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What To Do About Deja Vu Events

Continuing The Conversation: November 2013

How many times have you gone to a nonprofit event and thought: déjà vu all over again.

From my experience, it’s far too often. In fact, not long ago, a contributor to many good causes articulated to me the heretical idea to combine the local annual galas into one big lollapalooza. After all, went the logic, they’re basically the same.by Gary Giddens

Naturally budgets are a factor. There are dollar limits that corral creativity. But just blaming a sameness of venue and menu doesn’t get to what’s missing.

In the midst of these musings I received a gala invitation, which I read with fresh eyes. What popped out first were the honorees, the committee, dinner, dancing, auction. Yes, the organization’s name was in large type. But if a gala is the culmination of a nonprofit’s year, what was being recognized beyond the honored individuals? Finally, at the bottom of one page was a hint: a one-sentence statement of where the gala proceeds would go. Yet even the statement lacked an emotional punch that would compel attendance to support the organization’s work.

That was my eureka moment. What’s missing at the heart of too many events: the case for support. It’s your organizational story told as a subtle call to action. How to make a strong case for support was the subject of my previous blog. (If you missed it, please go to the archive and access the link.)

 Your organization as host and honoree

Present your event first as recognizing your nonprofit’s cause and accomplishments. Spotlight your organization as both gala host and honoree.

Start with the invitation. Put your case for support front and center. Invite attendees to join in applauding your milestones reached this year, along with those within and outside your organization who made each achievement happen.

As you organize the event, consider how to tell your nonprofit’s “story” to the assembled guests in an upbeat and memorable way. Use your gala to highlight where and how donors have advanced your organization’s impact – and how gala proceeds will continue it.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying that outstanding community members should not be honored at events. And I know firsthand that gala planning is hard work and deserves to be acknowledged. It’s not a choice between thanks or no thanks. The issue is priorities.

We don’t celebrate enough in the nonprofit world. More often we’re focused on needs to be met. Plan your gala to illuminate your organization’s successes. That will separate your event from every other – and set the stage for meeting next year’s challenges with energy and optimism.

Looking to develop a case for support and more distinctive events? Let’s talk.