I miss the galas!

My wife and are were chatting the other day about the joys (?) of being together 24/7 for a whole year and one of us said: “Wouldn’t it be great to get all dressed up, go downtown, and see all the people we know at one of our favorite nonprofit’s annual galas?”

Since you are reading this blog, you are certainly entitled to think: “Who are you kidding? Given your website’s title, you should be careful what you wish for!”

            Touché!  But we never said we didn’t like galas. Co-author Matt Craig and I go to many – and enjoy them – although the tombstone at the top of the website page may have given you a different idea. 

Requiem for the Gala was the original title for our book -(the publisher thought it was snarky)- and was meant to call your attention to our point that along with golf tournaments and chasing donors, these events are ineffective funding models for many nonprofits and don’t lead to financial sustainability. Of course there are exceptions – one nonprofit we read about regularly rakes in over $50 million annually at their gala.  But for many nonprofits, they really don’t make that much money, especially when all the true costs – including staff time – are included. 

            We’ve all been there: the rubber chicken dinner. Food and wine are flowing, everyone is dressed up in shiny suits or shimmering gowns, bidding on the silent auctions or raising their paddles. But the staff is exhausted and can’t do their day jobs, and before too long its time to start planning for next year’s event and hope it doesn’t rain!

            So why do we miss them? And why do we think they are valuable?  Apart from getting out of the house, seeing folks, and having a nice meal, we recognize the gala, et.al. are important events for nonprofits that we believe in and support.  As one leading expert we spoke with while researching for the book put it: “Galas and similar events are opportunities to showcase their good work and recognize the contributions – in many different ways – of those attending.  As several folks we interviewed put it, Gala are “Friendraisers” – not “Fundraisers”.

            And one of the best ways to make friends?  Recognize how they have supported you, celebrate your collective successes, and build lasting bonds. 

I can recall one gala I attended – many years ago – that left me with an impression that proves the point.  I don’t regularly support them, but, every time I hear their name around town I think, “Oh yes – xyz non profit – they do important work.” Here’s why: They used the event to obtain what we call the virtuous ecosystem of fundraising:

  1. Demonstrate your impact – not with pretty pictures but with real data.

2. Once that data is available, shout the results from the rooftops by storytelling .

Data tells; Stories sell !

Sylvestor’s Story

One of the last in-person events I attended was a presentation by the nonprofit Freedom for Immigrants (FFI), an organization focused on abolishing immigrant detention and addressing human rights abuses against those in custody. FFI believes so strongly in the power of a compelling narrative that it has created an award-winning platform for immigrants held in detention “to challenge injustice through the oldest art form”—storytelling. The purpose of the event was a pitch to potential investors in a impact financing to fund bail bonds for immigrants awaiting results of their asylum cases.

During the pitch, we were presented with lots of data which demonstrated the impact of FFI’s work in helping a large number of immigrants, and how, following release, they became outstanding citizens in their new community.

But then we were introduced to Sylvestor, one of the success stories. Following his release from many years of incarceration, he’s married with a young daughter and runs his own successful catering business. He told us his story when he walked onto the stage from his food truck in the back of the garden (it was an outside party) – where he had cooked and served us a scrumptious dinner.

The foundation I was representing some of the bonds.

Data and storytelling – the tip of the sustainability spear.


So, favorite nonprofits, now that the pandemic is easing (we hope), go ahead and schedule that gala (later in the year, please). I’ve had my shots, and I’ll be there! I enjoy being your friend.

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