Cause Connection: Converting Gala Attendees into Passionate Evangelists

You’re standing on the stage in the middle of your major fundraising gala, surveying the room. The main honoree is about to speak, and all eyes are riveted on the podium.  It’s a packed house, 400 people or so, and you’re basking in the glow of so many passionate supporters of your organization’s cause, people who really get what you do and are going to help spread the word.  Right?

Not so fast.  Before drinking the Kool-Aid, you need to face a few facts. Of those 400 people, maybe 10-15% are in fact passionate supporters, evangelists for your cause. The rest are attending because they know someone on the committee, do business with the honoree, are filling out a corporate table, or some other dispassionate reason.

The formula for most galas is the same: speech, speech, speech, video, speech, speech, with a nice meal and possibly an auction or performance thrown in.  Not exactly a road map for emotionally reaching into the hearts of ALL attendees and converting them to fervent believers in what you do. 

To be truly successful, fundraising events need to get attendees to really understand on an empathetic level what you do, so they can deeply connect with your cause. And a number of smart event organizers are doing just that.  Here are two of the organizations we profiled in our ebook: Fundraising Impact: Connecting Your Audience To Your Mission.

One of my favorites is charity:water. Telling an audience that people spend 40 billion hours in Africa every year just walking to collect water doesn’t do much.  People simply can’t relate to what that’s like. Charity: water created a runway at its events where guests are encouraged to carry a standard 40 pound jerry can of water a mere 50 yards or so.  Guests are amazed how heavy the can is, and how hard it is to lug it just a short distance. Something clicks in their heads, and they realize it’s not right for people to have to work so hard for something so basic we all take for granted. Think that helps people understand what they do better than a speech?

Another great example is New York Common Pantry, on Manhattan’s upper east side.  NYCP has found that once someone goes to their pantry, they “get” what they do and become much more passionate supporters. Since most of the high end donors attending their annual gala had not been to the pantry, NYCP brought the pantry to the gala, setting up an assembly line of groceries and having guests pack bags for customers.  Here again, this relatively simple exercise went a long way in having guests leave the event much more emotionally vested in the organization’s mission.

There are lots of ways non profits can raise money, all of which can communicate facts and statistics.  None of them, however, offers the experiential element that live events do.  A person can’t feel what it’s like to carry a heavy jerry can from reading an ad, nor can they experience what it’s like to have to rely on donations for basic groceries from a direct mail piece.  Only events give us these fully immersive opportunities, and far too few non profit organizations take advantage of them.  Most marketers at major brands would kill to have prospective customers locked in a room for three or four hours.  We take this amazing opportunity for granted.

What do you do to connect your audience to your event’s mission or cause? Comment below! 

Author: Howard Givner is the Founder & Executive Director of the Event Leadership Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

Cause Connection: Converting Gala Attendees into Passionate Evangelists