Galas: good or evil?

Posted on October 18, 2011

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Marketing wizard Seth Godin made waves with his recent post, Gala economics. He describes galas as “a ridiculous way to efficiently raise money for a good cause.”

Ouch. The truth hurts.

It’s hard to argue that events are expensive. Consider the cost of the food, decorations, invites, entertainment and (here’s the biggie) staff time. It’s a big bill. Then add what individual attendees might spend on shoes, tuxes, accessories and dry cleaning – it’s even bigger.

Seth also contends that “…the gala is actually corrupting. Attendees are usually driven by social and selfish motivations to attend, and thus the philanthropic element of giving–just to give–is removed.” But, in a room full of 500 people, there are a lot of motives. Some pure, some not. Same is true for any form of giving.

Personally, I’ve had similar reservations about events. Back in my fund development days, I coordinated several fundraising events each year. I preferred grantwriting, which seemed much more efficient. And I didn’t have to wear heels and a headset.

However, I believe galas have their place in the nonprofit community.

Event fundraiser Shannon Doolittle, responds to Seth with a thoughtful post, Stop with the gala bashing already. I agree with her view that events should be mission-driven, unique and donor-centered.

Events do good by celebrating both donors and the nonprofit’s clients. I’d add that galas give your donors an opportunity to introduce new people to the cause. Good events can also create media opportunities.

If I could change just one thing about nonprofit events, I’d have fewer of them. Stop doing the ones that are barely breaking even. Or are indistinguishable from everyone else’s “rubber chicken” dinner.

Each organization should have one or two really good events, and drop dead weight. Because quality, worthwhile events strengthen the nonprofit community.

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Posted in: Corporate giving