This week’s blog is by our good friend, Alizah Epstein, who is the Founder and CEO of the Epstein Creative Group. Alizah’s firm supports mission-driven organizations that improve their communities, especially those nonprofits that focus on women’s and children’s issues. In this post, Alizah shares some great insights for curing fundraising event fatigue.
Break the Gala Mold
It’s the time of year where nonprofits get down to business with planning their upcoming fundraising galas and events. With it comes expectations of donning cocktail attire, sitting down to a plated three-course dinner, and listening to sponsor speeches that ask attendees to reach into their pockets to support a cause.
It’s no secret that in order for a nonprofit to thrive, it needs the financial support of donors and the public. Large-scale events, like a gala, are major drivers of these donations, and the dinner gala formula has withstood the test of time. Most of us have attended a gala at some point in our lifetime and we know the basic drill. Serve cocktails, seat guests at a large round table, commence your event program of speeches and constituent highlights, serve dinner, requests for donations, and then call it a night.
More and more nonprofits, however, are beginning to break this mold. We’ve outlined some easy ways you can freshen up your next fundraising event:
Location is Everything
Close your eyes and envision the last gala you attended. Odds are you’re recalling a large windowless banquet hall (probably in a hotel) with blank walls and bland color schemes that don’t leave an impression. Think outside the banquet hall routine by considering hosting your event at a local museum or aquarium. More often than not these locations offer event space that will provide a unique backdrop. Bland banquet halls will blend together in your attendees’ memories, but who will be able to forget that they enjoyed a cocktail and danced in front of a massive tank while sharks swam behind them?
Spice Up Your Menu
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized at a gala by a bland chicken entrée with lukewarm veggies on the side. We’ll fill you in on a little secret-you’re not alone. Provide attendees with the food they’ll want to eat. Create food stations throughout your event space that gives your attendees options and the power to build their own plate. Food bars are always ‘in’ and can be used to strategically tie-in to your theme. Hosting a fiesta themed event? Have a ‘build your own taco bar’ for guests. Not only does this provide variety for your attendees but cut down on food waste when you let attendees select what they WANT to eat.
Keep ‘Em Busy
Don’t give your attendees the opportunity to get bored at your event. You want them there for the entirety of the evening—engaged and excited every step of the way. Ideas to help you achieve this and ensure you don’t lose attendees during your event’s program include:
- A silent auction
- Photo booths or a step-and-repeat
- Live music and dancing
- Have a designated area where partner businesses or sponsors can set up booths for attendees to stop by
- Activity stations- i.e. life-size Jenga, massage areas, caricature artists, tea-leaf readings, and more.
Just make sure the activities you go with are appropriate for your audience and theme. When people are having fun the time flies and they won’t want the night to come to an end!
Ditch the Gala Entirely
There’s no law that says as a nonprofit you MUST host a dinner gala for supporters. There are so many different types of events you can plan that doesn’t involve putting on a black tie or cocktail dress and sitting down at a large table to a three-course dinner. Peak your audiences’ interest and appeal to different demographics when you offer event alternatives like a:
- Fashion show
- Casino night
- Themed 5k or other physical activity
- Golf tournament
- Local celebrity chef cook-off
These are just a few examples of the many different types of events you could host as an alternative to a gala. Know your audience and what would appeal most to them.
Organizations are beginning to recognize that when you create an event that leaves attendees’ engaged, excited, and having fun you astronomically increase their feelings of goodwill and generosity. Create an experience that will have them itching to attend your next fundraising event and WANTING to support your cause with the help of the ideas we’ve laid out.
What was the best gala event you went to and why? Do you have any other suggestions to share? I would love to hear from you.