Tis the Season for Galas and Donor Dinners

Galas and Donor Dinnersby Kerry Olitzky

It’s the season once again for galas and donor dinners. And, if staff members, volunteer leaders as well as supporters, were honest with themselves, they would admit how few look forward to these events. They consume staff time, volunteer hours and generally cost a great deal of money. Yet, they continue because they are a piece of the budget that no one wants to lose.

Here are some ways to maximize your income and exposure during galas and donor dinners:

  1. Stay away from served, sit-downs for food. They take longer, are more expensive, and limit interaction between guests. Opt for buffets or passed foods and drinks.
  2. Go easy on talking heads and frontal presentations. If you have a midweek event, most of the attendees will already have had a full day. They want to be entertained by the speakers, not listen to speaker after speaker after speaker.
  3. Stay on point. Every aspect of the program should focus on the organization and its work. That includes the entertainment, and tell a story where donors and funders are the heroes.
  4. While ad journals are effective fundraising complements for gala dinners, they are usually left behind at the event and have little “half-life” to them as a result. Some organizations and institutions have moved away from print materials to digital presentations for their ad journals. While they are ecologically friendly, they too have a limited staying power after the event. Consider developing a content-based journal that people will want to keep and use following the event. Remember to assign space on each page for donor endorsements and supporters. These content-based journals should reflect the work of the organization, as well. For example, a synagogue may want to develop a guide for daily spiritual meditation. Or, a family services agency may want to create a piece around “warning signs for opioid use and abuse.”
  5. Finally, calculate the direct and indirect time and money spent  to develop a true cost for producing the event and all its components. You may find your time would be better spent on individual donor fundraising and development where you can realize a higher yield rather than on a single event. Do keep in mind, however, the social value of creating community by such events.  In the end, it is a delicate balance.

If you choose to discontinue your fundraising event, make sure that you replace the income as well as the social, community-building element. Some donors use the event as the opportunity to make their annual gift. And, while the event  may not be profitable, those individual donors who love it may be only giving because of it.