tables, based on a list provided ahead of time by staff, to thank them for their support. Likewise, program staff members attended as ambassadors, and were seated strategically to engage with donors and share stories of the important work they do every day with clients.
Guests left the event feeling both happy and valued. One month later, there’s still a buzz around town about the “best-ever” gala. Most important, though: the funds raised are having a direct and immediate impact on the people the organization serves. Truly, that’s the critical role the every gala should play.