Justin Waldrop
Apr 3, 2023

5 Surprising Reasons to Ditch the Gala and Boost Donor Engagement

Rethinking Fundraising

As the fundraising season approaches, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of large and expensive annual fundraisers. We’ve all been to those lavish galas, and while they might make for a memorable night, there’s growing evidence that they can harm community support and donor engagement. I’ve compiled a list of five significant concerns, backed by 21st-century, peer-reviewed studies, that help to explain why these events might not be the best way to raise funds for a cause. Let’s dive in.

  1. Inefficient use of resources: Sargeant and Jay (2014) found that the more money spent on organizing events, the less net funds are available for the actual cause. Donors want their money to make a difference, not be spent on extravagant parties.
  2. Diminished trust: Trust is crucial for donor engagement, and according to Lavidge (2012), expensive fundraisers can make organizations seem less trustworthy. The glitz and glamour can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.
  3. Diversion of staff time: Saxton et al. (2017) discovered that when staff focuses on planning fundraisers, they have less time for the organization’s core work. This can lead to a drop in community support and satisfaction.
  4. Short-term focus: Worth et al. (2016) argue that prioritizing immediate financial returns can undermine the organization’s ability to build lasting relationships with donors. We must think about the long game, not just the next quarter.
  5. Inequitable distribution of resources: Rooney et al. (2005) found that fundraisers targeting high-net-worth individuals can exacerbate social inequalities. We should strive for a more inclusive approach that serves everyone, not just the wealthy.

So, as we gear up for another fundraising season, let’s keep these concerns in mind. Recent shifts in donor acquisition and retention numbers suggest that major fundraising events are less effective than we once thought. Rather than doubling down on glitzy galas, let’s explore alternative strategies that prioritize long-term impact, trust-building, and inclusivity. After all, our goal is to make a lasting difference, not just throw a great party.

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