The YWCA Salute Luncheon

Transforming board culture and sponsor relationships for exponential fundraising growth

Results at a Glance


  • The YWCA of the City of New York partnered with The Wakeman Agency to revitalize the YW’s Salute Luncheon.
  • Completely overhauled and executed a signature event in fewer than four months
  • Exceeded goal for funds raised by 15%
  • Increased giving at the event
  • Initiated a fundraising model the YW still uses today
  • Coached the Board of Directors into a more active fundraising role
  • Partnered on the event for five years, increasing fundraising year over year

The Organization and Challenge

The Salute Luncheon, the YW’s annual signature fundraising event, has brought together corporate sponsors and community leaders for more than four decades to nominate senior women leaders into its Women’s Leadership Academy. The proceeds from the event fund a significant part of the YW’s annual operational budget, making the luncheon a critical event for the organization’s success.

In recent years, increased competition in the marketplace by other organizations focused on women and girls impacted the YW’s revenues. With fundraising events trending upwards and more nonprofits coming to rely on special events to reach their annual fund goals, the Salute Luncheon struggled to stay a priority and relevant to corporate sponsors and donors.

The YW’s tasked The Wakeman Agency to examine how the YW could maintain existing relationships and create new ones to support its fundraising goals while also celebrating and empowering YWCA women leaders.

YWCA empowering women

Planning a Signature Event in Less than Four Months

Like many nonprofits, the YW’s small development team struggled to manage the scope of such a large event with their limited resources. When they enlisted The Wakeman Agency’s support, they had less than four months to organize the Salute Luncheon—an effort that usually takes a year of planning.

Having coached many organizations on events strategy and execution, The Wakeman Agency called upon its breadth of experience to assess the YW’s needs. After a quick analysis, The Wakeman Agency identified immediate improvements to the YW’s event communications, planning process, and donor strategy.

Establishing a Sustainable Events Model

The Wakeman Agency understood the necessity of not just executing an event, but formulating an effective event and fundraising model the YW could adopt and implement for years to come.

The Wakeman Agency’s special events department stepped in to fill the resource void at the YW, becoming an extension of their team and working seamlessly to execute a successful event. The Wakeman team understood the YW’s needs and rallied to:

  • Establish a project management process
  • Consult on best practices and industry trends
  • Identify gaps and opportunities in planning
  • Create strategic messaging and events materials
  • Recommend honorees
  • Introduce cultivation strategies for lapsed donors
  • Outline new goals and strategies for increasing revenue
  • Turning insights into connection

Tapping into their long-standing history within the nonprofit landscape, The Wakeman Agency provided the YW with insight into other events in the market. This gave them an opportunity to evaluate new approaches. The Salute Luncheon’s success relied on connecting corporate sponsors to the mission and ethos of the YW. Thinking thoughtfully about the significance of the event to donors paved the way for new ideation and branding. Resonating with the priorities of corporate donors strengthened their connection to the cause and created relationships and support beyond just the event.

Rethinking the Donor Relationship

Like most nonprofits, the YW only reached out to donors during fundraising periods. This meant corporate sponsors only heard from the YW once a year, when the luncheon approached. The Wakeman Agency saw an opportunity to strengthen these relationships and created a model for continuous corporate sponsor engagement throughout the year.

Helping the YW rethink how they approached relationships with corporate partners created a pathway for corporations to be active participants in the event revitalization process. To help donors feel more involved, they sought feedback on the Salute Luncheon, which had the dual benefit of improving the event experience and creating more meaningful relationships between the YW and sponsors. The results of these meetings generated a new strategy. The Wakeman Agency developed a “Road Show” approach for sponsors’ input, and engaged them as true stakeholders.

Transforming Board Culture

Encouraging the YW to change its expectations around the Board of Directors’ responsibilities had a tremendous financial impact. The Wakeman Agency is always looking for opportunities for advancement and saw huge potential in leveraging the board as a fundraising resource.

Focusing on the event’s brand positioning, The Wakeman Agency outlined a strategic outreach approach for the YW’s board members. The back-office support and resources provided by The Wakeman Agency empowered the YW’s board to leverage their powerful network. The new messaging and strategy helped them feel more confident interacting with sponsors. This effort transformed the board members into powerful event advocates, and major stakeholders in the success of the YW’s fundraising initiatives.

A Lasting Impact on Fundraising and Events

The resulting Salute Luncheon was an astounding success. The Wakeman Agency’s intention and vision for the event maximized the giving in the room. The energy, excitement, and donations accrued far surpassed any previous event. This resulted in and exceeded the YW’s fundraising goals by 15%, delivering a tremendous boost to the organization’s annual operating budget.

By challenging the YW to take a branded approach and adopt a more strategic events model, The Wakeman Agency transformed the Salute Luncheon into the fulcrum of the YW’s fundraising efforts. Equipping the YW’s small development team with the right resources to plan an event of this scale empowered the YW to work efficiently, and allowed them to focus more on building relationships with corporate donors.

Seeing the ROI from working with The Wakeman Agency, the YW continued to partner with us on its annual Salute Luncheon for five years. Ongoing improvements to their process and messaging resulted in increased revenue year over year. Collaborating with The Wakeman Agency not only revitalized the YW’s Salute Luncheon, but transformed the culture of fundraising as it relates to events.

Schedule a confidential consultation to learn how our strategic communications offerings can elevate your organization’s impact.