event planners

Death of the Gala Ball: what we learnt from our annual conversation on the special events landscape

Back in 2016, the Special Events Forum and Hope Street Media started a discussion on whether the traditional gala dinner is no longer the best format for charities to raise money through events. In the past, these events have consistently raised six- or seven-figures for organisations, as well as providing an opportunity to engage both existing and new corporate, individual and celebrity supporters. However with complaints of event fatigue and a highly saturated market, coupled with budget cuts and the high cost ratio, has this type of charity event finally had its day? We picked up the conversation again, hosted at the offices of THRSXTY in Soho, with a panel of representatives from some of the UK's leading charities. 

In recent years, organisations such as Ark, the DEC, Save the Children, Unicef UK and The Prince's Trust have turned to immersive events to bring their work to life. Some have had success with raising significant income through this type of event, whilst others have mainly used the new format to reach other audiences and to present their work in a different way. So is the immersive event here to stay, or is this just a fad? 

Amanda Sinke, representing Right to Play UK, highlighted how doing something immersive didn't have to result in a dramatic shift in format. For Right to Play UK, this meant looking at storytelling and how they could bring to life their powerful and emotive stories from Africa at a ballroom in central London. Others echoed the sentiment and shared examples of how they had sought to bring something creative and interactive to their existing events, rather than change the event altogether. 

Hibba Al-Altrakchi, representing The Prince's Trust, shared the case study of the Trust's longest running gala event and how they took a risk to take the event out of the ballroom altogether and host it on the Belmond British Pullman. 

As well as reflecting the shift in focus, our audience observed that our guests should be at the heart of our plans and that our longterm supporters can help us to make these decisions and tell us what they want and expect from our events. For every organisation this will be different; when asked whether she thought that more charities should be doing something new, Hibba's response was a firm "Yes - but only if the time is right". 

As an agency, 40% of our work centres around the charity fundraising gala - our clients are still seeing great success with events of this nature - but much like those on the Forum, we continue to seek new ways of bringing our work to life at these events and doing more than just showing a charity film or delivering a speech. Just like other fundraising streams, the ever-changing sector demands that we challenge ourselves to do something different, take on our competitors and listen to the voices of our donors. 

We asked our audience to give us an idea of the future of their portfolios by a simple show of hands - it was clear that over half of the organisations represented still continue to grow their events calendars, with only a couple of organisations making a move to reduce theirs. That said, for those charities whose income is largely made up of event funds, new fundraising streams are being explored in an attempt to diversify and future-proof. 

The conversation continues and we look forward to seeing how it progresses.