Execution Matters – Efficacious Galas, Fundraisers and Events

Execution Matters – Efficacious Galas, Fundraisers and Events

While the primary objective of Gala Events and Fundraisers is to delight and enthrall the specially invited guests…and encourage them to donate money, whether it be the $1,000 per plate fee to attend, or the check written after the first round of aperitifs, there are multifaceted considerations aside from the wine and fare.  Many aspects of Gala execution are like any other business conference.

Whether attendees are spending $1,000 for dinner to raise money for charity, or purchasing a $1,000 pass for a conference, they have similar expectations, and the event planner has similar opportunities:

  1. The attendees are there because they have chosen to be there. They arrive prepared to engage.  The audience is present and open to suggestion.  The current event is the perfect opportunity to market services, products and future events.  Consider revenue opportunities that offer equivalent, genuine value to the audience.
  2. Nurture and validate engagement. Understand the expectations that the attendees have, whether it be entertainment or education, and deliver it.
  3. Guests are your greatest opportunity for growth.  They are testing the waters.  Inspire them.  Their needs go beyond the one-day experience.  They need to envision what the benefit would be for them if they did engage.  Give them a reason to join now, attend again, or donate in the future.
  4. A lovely time at the current event is a start, but to get them back again, you have to hook them. Keep them involved.  They need to walk away feeling that not only did they learn something this time, but that there is much more to learn next time.
  5. Take attendees out of their comfort zone. So many events offer more of the same – medical conference feature doctors, accounting conferences offer CPA’s…. Memorable conferences that draw attendees and benefactors year after year go beyond the expected.  Offer something out-of-the ordinary, a special keynote speaker, workshop or activity that peaks the interest of attendees and makes them stretch their knowledge or experiences.
  6. Fresh Ideas. The best events should be the topic of conversation at the water cooler.  Too often events boast but don’t inspire. Internal planners know too much of their own thing and don’t stir excitement in others.  Bringing in an outside planner can create a completely new viewpoint and give the event new life.


Lynn McCary, President of Lynn McCary Events which manages world class Galas, provides some tips on how events can reinvent themselves and continually improve.

  1. Tell your story. Attendees and benefactors understand what you are doing…but you need to tell them WHY.  Lynn shared about a group that worked to get wrongfully accused people out of prison.  The “what” brought a few donations.  However, once they started telling the stories behind the stories, the impact they were having on the people and their families, the human interest, the WHY,  financial support skyrocketed.
  2. Technology blinders. Today’s technology makes the physical creation of video and PowerPoint easy to throw together, even for the inexperienced.  The ease of technology can diminish inspiration.  Lynn has found that these “in house” productions, while quick and cheap, can lack professional quality, depth of impact and breadth of creativity.
  3. It is easy to overwhelm your audience.  Sometimes organizations overshare with an endless stream of media traffic. They put out so much content and tell so many stories that it becomes white noise.  Instead of trying to be all things, spotlight on a single topic. Try highlighting one program from multiple angles instead bouncing around between unrelated areas.
  4. People should feel challenged, not simply managed.  Take them outside of their regular space.  Grow and expand with external viewpoints – change views, tell the story, and then let them know how they can participate.  You should hear “I never knew that” when you offer challenges.  Maybe give them a cause. Add philanthropy.  Make sure they experience an “ah-ha moment.”  It is tempting to stay in the safety zone and only validate what they already know.  Some validation is okay…but challenging attendees will enhance their experience.  Some will roll their eyes, others will have their eyes opened.
  5. Attract new members/new attendees. Assure prospects experience three types of people at your event:
  6. People who are relatable “She’s like me. I fit in here.”
  7. People who embody better versions of themselves – “if I join this group, I can become

like her.”

  1. What they, themselves bring to the table.  “If I join, I can offer them an

aspect of my personal expertise.”

  1. Stand Out!  Consider a professional agency for fresh eyes.  Your event is not the only one out there.  Others are battling for the same audience you want.  You need to stay fresh. Agencies know what works and what’s new in the industry.
  2. Hold events on a regular basis. Lynn has seen groups cut back to every other year consequently damaging their ongoing event success.  For example some fundraisers “don’t want to ask too often” so they throw bi-annual galas.  However, people are creatures of habit and tend to make annual donations.  Unless your event is in their routine, their donations will go elsewhere.
  3. Human Connection. Allow time for networking. Allow for downtime.  Don’t overschedule every minute.  Attention will drift if attendees don’t have free time to take a moment, have a conversation or check their device.
  4. Professional event planners can get you the best bang for the buck through efficiency.  They already work with vendors and don’t have to search for every aspect of the event.  In-house staff who run events as an addendum responsibility have to learn and research as they go, potential turning a lower hourly rate into a higher overall bill.


For more information about how to run effective not-for-profit and fundraiser gala events, visit http://lynnmccaryevents.com/.