A Gala Is Not Philanthropy
A gala is not major gift fundraising, nor does it really have anything to do with philanthropy. A gala is a way that nonprofits bring in cash—and in rare cases, enough net revenue to justify having one.
A gala is almost 100% transactional in nature. In other words, it’s not about connecting a donor’s specific passion and interests with the need you are addressing. To be honest, it’s creating an avenue for you to invite donors and their friends to, for one night, feel good about what you do.
That’s not philanthropy.
Can it be useful for cultivating major donors? Yes, in some cases. Can it inspire some folks to become a donor? Yes, in some cases. Is it possible to make more net revenue by doing a gala then by cultivating major donors? No.
If you are currently working for a nonprofit that has a long history of an annual gala event and it makes enough net revenue to justify it, it’s pretty hard to get off of that hamster wheel. But, please don’t involve your major gift team to plan that event or be involved in the logistics that would take them away from the day-to-day work of cultivating and stewarding their portfolio.
And if you don’t have an annual gala event and you are thinking of starting one, Richard and I would strongly suggest you put that time, energy and money into building up your major gift program instead.
Why? Because building relationships, understanding a donor’s passion and interests, and helping a donor find joy in their life through alleviating a need you are addressing will produce much more net revenue, for a longer period of time, than what you’d get from an annual event gift.
What gets us all fired up is when the development and major-gift team is stymied in their work for two months because the gala becomes an “all hands-on deck” event for your nonprofit. That is a huge chunk of time.
When we look at major-gift data and see the high-value attrition, this is one of the causes. Major gift officers have been diverted away from their portfolio to help pull off a gala. I cannot tell you the scores of major gift officers that have talked to Richard, our team and me about this serious problem.
Quite frankly, we believe creating or continuing a gala that doesn’t make significant net revenue is hurting your relationship with donors; and you are hurting your long-term return on investment. If you want to be a good steward of your organization’s resources, which I know you do, then putting in the hard work of building strong relationships with your donors will pay off way more than creating or holding that annual gala.
If your board really feels they need to have an event, let them cover the cost and the logistics for that party without involving the development team… especially the major-gift team.
The bottom line is this: There is no easy way to do major gifts. Many times, a gala is thought to help make it easier. But it’s actually killing major gifts. It’s not connecting the donor’s passion and interests to the many programs and projects you have that are changing the world. It’s asking for cash.
Is all that time, labor, energy and months spent away from your portfolio worth the measly net revenue your organization is going to come away with?
Build relationships, do that every day hard work; the result is so much better.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.