Fundraising Results By the Numbers

“We decided to do a gala this year,” my former client was telling me.  “And our net profits are 10 times what our goal was.”

That sounds fantastic, until I asked a few pertinent questions, starting with, “Is this new money?  Or are you simply moving money from the annual fund, where the donor typically gives to the gala?”

If Joe typically gives you $2,500 a year for your end of the year appeal, but this year tells you to put that amount toward the gala instead, you actually have lost money. Costs to produce a gala are way higher than the cost of an appeal (or a phone call or coffee meeting with a loyal annual donor), and those costs eat into your net profits.

Moving money from one pot to another may make that second pot look good, but it really doesn’t do anything for your bottom line.

The next question will take at least another year to quantify, but it is an important measure: How much of the money that came in from new donors for the gala translates into ongoing support from that donor?  If Joan bought a ticket, a table, or even a sponsorship this year because a friend asked her to, or that friend was an honoree, was the purchase solely because of the friend or does Joan have any interest at all in what your organization does?  If the former, odds are, you will get that one-time gift and then never see hide nor hair of Joan again.

Finally, while there are reasons to have large special events, the fact remains that they cost a lot to produce, not just in the direct costs but in the very high indirect costs.

The time your development staff and your ED spends on the gala means that much LESS time to be spent on other kinds of fundraising and outreach.  The opportunity costs can be huge.

Of course, a big event offers much in the way of possibilities—if you work those.

I’m always surprised when fundraisers tell me how they can’t wait until the week after their special event because they will be on vacation for the following two weeks.  That’s crazy.  While you may have worked hard during the two or three months prior to the event, the real work—the profitable work—actually starts the day after the event.

Just a few things can make a huge difference:

  • A personal thank you note from the gala chair or the CEO to first time attendees, thanking them for being there. And then, in a few weeks, a personal invitation from the letter writer to take a tour, come for coffee, have a meeting to share the results of the gala and what it will mean to the organization.
  • Another personal note to loyal donor, telling them how their support over the years has meant. This is also a good time to remind them that as important as their support for the gala was, their general support is equally (if not more so) critical for the work that the organization does.

This is also a time to run some lists and figure out strategies for bringing these event attendees closer:

  • Who, of your gala attendees, is also a current donor?
  • A former/lapsed donor (haven’t made a gift for at least a year before this gala)

For these cohorts, drill down further and look at the date of the last gift, the amount, the purpose of that gift and the total number of years as a donor.

From this information, you can create both group and—where appropriate—specific stewardship steps that are geared to move non-donors to becoming donors; low end donors to become mid-level donors and mid-level to either increase their gifts and/or become major gift prospects.

No matter how successful you think your event has been, you can make it even more successful by considering it a move in donor journey rather than simply a stop along the way.


Janet Levine moves nonprofits from mired to inspired by helping them to increase their fundraising results and empower, engage and energize their boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and for a free 30-minute consultation.



About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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