From now through May, there will be dozens of nonprofit galas in Central Ohio. I had the pleasure of attending a client gala last week. With fundraising events fresh in mind, the following are my thoughts as to what makes a successful fundraiser.
Rule of Three.
A good gala should do three things exceptionally well:
- Raise significant funds (at least $3 for every $1 spent)
- Raise significant friends
- Raise significant awareness for the organization.
Only you can determine what significant is for your nonprofit but if your event doesn’t accomplish all aspects, make a change. Galas take a tremendous amount of energy. It has to pay off in all three measures to be worthwhile.
Tie It to the Mission.
Make sure your guests leave the event having a deeper connection to your nonprofit and who the organization serves. Include stories that illustrate your impact and showcase your organization’s talent or facility. An event that is purely a cash cow that has no tie to the mission is only a short-term win. The event should be a point-of-entry for new donors — not a pass through.
Although the work of nonprofits can be sobering given the challenges they solve, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about your mission’s work, but pay attention to the message. Galas should be joyous occasions. Your guests should have a good time and leave wanting to know more about your organization and return the following year. Make the gala a fun social gathering. For example, an organization that serves girls gave every woman who arrived a pair of flip flops to wear instead of their heels.
Don’t Do Too Many.
A former client did multiple large fundraisers each fiscal year. It was the backbone of their development plan — nearly all contributed income was event-based other than some grants. It was exhausting for them. No sooner did they have thank you notes sent from one event before moving on to the next invite. That churn and burn is not only too much for the staff to handle, but it also creates volunteer and donor fatigue.
Pay Attention to the Guest Experience.
When you do a walk-through of the facility, think about how your guests will navigate the space. What aspects will make it exceptionally easy for them to progress through cocktails, dinner, program and silent auction? What lighting, sound, and AV do you need? How will it all come together? Snafus undoubtedly happen, but keep the donor in mind when planning.
Measure Indirect Costs.
When calculating the net proceeds of the event, it is imperative to determine the indirect costs in addition to direct costs. That should include a portion of development team salaries for their time and other overhead allocations plus the actual expenses of venue rental, meals, invitations, postage, decorations, valet, etc. If you only measure direct costs, you don’t really know if your net added to the bottom line. The $3 raised for every $1 spent includes dollars spent on overhead.
Say Thank You Promptly.
The work does not end when the event concludes. Following up on auction items, ensuring all invoices get paid, and, most importantly, sending a heart-felt thank you to every guest and volunteer is essential. Have a thank you email sent automatically the next morning and then send a letter within a week. Involve board members in the stewardship process by having them write notes and make calls. Don’t forget to include gala guests in your donor stewardship letters later in the fiscal year as you will want them to know the impact of their support.
With these tips in mind, what’s the best gala you’ve ever attended? What did they do that made it stand out from the rest?
Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO