Why you should not do a fundraising gala this year

Why do nonprofits have galas and other large events meant to raise money?

I think it’s because planning and pulling off a gala is a lot less scary than the real work of fundraising. All you have to do is work your way through a huge (massive!) to-do list, then you have some fun, and then you’re done. And you’ve probably raised some money.

The problem is, most fundraising events are not successful. A few are great, but if the true cost were actually counted against the funds raised, most events would be cancelled without a second thought.

The biggest cost of a gala is the one that’s most hidden: people and opportunity. Every hour spent on the gala is an hour not spent doing something else … and almost everything else fundraisers do is a more effective way to use their time.

This is especially true of major gift fundraisers. The ROI on their time is high, so the cost of them chasing down gala details can be huge. But since you never see it, you can’t measure how much you’ve lost.

This post on the Passionate Giving Blog, A Gala is Not Philanthropy, lays out the problem:

… creating or continuing a gala that doesn’t make significant net revenue is hurting your relationship with donors, and you’re hurting your long-term return on investment. If you want to be a good steward of your organization’s resources … 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.

Chances are there are people on your board (or even staff) who really don’t want to hear this. They love the gala. It’s fun. It connects them with people they like. It’s hard work, but it’s work they may enjoy.

But you owe it to your cause to take a close and realistic look at what that event is really doing for you — or to you.

Count the hours of staff time. Look at each person spending that time and ask yourself if they also do things that have a measurable return. (If they are involved with major donors or planned giving, the answer is, yes, their time is extremely valuable to your bottom line.)

And if you’re thinking about launching a new event, think very hard about it. The chance that it will be a good investment is small. There are many better ways to raise money for your cause.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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