Recruiting terrific volunteers for any of your efforts is key to success. And it’s most important to have a sound outline of what you expect of them and what they expect of you…if volunteers go beyond expectations, well, that’s real icing on the cake.
Because galas and special events are highly visible to the community, very often it’s easier to recruit people from the community or volunteers from within the organization as compared to recruiting for a capital campaign organization. Because of the intensity of the work around a gala and the volunteer and staff hours involved, it is clearly important to build on the work the gala committee has done in the past to aid in the next year. You simply cannot reinvent the wheel each year.
Look at your donors, your prospects, your organizational leadership and other community leaders who you imagine would like to be part of your gala/special event. Count on your gala chair for some additional help.
Following is a brief outline of expectations for you to articulate to your volunteers. You can adapt them to best meet the specific needs of your event:
Role of Gala Committee Chair
Take genuine leadership during the meetings, showing passion for the operations of an event, as well as for the fundraising.
Assist in recruiting outstanding volunteers for the committee.
Make a leadership gift to get the ball rolling. Buy a table. Donate a great auction item.
Be prepared to assist in fundraising through direct solicitation or by suggesting names for organizational leadership or the fundraising team to approach.
Share ideas each step of the way.
Role of Gala Committee Members
Assist in fundraising through ticket sales and sponsorships; assist in helping to raise money through direct solicitation or by suggesting names to the chairs and fundraising team.
Buy a table or fill a table for the event.
Enhance awareness of the event by promoting the event in the community.
Attend the kickoff events.
Most importantly—attend the event (yes, this has to be stated).
Role of Staff Members
Provide as much organizational and fundraising leadership as possible.
Support every individual volunteer’s work in every way possible.
Respond to questions in a timely manner.
Be available to partner in any fundraising opportunities that emerge.
Resolve any issues that arise using a sensitive and generous approach.
Does This Really Work?
One of the things I love about some volunteers is their tendency to bring their entire selves to the event. For one gala in which I was involved for a local private school, the chair of the fundraising committee believed, as did I, that we could bring much more of a dynamic impact than the school was expecting. He worked to ensure that the parents of many children were involved, that the auction items were well above expectations, that those who could be solicited were solicited. He made sure that the committee was fully involved. He had high expectations and ensured that everyone followed suit.
What was anticipated to be a $100,000 event turned into a $225,000 event—a huge success from a fundraising perspective. Everyone had a memorable time, and the event was a community hit. People talked about it for a long time afterwards. It was the power of the fundraising chair’s personality and determination that was so remarkably palpable that all committee members increased their own involvement and commitment.
Building on What Has Been Done
Above all, the real goal of staff members is to make the volunteer experience as richly rewarding and fulfilling as it can be. You want to be able to invite volunteers to continue their work in the following year.
The roles outlined may vary somewhat depending on how large the event, how focused the event, how large the organization or what financial goal has been set. The roles may be adapted if the event is moving towards an auction or if all fundraising is completed prior to the date of the event.
Evaluate the activity of the committee members in the months leading to the event and the days following it. Soon after the event, if they have done a great job, tell them so and invite them back immediately for the coming year. For those who have not done as well and would like to return, ask for their help with very specific goals for the coming year. Other volunteers will simply not return, no questions asked. In this way, you can strengthen the committee year after year.
For those who believe this can all be done by phone or email, it's simply not true. To really ensure people are committed, a full face-to-face meeting should occur the first time––this builds staff and leadership relationships with the volunteers and ensures a mutual understanding.
Hot tip: If the committee chair(s) has(have) done a wonderful job, you could invite them back to chair the event the following year and ask another individual or couple to help them as co-chairs. That way the first chair(s) can build on the experience they have already developed, while initiating the second individual or couple, building strength year after year.
If you follow these ideas, then you get a jump on planning the coming year’s event, you never have to reinvent anything major, and you can save time for the most important aspects of the event—developing relationships and fundraising.