Gala Fatigue

By Vanessa Wakeman

I love a gala just as much as the next girl and possibly more. My agency has had the good fortune to serve as event planners for fundraising galas of many shapes and sizes and we have loved every minute of it. But in a city with so many deserving charities and a limited pool of donors, I have a nagging question that won’t go away– is there another way? I think in a time not too far away we will see gala fatigue; the point at which well meaning supporters and individual donors will cease to attend galas because they have seen it all and are exhausted by the over exposure for these important yet frequent events.fundraising gala

It’s common to get a whisper in the ear from a board member or donor saying “I’m so tired of attending galas.” I’d take it personally except for the fact that it’s not only at events that we’re planning that I hear this, but at those where I’m a guest as well.

The idea of doing away with a proven revenue stream is not a conversation that neither I nor any other planner would dare broach with our clients, but the question remains on my mind. Is there another way?

Report after report shows that funding is being cut for important programs, meaning that nonprofits’ reliance on events to make up the shortage and in some cases keep the lights on will only increase. My fear is that as demand increases nonprofits will find it even more competitive and challenging to keep galas as a reliable funding source.

Of course there is a faction of charities that don’t warrant my concerns. I’m not talking about the charitable events of the super sized nonprofits that have national recognition and the budget to match. I’m worried about the small to medium sized nonprofits that are providing much needed resources in our communities that don’t have the same level of exposure as the larger organizations.

The impact of the current economic climate isn’t lost on me and I do understand that it is also a contributing factor to creating a smaller donor pool.

With crowdsourcing and online appeals, social media savvy organizations are finding success online with fundraising. But I’m not sure if there is enough success to replace the dollars that typically result in a strong, emotional in-person ask. You know the kind that gets even the most conservative guest to fill out a donation card or the button to text to pledge.

Indulge me for a moment of fantasy; what if new legislation was passed that said we were no longer allowed to host galas in New York as a fundraiser event. How would organizations fundraise? Are there alternatives? Is anyone doing anything new? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that people are moving slower with less interest, showing signs of fatigue, gala fatigue.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.