It’s Party Time!

I’m conflicted about nonprofit special events. 

On the one hand, organizations are often fuzzy about the objectives behind a special event. Staff is often not quite sure if the event is to raise money and, if so, how much? Or, is the event to attract media attention? Is it to build new relationships? You get the idea. Also, events require a great deal of effort, often for only a modest monetary return even if the objective was specifically to bring in the dollars.

On the other hand, I recognize that special events can indeed raise much needed dollars. And, events can raise awareness and develop or redevelop vital relationships.

The bottom-line for me is that nonprofit special events can be worthwhile if they are carefully planned and implemented. And, a healthy dose of creativity doesn’t hurt, either.

That brings me to an event that caught my eye during my weekly routine-reading of The Jewish Exponent. I was turning the page when I came across an advertisement. The ad only took up about two-fifths of a page. Yet, two things immediately jumped out. Across the top of the ad, a banner stated, “Special Alumni Offer.” In the body of the ad, the boldfaced headline read, “Gratz Gala.”

Despite opting for less than a full-page ad, the organization successfully captured my attention. And, that’s particularly impressive considering that I’ve never had any affiliation with Gratz College or its high school. There’s an important lesson here:

With a smartly designed ad and good placement, you don’t always need to pay for a full-page to have a big impact.

The other lesson is:

You don’t need a lot of words to make your point.

In just five words, I learned that Gratz College was having a gala event and that alumni were being offered something special. The rest of the ad provided some worthwhile details. Very importantly, the ad also provided the actual name of someone to contact and her email address.

People are far more likely to contact your organization if they are given an actual person with whom to communicate.

People are more reluctant to reach-out to a faceless institution or just a job title.

I give Gratz high marks for its simple, yet effective ad. I also give them high marks for setting clear objectives for the gala which I learned more about when I contacted Gratz. The staff recognized the need to use this third annual event to raise needed funds. This year, the gala benefits Gratz High School/Jewish Community High School, part of Gratz College. But, the staff also recognized that this year’s revamped gala was a great opportunity to reconnect with alumni, many of whom Gratz does not have current contact information for. That’s one reason that Gratz purchased the ad space.

Tickets for the gala were $125 per person. In order to encourage the participation of younger folks, Gratz offered discounted tickets, at $75, to those under 40 years of age. To involve alumni and to help find “lost” alumni, Gratz got a donor to underwrite part of the cost of alumni tickets so that they could be offered at a special rate of $36.

While a tally of gala results was not available as I posted this article, I did learn that there were approximately 140 attendees at the event, almost half of whom are alumni. And, many of those alumni who attended were folks reconnecting with Gratz for the first time.

Gratz has done a good job of using its gala as a both a fundraiser and a relationship builder.

I also want to point out that Gratz handled the special offer to alumni with particular skill.

When an organization discounts an event, program, or membership, it essentially devalues it. And, it runs the risk of making those who paid full price feel like suckers. This was not the case with the Gratz gala. In this case, the organization made it very clear that the special offer was being paid for by an anonymous donor.

In other words, the gala was a $125 event. Gratz did not discount tickets. In reality, the anonymous donor was covering part of the ticket cost for alumni.

I’ll conclude by thanking Beth Schonberger of the Office of Institutional Advancement at Gratz. The gala was May 3. I contacted Beth on May 3. Despite having to deal with last minute arrangements, and despite the fact that I was not representing a major media outlet, Beth took some precious minutes to talk with me. While I could hear the stress in her voice, she was nothing but gracious and responsive to me. This brings me to the final lesson of this post:

Be prepared to deal with the media. Whoever they are and whenever they contact you, be prepared to respond to media requests.

The media will help you get your message out. But, they can’t help you unless you first help them.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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4 Comments to “It’s Party Time!”

  1. If you read my first blog entry, “If it is Spring, It must be Event Season,” http://cnrg-portland.org/content/if-it-spring-it-must-be-event-season, you know that we are on the same page when it comes to fundraising events. They do take a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of money. For the investment an organization has to make, the rewards are not always as big as one would like or hope for. They are good for bringing new donors in the door for an organization, but the nonprofit needs to remember to follow up with the donors and cultivate the relationships to make them grow and, unfortunately, that often is not the case.

    Events can be good for getting your nonprofit in the public eye, and that is helpful when trying to attract more donors, but it is not the only way to raise money and support. Relying on events to be your main source of income is not a wise idea, but events can be a component of a well balanced development plan.

    • Richard, thank you for mentioning the need for follow-up after an event. Stewardship is an essential part of the development process. While staff will certainly want to breathe a giant sigh of relief following a successful event, it is important for them to quickly follow-up with folks to continue to develop the relationship. That includes being in contact with attendees, donors, sponsors, and volunteer leaders. A post-event word of thanks is always a nice touch. Letting folks know about the degree of success of the event, particularlly sponsors, is also a good idea. Ah, a development professional’s work is never done.

      I also thank you for sharing the link to your blog post over at the Community Nonprofit Resource Group site.

  2. I think that this is a very neat idea, Michael! I enjoyed reading about Gratz and I always enjoy learning from what other organizations and fundraisers are doing!

    • Sylvia, thank you for commenting. I’m glad to know you liked what Gratz did. Learning from others about what works and what does not can save us a lot of time and trial-and-error experimentation. It’s good to be part of a sharing community.

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