Working The Room

on in Fundraising


So beloved yet so reviled…

So expensive yet so rewarding…

So much focus on quid pro quo asking (who will buy a table?) – yet so great an opportunity to make your case…

How can we get the most out of the extraordinary energy required to put on a gala? 

Galas are a great vehicle with which to rally ambassadors – they provide a concrete ask, the exchange is clear, and the ongoing obligation (to askers and donors) seems negligible. For all those reasons and more, board members find gala-related asking easier than organization-centered requests.

Please buy a ticket” seems like less of a stretch than “Please support this cause.”

But what if the former were a stepping stone to the later? What if gala attendance was seen as a first step in building relationships, rather than an end in itself?

Galas offer a unique opportunity to be in dialogue with hundreds of potential supporters – attendees who bought tickets based on who asked, rather than because of their loyalty to the organization’s cause.

What might that look like, in action?

Certainly it means highlighting mission in the event’s program, in signage, in take-home materials, even in who presents the awards on stage.

But even more, galas offer the opportunity to get to know the individuals in the room: if your board, staff, volunteers seize the occasion to speak with – and listen to – the cares, concerns, and passions of attendees.

Of course board/staff/volunteers need to be able to articulate agency-prepared talking points, but even more than that, they need to be ready to listen for the opening – the personal passion of attendees that could connect with the agency’s cause. What in the person in front of them’s lives and experiences might lead them to relate to the nonprofit’s purpose, vision, programs – and can your ambassadors make that connection to draw them in?

This doesn’t happen by accident. Ambassadors need to be trained, prepped, pumped up to deliver the goods – the goods being information they’ve found out at the event about individuals new to the cause who might become fans, converts, donors, and eventual ambassadors themselves.

Schedule a group debrief session for slightly after the event – and get a date on the calendar for this meeting before the gala begins, so people know they’re going to have to report on their “wins.” Make specific “get to know you” assignments, so you’re not leaving a particular prospect to chance. Cross-pollinate relationships – don’t rely on Bob alone to report on the people Bob brought to the gala – which will have the side benefit of assuring that Bob’s guests start to understand this is not only Bob’s personal passion but a movement supported by many.

Galas are truly worth the time and resources invested in them when they generate interest in the organization itself – which can then be cultivated towards gifts outside the gala in the future.

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