When is the last time you either planned, produced or attended a fund raiser event for your organization, or a cause you are passionate about?
Was the event fun?
If it even remotely resembled a lot of fund raisers supporting nonprofit organizations, charities or other causes, my guess is that it wasn’t exactly a thrilling experience. No doubt it was well organized and put together well – for many such organizations, the fund raising gala is a critical night of the year towards making the annual budget, and everyone from the development office right up to the executive director is usually intimately involved in the most minute details of the affair, and working nonstop right up until the event is over, to ensure that it goes off without a hitch.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fun.
Tell me if this sounds familiar: after receiving a lovely invitation in the mail to attend a fund raiser in support of Organization X, you throw on your best duds and show up at the venue, which is elegant and (usually) tastefully decorated for the occasion. After checking in, you are thrown into a sort of social free-for-all with other similarly-clad folks who are somehow affiliated with Org X – board members, directors, staff, patrons, press, honorees, celebrities, volunteers and donors.
At the designated hour, you and the other guests are politely ushered into a banquet hall, where you take your seats and dinner is served, after which the program begins. The chairman of the board of directors and/or the executive director kick things off with warm welcoming remarks, followed by an inspiring video highlighting the past years’ achievements; if Organization X is in the arts world, perhaps there is a performance or viewing of some sort as well. Next up are honorees and award recipients, each of whom are introduced by high-ranking people within Organization X. There is then a wrap-up and profuse thank-you’s, and the event is over.
An effective way to achieve fundraising goals? You bet. A stylish, professional and class affair? Absolutely.
A fun event? Not really.
If you are an institution like Organization X, chances are that your fund raising attendees – even your honorees – while passionate about your cause, are glancing at their watches sometime between the entree and the first speech; people love to talk, after all, and the program very often can run quite long. The next day, when someone asks how the event was, your attendee will likely say that it was an important event for the organization or cause they care about: inspiring, got to see some friends and meet new essential contacts – but was it fun and memorable? Er…no.
I think this can be changed. Why can’t fund raising events be fun, too? Here I give a hat tip to my former employer, the 92nd Street Y. As a leading cultural and community center in Manhattan, 92Y’s annual gala is a crucially important event in terms of fund raising revenue. To ensure that the event draws as many as possible, the 900-seat concert hall – home of the organization’s legendary lecture series – is opened up, and 92Y leans on their contacts within the arts and entertainment world to bring in huge acts (past years have included Barry Manilow and Earth, Wind & Fire). Now THAT’s fun!
While you certainly don’t need to go to that extreme, at least provide some form of fund raiser entertainment for your gala guests which will make for a more enjoyable, impactful experience. You’re working so hard on this fund raiser event – why not make it as memorable for your attendees as possible?