Anyone who has ever organized, worked, or volunteered for a gala knows what an immense amount of work goes in behind the scenes to execute the spectacular celebration that your donors have come to know and love. Luckily, the payoff has the potential to be big—in addition to being a fundraising event, with the right research, you can also use your gala as a moment for donor cultivation and stewardship.
3 Weeks Out: Begin your research! Once you have amassed a substantial list of gala attendees, be they people in your network and the guests of your board or committee, submit those names for research. You will likely need to provide an address or email address to help the person doing the research verify the subject of their search—whether it is outsourced to a company like Donorly or taken care of in house. With enough lead time, this process can be ongoing right up to the days before the event when your lists are being finalized.
Keep it simple—figure out what two or three pieces of information will be most useful for you. Here are some examples:
Where do they work?
Where do they serve on boards?
Where did they go to school?
What are their pronouns?
How many children do they have?
What city do they live in?
Once you have a gala bio written for someone, you will be able to save time by giving it a quick refresh the next time that donor attends an event at your organization, rather than needing to write it from scratch.
1 Week Out: Review your gala bios with your leadership team. Who at your organization needs to be doing the work on the floor of making your donors feel acknowledged and appreciated? Whether you recruit your board members to do this, or utilize your senior management, make sure they have a chance before the day of the event to review the results of your research and consider what, if any, specific conversations need to happen at the event. These conversations may be informed by anything you have learned in the bio-writing process. Do they need to be congratulated on a promotion or retirement? Do their other interests suggest they should be invited for a site visit? Do they need to be approached by a particular board or staff member because of a shared connection? This is the time to make those decisions.
The Day of the Event: Provide your leadership team with discrete lists of bios and/or a list that quickly reminds them who they have been assigned to talk to, and why. This can be formatted digitally to scroll easily on their smart phone, it can be sized to fit on a single index card, or it can be put in the hands of a staff member or trusted volunteer who is in charge of directing your leadership team members’ movements throughout the room for the night.
Having this kind of information at hand when talking to donors at your gala not only makes them feel valued and acknowledged, it makes the donor relationship personal and authentic, paving the way for future fruitful conversations with someone who will hopefully become a strong advocate for your organization.