Arts LeadersBest Practices

Turn Your Annual Gala From a Four-Letter Word Into a Five-Star Success

By March 30, 2017March 31st, 2017No Comments

Good God, it’s Gala season! You’re entitled to be a little stressed. In a January report on the top ten most stressful jobs, published by CareerCast, Event Coordinator shares the dubious honor with Firefighter, Airline Pilot, and Military Personnel. Nevertheless, we know that you will take a deep breath and meet the challenge of engaging your volunteers, delighting your donors, and raising money all at the same time.

There’s no need to tell you why you must go with colored linens or an electronic check-in system. (Although, since you asked, it’s better to schedule the soup course after the speeches. No speaker wants to compete with the sound of hundreds of spoons clanging against bone china.) As a matter of fact, let’s not talk about the event at all. Say what?

Instead, we’re turning our attention to what happens when the last drink has been consumed, the band has packed up, and the podium has been stored away. Our wish for you is that you turn your Gala from an, ahem,” four-letter word” into a five-star success by focusing on everything that happens after the event.

First, let’s go back to basics. Events are one of the many ways you can engage your constituents. They’re particularly important for organizations without ongoing donor engagement activities. It’s an occasion for a nonprofit’s community to celebrate a milestone (“Hey, we made it through another year!”), share stories of success, or honor a beloved volunteer. Most ambitious Galas do it all at once. We eat, we drink, we make merry. And then we go home feeling good about having supported a noble cause. But wait…

When we ask clients to tell us about the week following the Gala, most talk about the process of generating acknowledgement letters, emailing pictures, communicating the revenue to committees, and holding Monday morning debriefs to improve the event next year. These are all great. Connecting with new friends made at the event is even better:

  • Call your board and committee members and ask them to tell you who sat at their tables, and who was impressed with the organization or moved by that beautiful, heartfelt video you spent three weeks producing. Would your volunteer be willing to make an introduction and bring the new friend on a site visit?
  • Connect with the auction losers—those unfortunate souls who bid high, but not quite high enough. Call them up, thank them for their persistence, their attendance, and then ask them out to lunch. Their interest may have been solely in the auction item, but perhaps you can stir interest in your organization as well.
  • Was there someone in the room you’d consider honoring next year? Call them up and seal the deal. The warm or urgent event vibe fades a little every day that passes between the event and your phone call. Don’t wait.
  • What about all the people who attended the event as a guest of someone else? Prior to the event, decide on a mechanism to capture their contact information, and make more new friends. Many nonprofit leaders believe that you must wait before asking donors to give again. We disagree. In the days following event, ask a donor to earmark an additional gift to a program that was highlighted at the event.

Think of the event as the start of a conversation with your donors, not the end; the overture, the first act, the entrance to a great exhibition. You’ve given them, by way of your event, a sneak peek into your organization’s incredible work. The event may be over, but the development of these new friends is just beginning.

By Jill Garland, Vice President