Major American Symphony Orchestras and the Fundraising Gala
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Virtually every large symphony orchestra holds a fundraising gala. Formal events like these are costly in terms of both time and monetary resources, yet they yield a relatively small profit when compared to direct solicitations for funds. Nevertheless, special events serve important purposes beyond fundraising, like stewardship, networking, and prospecting, so they are worth the time and energy for most organizations. This research project looks at the galas of 10 symphony orchestras in the United States (nine of which have budgets over $20 million) and compares the use of various gala components, dollars raised, and staff perceptions. The purposes of this study are to 1) gain a better understanding of which gala elements contribute to the event’s success, 2) find other gala purposes and ways to measure a gala’s success beyond just fundraising, and 3) discover the unique ways that symphony orchestras are utilizing the gala model in comparison to non-performing arts nonprofits. This master’s project culminates in six major recommendations as well as a Symphony Orchestra Gala Planning Toolkit, which includes timelines, checklists, and evaluation forms.