How to Plan a Profitable Nonprofit Gala

Thousands of nonprofits produce galas and other elaborate fundraisers each year. They can be tremendous assets for your organization or enormous wastes of time and money.

If you choose to make yours an asset, here are the two most important areas where you need to focus.

Start With Your Business Model.

Let’s be clear about the purpose of your gala: it is to make money profitably. That’s it.

Events can be used for many purposes—build audiences, fulfill your mission, communicate news, reinforce the sale, among others.

The gala’s function is to generate a significant profit.

Before you do anything else, determine the best business model for the event so that it does expressly that.

And here’s a hint. Galas do not make money on ticket revenue, just like newspapers do not make money on subscriptions or individual newspaper sales.

In both cases, the big dollars come from sponsors. Corporations and individuals commit to a fee or a more generous contribution in support of the cause.

Your business model should identify the activities and relationships necessary to secure sponsors, attract individual donors, and lead to profit. For sponsorship, be prepared to articulate compelling value and engage the sponsor in mutually beneficial ways.

You also want to activate your attendees in other revenue generating activities at the event, such as a Live Auction and a Fund-A-Cause. Be sure to hire a great auctioneer and put the odds ever in your favor.

Nonprofit Gala Invitations – Attract the Right Audience.

That leads to the next important detail, which is to attract the right people to your gala.

It’s quite natural to want to open the invitation up broadly to your community, to include constituents, partners, friends, donors, funders, and all sorts of stakeholders. For any other event, that broad invitation is appropriate.

For your gala, be selective.

Attract people who have both the financial capacity and commitment to your cause. Your attendees must be enthusiastic about actively participating in the gala and donating.

One of the best ways to attract the right audiences is to have your best supporters do it, not by absent-mindedly delegating. Rather, be highly strategic.

In fact the word my colleague Kathy Kingston uses is “obsess,” as in obsess over audience development. Kingston, an expert fundraising auctioneer and author of A Higher Bid: How to Transform Special Event Fundraising with Strategic Benefit Auctions, encourages leaders to “hand-select every Table Ambassador,” she says.

“Invite each person with a call or personal visit,” Kingston says, “so you can explain how they can help build relationships with your great cause by engaging with their guests before, during and after your fundraising gala.”

When you fill the room with the right people who have the right expectations, you reach your revenue goals and create loyal fans for the future.

When you don’t, your revenue suffers. One organization gave a discount to an honoree who wanted to buy one hundred tickets to bring her young staff. First, red flag: “fundraiser” and “discount” do not go together. This honoree clearly didn’t appreciate that filling the room was not the primary goal.

Things got worse. These one hundred young people showed their enthusiasm and support for the cause and the honoree, cheering her on and having fun at the event. However, no one prepped them to give. They had no idea of the expectation to make a contribution through the silent auction or fund-a-cause.

Because this group represented about a third of the audience, the organization missed a huge opportunity and lost money on these one hundred attendees. To make matters even worse, the organization never connected with them afterwards to nurture them and activate them in their young friends program.

Galas are enormous investments and, with the right strategy and attendees, important assets. Use these focal points to lay a strong foundation for profitability.

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