Retail stores are decorating for the holidays, Christmas music is sneaking into the rotation on the radio, and there are less than 8 weeks left in 2009: ‘tis officially the season of nonprofit holiday galas. (Or this year, of scaled-back nonprofit fundraising opportunities.) From a PR perspective, holiday galas rank a close second to “giant check” presentations on the list of events that organizations would really like press coverage of, but that are inherently uninteresting to most media outlets. Here are a few ideas for rethinking gala PR: 1) Focus communications efforts only on those things that advance the most important goal of your event. If that’s fundraising, then 9 times out of 10 it is better to focus on deep engagement with your existing community, than trying to reach out to the public to hype your party. People are being especially selective with charitable giving this year, and are unlikely to pay to attend your gala unless they are invited by a friend or family member: better to spend more time on direct engagement with your core group of supporters, encouraging them to support your organization and bring others into the fold.
2) If your ultimate goal is to raise awareness of the issue your organization addresses, think about the visuals and news hooks that best support the issue. Again, not likely to be a holiday event. Perhaps it’s a health clinic, or homeless shelter, or mammography van – all stronger elements for a story than a hotel ballroom. Pitch a media story about a newsworthy example of your organization at work in the community and make the gala a footnote.
3) If you have the bandwidth, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing low-hanging fruit that events can offer: calendar listings, perhaps photos submitted post-event to community news sites, etc. Just don’t confuse the significance of the event to the organization with the significance of the event to the media and/or general public. Particularly for nonprofits with limited time and energy to devote to PR, the holiday gala is usually NOT the path to media glory.
Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, and if your event involves something like Red Sox stars bowling to raise money for Children’s Hospital, sure, have a media field day! If not, enjoy the party and make good PR your New Year’s Resolution.