I am not a big fan of using galas to raise money. Never mind the potentially uncomfortable corners organizations paint themselves into (Event Planner: “Should we go with the gold-flecked mousse or the Tuscan Cheescake?” You, Executive Director of “PeopleGottaEat.Org: ”Seriously?”) Rather, I want to look at this from a pure ROI point of view which I’m convinced is far below many other activities. Nonprofits that hold an annual gala are generally overly dependent on them for operating support. In addition, the toll they take on staff and the Board’s time and resources is immense.
While galas are among my least favorite fundraising strategies, I am a big fan of the “salon” idea. At the salon invite a small group of 10-12 people to engage in an intimate dialogue. There may be some food, wine and a chance to socialize with your most promising partners but that’s certainly not the main attraction. The dialogue is the centerpiece. I like to hold these in someone’s home and they run about 3 hours. To focus the discussion ask people to consider a question before they arrive or give them something to read.
The goal is to get everyone talking on a deeper level. As an added benefit many ideas are generated. It is a simple yet tremendously powerful experience where people share and listen generously and roles and egos are left at the office. In this setting, people can truly explore their passions and get clarity on how they can be a part of a much larger story.