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Does Your Nonprofit’s Signature Event Have To Be A Gala?

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Great Fundraising Events: From Experience to Transformation.

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Everyone loves to be part of an extraordinary experience. Just ask a friend about their best vacation, restaurant or entertainment outing ever.

How many would recount their time at a typical, formal nonprofit gala?

When putting on a special event for your nonprofit, it should be your goal to deliver a unique experience – one that sticks with the attendee for years to come – and not just do a little better than break even on the costs.

Here are a few ideal outcomes to shoot for:

  • Your BRAND will be intensified
  • People will be EXCITED to come
  • Volunteers will FLOCK to help
  • Sponsors will LINE-UP
  • People will REMEMBER and SHARE the experience all year long
  • Publicity will be EASY
  • You might be able to CANCEL your other events
  • Your mission will be FULLY FUNDED

Can a gala achieve these? Absolutely!

But if you have yet to define what your nonprofit’s signature event will be, consider looking beyond the standard black-tie-optional fare.

Discovering your signature event

Contemplate for a few minutes just how powerful it could be to combine your charity’s knowledge, passion and mission with an event that is considered so unique that no one would dare miss it.

To achieve this, set your sights on thinking outside the box as you brainstorm what your signature event will be.

A quick Google search for “signature event ideas” will turn up dozens of ideas to discuss at your board or committee meetings. You will most likely not find the exact one that aligns with your mission and your constituency. However, there is an excellent chance one of those ideas will easily morph into such a perfect blend.

Take, for example, the American Lung Association’s “Fight for Air Climb” or the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites’ “Indiana Spirits” – both of which creatively transform one aspect of their mission into an interactive experience.

Would such benefits be worth the effort to create a truly special and different signature event for your nonprofit? What would it mean to never have to see the absolute terror in the eyes of your board members when they are told they must each fill ten seats at a gala table?

Please share in the comment section below what your nonprofit’s signature event is and why it works. And if it’s a gala, let me know what keeps people excited year after year.

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  • Bonnie Martin

    LaCasa, Inc. is a community housing development organization. Our signature event is Help-A-House. We spend 3 months raising support from local sponsors. On the second Saturday in May we hold the event with 330 volunteers, both professional contractors and non professionals, to fix up the homes of low income homeowners. New roofs, windows, porches, wheelchair ramps happen on that day. We work to make the homes safe and energy efficient and partner with the City of Goshen to identify the homes that need to be worked on. We usually work on 10 owner occupied homes and 8 of LaCasa's affordable rentals. Locals have been volunteering for this event for 25 years.
  • Catherine Lynch

    The Woman's Board of the Alliance Française de Chicago holds a black tie gala every two years. The event is part of the social calendar of the great city of Chicago and is planned over a year by WB volunteers. The silent and live auctions features unique French experiences The event gathers about 550 people with sit down diner around an elegant and carefully executed theme. The event is financially and experientially successful because of its careful planning, the extraordinary commitment of our board and guests and the dedication of the WB volunteers and let's admit it: Chicago likes a great party.
  • Amy Eisenstein

    Jay - great post! I'm currently working with a domestic violence agency on planning an event where guests get to "walk in the shoes" of their clients. There will be a station where guests get to listen to/experience a 911 call, etc. Can't wait to hear what others are doing.
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