Starkey’s marquee event that held headlines for years is changing. The 1600+ person event that will now be half that size - 800 people – is still a nice size gala! Trust me I've managed events in both of those sizes. This shakeup got me thinking as I do often about event galas and their purpose. Events are a heavy lift - from the little details of what to put on the salad to making sure there are enough parking spaces to match the flow of the entire evening. Events require focused execution and a team of people all working to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.
If you are thinking about doing an event or planning your organization’s annual function, here are a couple questions you should ask yourself.
1) What do I need to raise. Of course this is the first question but don't throw an unachievable number out there if you've never done a major event gala before. Think about what you need to actually raise to support your organization. After you figure out the number, build the plan working backward from that number to see if it's possible. You also need to factor in all expenses for fundraising.
2) What do I need to spend on this event? I see this regularly. Many organizations do not take into account the thousands of dollars it takes to put together a well-run event. Events cannot be planned by one person, they require a team. Add that to the budget! Events are NOT cheap. From the food to collateral, staffing and speakers, everything costs money and needs to be incorporated into the budget.
3) How much time and money is our target audience willing to spend for an event with our organization? At the end of the day, you need to have buyers which means you have to answer the question of who will want to buy a ticket and why. Talk to your best supporters and see what would interest them and if they would help sell the event.
4) Who is making the sale? Figure out who on your team is going to be selling your event. Is it your development director, executive director or someone on the board? Events don't just "happen." You have to call, email, meet, pitch, sell the why and follow-up on it all to sell tickets and sponsorships.
5) Do I need to bring in a special guest and what will that cost us? Speaker fees can be high and don’t necessarily translate into higher sales. You have to factor in that fee plus travel, lodging, food and other expenses. Many times the speaker will drive more in sales, but not always... My advice: work every day as if it’s possible but also plan every day as if it’s not.
Are planning the next big event/gala because “it's what we always do?" Evaluating these questions regularly will keep your events fresh and profitable.
1) What's the primary purpose of my fundraiser/gala? Obviously, it is always to raise more funds, but there are other reasons as well like forced collaboration, excitement with attendees and building up morale with your staff or best supporters. These are all good reasons to keep events if you can net a decent amount of money at the same time. As long as your net is high enough to spend on the mission of the organization, collaboration with likeminded supporters is always great and will help you with donor retention.
2) What does it cost and where can we improve to net more? With one of our previous clients, we adjusted ticket prices, added higher sponsorship levels based on what other organizations were doing and it worked! In all things you need to continuously improve. With another client earlier this year we reorganized the layout of the room for a major gala. It was one of the best events and added a nice touch for our speaker.
3) What are other organizations in the industry doing? We need to share best practices with each other! I regularly email other development directors with "hey I'm thinking of adding this to our event, has it worked for you."
I could go on and on about events - I joke that I hate them because they are a lot of work, but secretly there’s nothing better than a well-planned, well-executed successful event. When the event goes as planned - you get to celebrate at the end. Then wake up the next day and start planning the next one!