Meredith Hilt is no zombie

So, we’ve all had a lot of fun this week talking about the City of Elgin’s upcoming zombie-inspired Nightmare on Chicago Street, using this Halloween event to shed some light on the serious nonprofit subjects of return on investment, volunteerism and special event fundraising. I wanted to end the week talking about the same things, but in a kinder and gentler way. So, I invited Meredith Hilt to be a guest blogger today.

Meredith has her own blog on WordPress — “mhilt” — that focuses on corporate giving and sustainability. Recently, she posted a blog that addressed Seth Godin’s recent event-critical blog post titled “Gala Economics“. After reading Meredith’s post, I knew I couldn’t have said it better. She really brings some balance to what I’ve been saying all week and sums everything up nicely. So, I invited her to re-publish her post here on DonorDreams, and she graciously accepted. Let’s learn a little more about Meredith before reading what she has to say about Seth Godin’s opinion on Gala Economics and special event fundraising.

Meet Meredith Hilt . . . She is a former grantseeker turned grantmaker. Currently, the executive director of the Tellabs Foundation and senior manager of corporate responsibility, she started a blog on WordPress for those of us who are interested in corporate giving and sustainability. Her teachable point of view is concisely captured on her “about page” when she says: “Many times we work alone. Development officers, grantmakers and sustainability managers are often part of small departments. It’s important for us to work together and stay connected.  We’ll test ideas, share advice and shed light on good work. Hopefully, even more good will result.”

I love Meredith’s blog. I recently subscribed to her blog using her RSS feed. I hope you will do the same. Without further ado, here is her guest post:

Galas: good or evil?

Marketing wizard Seth Godin made waves with his recent post, Gala economics. He describes galas as “a ridiculous way to efficiently raise money for a good cause.”

Ouch. The truth hurts.

It’s hard to argue that events are expensive. Consider the cost of the food, decorations, invites, entertainment and (here’s the biggie) staff time. It’s a big bill. Then add what individual attendees might spend on shoes, tuxes, accessories and dry cleaning – it’s even bigger.

Seth also contends that “…the gala is actually corrupting. Attendees are usually driven by social and selfish motivations to attend, and thus the philanthropic element of giving–just to give–is removed.” But, in a room full of 500 people, there are a lot of motives. Some pure, some not. Same is true for any form of giving.

Personally, I’ve had similar reservations about events. Back in my fund development days, I coordinated several fundraising events each year. I preferred grantwriting, which seemed much more efficient. And I didn’t have to wear heels and a headset.

However, I believe galas have their place in the nonprofit community.

Event fundraiser Shannon Doolittle, responds to Seth with a thoughtful post, Stop with the gala bashing already. I agree with her view that events should be mission-driven, unique and donor-centered.

Events do good by celebrating both donors and the nonprofit’s clients. I’d add that galas give your donors an opportunity to introduce new people to the cause. Good events can also create media opportunities.

If I could change just one thing about nonprofit events, I’d have fewer of them. Stop doing the ones that are barely breaking even. Or are indistinguishable from everyone else’s “rubber chicken” dinner.

Each organization should have one or two really good events, and drop dead weight. Because quality, worthwhile events strengthen the nonprofit community.

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