Tag Archives: Gala

We All Want To Know Why Nonprofit Strategic Planning Is Sexy

Nonprofit Strategic Planning Is SexyNonprofit strategic planning is sexy in the same way nonprofit governance, feasibility study reports and finding the perfect candidate is sexy. Oh wait, I didn’t mean sexy. I meant amazing for my nonprofit or energizing for my organization.

The title of this piece was offered by Portent’s Content Idea Generator.  And I’m pretty sure it shatters the notion that, “there are no bad ideas.”


Your nonprofit may be finding something similar when you are brainstorming for ideas. Whether it is annual appeal letter suggestions from a donor (whom you thought would be helpful), gala ideas from a board member(s), or elements of a case for giving from staff, not all ideas should carry the same weight. Of course, donors (including board members), volunteers as well as staff need to be treated respectfully – whether their ideas are used or not.

Hopefully your nonprofit has criteria to evaluate some ideas.

Establish a:

  • Mission, vision and values statement(s) as an outcome of a strategic planning process. Nonprofit strategic planning may not be sexy but it is a great guide for determining new projects or whether to continue old ones.
  • Theme for your fundraising for the year or season. e. community achievements, the impact of music, the teachers at our core, etc.…
  • Call for ideas in specific areas. Focus in on areas that need suggestions, ways for people to provide their thoughts and an understanding of what you are looking for. This is a great way to see what people are thinking and can be used as a stewardship opportunity.
  • Provide suggestion guidelines. If you are asking for thoughts, a list of general, or specific “rules” the organization follows will eliminate some of the ideas you have to shut down immediately.
  • A committee to make decisions. We don’t want you to create committees ad nauseum. But at times, an ad hoc committee can take the decision making away from an individual. And, help eliminate prickly conversations that can feel personal.

And this isn’t even venturing into the pressure nonprofits feel from donors referenced in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy Article. From sexual harassment issues to donor suggestions that are clearly off-mission but will provide the donor a benefit, nonprofits are finally realizing that not every idea is a good idea.

Look for a less sexy, but more thoughtful, strategic planning piece in the near future.

Q. Our nonprofit holds an annual fundraising gala that raises about $40,000 gross, $25,000 net, towards a $800,000 annual budget. The executive director and some board members feel that this fundraiser is ‘too small’ and ‘not worth our while’; how do we decide whether it is or not, and what then?

Annual fundraising gala by Jacek Dylag at Unsplash

A. We are often asked versions of this question. Annual fundraising galas and other similar benefits are wonderful friend-raisers and community builders, but rarely do they find balance on the financial scales when you consider the time and energy that could be spent on other methods of fundraising instead of the event. They are, in fact, one of the least cost-effective ways or raising money.

That is not to say you should never host a fundraising gala. Galas:

  • introduce new people to the organization
  • give people an excuse to celebrate and honor individuals, and
  • have a high-end cache that high-end volunteers want to be associated.

Just consider the tradeoffs.

When we recommend against a fundraising gala for an nonprofit, we often here these common objections:

“The administrative work is done by someone who was hired with this event listed in his/her responsibilities.” That may be true, but are there other areas that could use the extra dedicated hours? Could that person spend the same hours, intensively for months, working on stewarding, upgrading, and retaining donors? How would that impact your budget?

“Our annual fundraising gala is run by volunteers. It doesn’t really cost us anything to produce.”
What else could your volunteers be helping you achieve? If those who are committed to raising money were to join the development committee and work with major donors, it could easily exceed the $25,000. And how much staff time is used supervising the volunteers?

“But our volunteers like working on the annual fundraising gala because they like being a part of a marquee event.” There is no doubt that this aspect of their commitment is valuable to your organization, but it is valuable as community building and strengthening. If you have the staff, volunteers, time and funds to support these events, then, continue the event.

But, consider how to grow the relationships with the attendees. Starting with getting the contact information for everyone who attends by sitting at a donor’s table. Then you can think about how many of those in attendance are major donors or have the capacity to be? How can you turn each one into a major donor? And how you can you deepen their involvement beyond the event? 

Ultimately, the decision is yours as to whether to proceed or stop the event. Just make sure you know what the true benefits are for your organization.

Evaluating a Gala or Fundraising Event

Gala TableEach week, we write articles on topics that we think would interest the readers of this blog. This week, I would like to highlight someone else’s article. Someone I have never met. However, when I read the article dated July 16, 2016 in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, it was obvious that the writer offered something that is aligned with our goal to help you have a better understanding of fundraising and development. With a specialty in event planning, the author, Harry A. Freedman, focuses on evaluating a gala or fundraising event.

Galas can raise money, attract new donors and excite current donors, but they also tax volunteers who can be deployed in other areas, absorb staff time and cost a lot to create. It is the push-pull that any experienced fundraiser, nonprofit staff member or volunteer understands.

That is why I would recommend that you read the article, After the Ball: How to Evaluate the Success of Your Fundraising Event, and that you download the invaluable Event Evaluation Worksheet.

Now it’s true that you need a subscription, but if you have an annual gala (or you are considering one), find a way to read the full piece and get the download.

The worksheet, which comes as a Word document, currently has sections that include:

  • Attendance and Results
  • Timing
  • Committees
  • Location
  • Budget
  • Promotion
  • Registration
  • Food and Drink
  • Entertainment
  • Management and Staffing

The fact that it is a Word document is important because it means you can make, and he encourages, agency-specific changes. I would suggest that you add a Fundraising section that includes the following questions:

  • Did you know the name and contact information of everyone who was in attendance?
  • Was there an opportunity for people who were less familiar with your organization to request more information?
  • Was there a mechanism to donate at the auction? Was it in the form of a silent or live auction? Were there volunteers who were ready and able to take credit card donations at the event? Did donors find it easy to use?
  • If an auction was involved, did it overtax staff or volunteers? (One way to find out is to ask if they would be willing to help in the same way next year)
  • How did your goal and your net compare to each of the past 5 years of the event?
  • Were in-kind donors and volunteers thanked in an appropriate way at the event?
  • Were in-kind donors, volunteers and donors thanked within 48 hours of the event?
  • Do you have a follow up plan for those in attendance who did not give but may want to give post-event?
  • Do you have a follow up plan for those who are not ready to donate but may become donors in the future?

Summer may be event-free, but it can also be a perfect time to prepare for your next event. If you consider how you will answer all of these questions before the event you will, in all likelihood, help make the event more successful in every aspect. And have an better post-event evaluation.