It’s January and for many non-profit groups that means event planning is in full-swing for this year’s galas.  Everybody loves a party, right?  A chance to get dressed up in your best clothes, have a couple cocktails and a decent dinner, dance the night away, all in the name of charity.

What most non-profits don’t think about though is WHY they are having the gala.  The automatic response always is “to raise money” but many times these events don’t raise enough money, and the opportunity costs make them that much more expensive.  But there are many other reasons to have these events, all just as important as fundraising.  Some questions to think about when you begin your planning are:

  1. Why – why am I having this event?  Is it to raise money?  Is it to honor someone?  Promote goodwill?
  2. What – what is not being worked on when the event is being planned?
  3. How – how am I going to do this?  Can the organization afford it?  Do we need to make money or simply break even?
  4. Who – who is this event for?  Are we inviting only donors (current and past) or is the event open to the community?

Having an event where the main objective is not specifically fundraising is perfectly acceptable.  But you need to know how that will differ from an event where making money is the target.  For example, an event promoting goodwill or honoring someone will probably have more comped tickets than a fundraising event.  If you’re raising money, then you want to limit your comps, otherwise you’re leaving money on the table.  This may also determine your budget.  For a fundraising event you want to maximize every dollar spent to get as much of a return on your money as possible.  For an event where fundraising isn’t the focus, while you still want to make and maintain a budget, simply breaking even may be the fiscal objective.

A big area overlooked when event planning begins is what ISN’T being done.  Many organizations think that if they have paid staff then any event planning they do is simply part of a day’s work.  What needs to be evaluated though is what that staff person isn’t doing if they are working on the event.  Is this someone who works on major gifts?  Cultivates high net-worth donors?  When this staff person does something other than what they were hired for, there is an opportunity cost of them working on the event.  The non-profit needs to be sure that another area isn’t suffering with this reduction of attention.

By taking the time to evaluate the goals of an event and how it is going to be done, any organization can ensure that they plan an event that everyone will be talking about for weeks after.

—Courtney Rheuban

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