The Pivotal Role of Gala Chair

on in Fundraising

The event business is indeed a business, and like all businesses must be built, managed, and aimed purposefully towards growth.

But what’s the business strategy for event growth?

An article in the Wealth Matters column of last Saturday’s NY Times captured the transformative potential of one of the key elements of successful fundraising events: a strong (and highly active) event chair.

Approached with personal commitment, networking prowess and business acumen, the chair position can prove to be even more active than board membership.

You need to be a team leader,” noted one experienced event chair in the Times article. “You’re an ambassador for your cause,” explained another.

An event chair who’s fully inhabiting this role can truly lift an event to the next level. 


Whether working for an event that raises $60 million (the Robin Hood Foundation gala, of course) or $50,000 (a start-up mentioned in the article), the event chair is at the heart of gala fundraising.

Leading by example, and cajoling others into higher engagement, chairing a gala is not for the faint of heart.

The same reasons that special events are such powerful motivators – they’re public, they have a deadline, they’re splashy – lend urgency and bite to the gala chair’s job. Your success (or failure to reach the mark) is noted by all, your achievements celebrated, your deficiencies observed.

Talk about pressure! No wonder most gala chairs take their jobs very seriously.

The NY Times article profiled several gala chairs who took on the position with the intent of taking an event “to the next level.” Transforming an event from a $75 per person wine-and-cheese affair designed to “draw people in,” into a real money-maker at $250/pp and up.

How? By drawing on their considerable personal credibility and networks to get new participants to pay attention. Not just to buy tickets and attend, mind you – but to pay attention to the cause.

Yet the real question is, why? Why would someone come to an organization out of the goodness of their hearts and dedicate months of after-work time to further a nonprofit cause?

In a nutshell – because they got inspired.

As one gala chair explained in the Times article: “When I heard the [founder] speak, I volunteered to chair the next event.” Four years later, she’s an integral part of a 5-year plan to raise the nonprofit’s philanthropic profile.

We can do this. While we sometimes get so excited when someone steps forward that we forget we have to do this (again and again) – inspiring people is, bottom line, what nonprofit leadership is all about.



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