Do big events mean big money?

One of the things we want GoodCause to examine is whether the expense and effort required to produce big events is worth the return of donations and money raised from the event.

A post on The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s blog, Give and Take (I put the feed on my blog, bottom left) notes Newsday and Don’t Tell the Donor ask the same question.

I’ve helped put together some of these big events, and I can tell you – as can a lot of people who work for nonprofits – that they’re not always the biggest bang for your buck. At least not directly. When I talk about big events, I’m talking about galas in particular, but it can mean golf tournaments or concerts, too. It’s a lot of work to put on these mutual-admiration-society parties, and they don’t always bring in the big money you’d hope.

But maybe we should consider the indirect support they earn the nonprofit. Maybe after tickets sales and auction bids and checks written at the table are all tallied up, the number only just covers the expenses. But what are some of the other positive outcomes?

For one, I know it can be a lot of fun for the regular supporters of that nonprofit to get dressed up and pat each other on the back a bit. There’s definitely value in that. Everyone likes to be recognized for the work they do, and it’s big boost to the organization’s morale to celebrate for a night.

Secondly the publicity and buzz around the event can help raise the organization’s stature in the community. Who hasn’t heard of the Heart Ball (benefiting the American Heart Association) or the Jewel Ball (benefiting the Austin Symphony)?

Thirdly, they involve more people than most people think. Consider that gala planning committees can include about 100 people – 100 people who are then committed to that nonprofit for life, most likely. Also, think about those galas that manage to solicit a few hundred silent-auction items from local businesses, that now are aware of the nonprofit and its mission if they weren’t before. There’s also all the caterers, slide-show creators, ballgown sellers, hotels, valets, hairdressers, tailors, bartenders, musicians, impersonators, golf resorts, A/V specialists… all of them learning a little bit more about the nonprofit behind the event.

Any and all of these can have a positive impact on the nonprofit long after the glitter from the gala’s been swept off the dance floor.

Yes, there are more efficient ways to raise money. But to think of these events only in terms of how much money they raise that night is to sell them short.


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