Question #2: How Can I Maximize ROI at our Annual Spring Gala?

[The strategic development firm that brought you “Eight Burning Questions for Eight Nights of Hanukkah” is back by popular demand with “The Four Fundraising Questions You Should Be Asking this Spring,” providing vital help for your fiscal campaign close.

RAISE Nonprofit Advisors utilizes its deep development and consulting experience to guide nonprofits through tough fundraising challenges, strengthening them and enabling them to achieve success. Before you sit down to the seder this year, tune in these next four days for a new question released each day. We hope these questions (and answers) will help guide you to a successful campaign close this summer, enabling your organization to better fulfill its mission.

To learn more about how we can help you achieve fundraising success this spring, visit us at or send an email to

Happy Passover!
The RAISE Nonprofit Advisors Team]


Question #2: How Can I Maximize ROI at our Annual Spring Gala?
By Michal Frankel, MPA

If an annual gala is a staple on your nonprofit’s calendar every spring, you are not alone. If you’ve decided to host a dinner as a last-ditch effort to reach a campaign goal, you are also not alone! Events require a real investment of resources, how can you make sure that you employ yours to maximize your development efforts before the summer break and ensure a strong return on investment (ROI).

1. Pay attention to people, not just dollars. In addition to raising new funds, events can broaden your donor pool. Honorees may be new prospects themselves, or they might bring new prospects connected to them, including family, friends and business associates. Choosing the right honoree is essential; they should be willing to leverage their networks in support of your organization. It is the fundraiser’s job to identify, research, and cultivate these new prospects so they become more than a “one and done” attendee at your dinner. Moreover, the event can be a great conversation opener for the next touchpoint.

2. Look for ahookto attract new prospects. An engaging activity or an exciting speaker makes it easier for your existing lay leaders to invite friends and new faces to a fun night out in support of a great cause. Inviting a friend or colleague to an exciting event is a much easier task than asking them to sit down to an in-person meeting with a development professional.

3. Events open the door to corporate sponsors. When it comes to events, corporations should be at the top of your list as they have high capacity and often have a predetermined budget set aside for charity. Honorees should include any connections they have with corporations along with their contact lists. Savvy nonprofits will also strategically approach select corporations whose products/target audience is in line with your event attendees and organizational mission.

4. Acknowledge donors. While collecting individualized ads and messages can be time consuming, the cost is minimal in comparison to how much you can bring in from a tribute journal or roll of honor. Recently, trends are leaning toward a digital journal and large screens listing donor names and levels, but if you go this route be sure to print out enough hard copies so that your honoree, dinner chairs, and your organization can always have one or two for memory’s sake and for reference for future planning.

5. Emotional stories raise money. People are most inclined to give when they feel a strong emotional connection. If beneficiaries of your organization’s services are able to attend, ask them to speak about how the organization has helped them, or show a moving two-minute video about your organization’s impact and have your most dynamic lay leader make a pitch immediately after. Depending on the organization and your crowd, this is an opportunity to do card calling/collect pre-assigned envelopes that were on attendee’s chairs/table and/or have a major donor stand up and make a matching gift offer.

6. People love to win. Holding a silent auction adds an element of fun to your event and is another opportunity to raise funds from the evening.

While lay leaders can often bring in a few items from their connections, and corporations may donate in-kind services or items, an interesting twist to the concept auction is utilizing handmade items from your nonprofit’s recipients. For example, if your organization supports children (local day school or social service program), have the recipients create handmade, one-of-a-kind artwork that can be displayed during your cocktail hour and subsequently put up for auction. This is a way to showcase your recipients and organization and also serve as another source of dollars raised at your event!

Another route to showcase your recipients is to have them serve as ushers at the event or even perform as your musical entertainment if they have that talent.

7. People love swag (especially when it is free). Leave your guests with something to remember you. You can build long-lasting goodwill with your donors by giving them a memorable and useful swag bag that will leave them feeling great about your organization. Any small gift works as long as it has your logo on it! A mug/water bottle or flash drive with your logo is an opportunity for you to keep your organization’s name and fundraising goal in the forefront of your attendees’ minds long after they leave your event and grabs you a spot in their home and daily lives. Moreover, branded swag is heightened brand awareness. When your donors place your car magnets on their bumpers, they’re spreading your name to new potential donor prospects.

8. Its not overtil you follow up. As stressful and time-consuming as a major event can be, it can be tempting to simply move after the big day. But if you’re not connecting with your community, following up and learning from your results, you are missing out.

  • Be sure to send a thank you email with pictures from your event to all RSVPs (attendees and those that donated but could not join) and hyperlink to your webpage and “donate now” button.
  • Don’t forget your corporations! Send thank you notes to your contact there and, if possible, to their supervisors as well. These relationships are just as important to maintain as those with individual donors.
  • Call and/or send a handwritten personal thank you to the honoree. Be sure to share with them a number of photos of them and their families. If you are able to, frame the best photo and hand deliver to them as another opportunity to say thank you after the event. If you don’t have a good photo, consider framing the event invitation with their name displayed.
  • Get some press! Try to get written up in a local newspaper or community publication. Having a great photo from the event and including some “movers and shakers” in your audience will help get you published. If you do indeed make it into your local newspaper, be sure to get a copy of it, laminate/frame it and send to your honoree. And save one for your organization too!
  • Set a goal for ten to twenty face-to-face meetings with prospects and donors who came to the event and continue the conversation with them about your organization and how they can help.
  • Asses success by measuring actual numbers against goals and after a team discussion, document what can be improved for next year or the next upcoming event. Make sure you track time spent organizing the event in addition to materials costs, as the cost of staff time is an important part of assessing a good ROI.

Michal Frankel is Director of Strategic Development at RAISE Nonprofit Advisors, a strategic development firm servicing nonprofits. Contact Michal at