Blowout Galas

Even nonprofits have to spend money to make money, but how much is too much when it comes to throwing a benefit?

“You want to have a beautiful gala—that’s how you build your donor base,” says Toni Goodale, of the fund-raising and consulting firm Goodale Associates. And securing the best caterers, venues, and entertainment adds up. The Princess Grace Foundation USA, for example, raised more than $1 million at its lavish gala at the Waldorf-Astoria in 2003. But the party cost more than $700,000, or 66 percent of its revenue. “The event is extremely elegant,” insists development director Theresa Dorey. “I don’t think the foundation is willing to step back on that level of production.”

Although there is no legal limit on how much a charity event can cost, Goodale recommends that nonprofits keep their expenses at less than 30 percent of the event’s revenue. We analyzed charities’ most recent available tax returns to see how a few upcoming benefits measure up.

Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Family Benefit” at the Met.
What: Hat-making and armor demos for all ages.
Tickets: $100, adults; $50, kids.
Cost vs. Revenue: 50 percent. The 2003 event cost $101,612 and raised $204,300.

Save Venice’s “La Dolce Vita a Venezia” at Cipriani.
What: Black- or white-tie dinner dance to protect Venice’s art and architecture.
Tickets: $350 to $1,000.
Cost vs. Revenue: 34 percent. Associate director Karen Marshall estimates the event will cost $155,000 and raise $450,000, but Save Venice’s overall event costs for 2003 were actually 66 percent of its revenues, or $1.1 million spent vs. $1.7 million raised.

Museum of Modern Art’s “Annual Corporate Luncheon” in MoMA’s atrium.
What: Big-shot execs toast an annual award winner—this year, it’s William B. Harrison Jr., CEO of JPMorgan Chase.
Tickets: $1,500 to $2,500.
Cost vs. Revenue: 3 percent. (It’s a party for businessmen, after all.) The 2003 event cost only $41,000 and raised $1.4 million.

Museum of Modern Art’s “Armory Show” preview party at Chelsea Piers.
What: Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and the first chance to buy art from the show.
Tickets: $1,000 for the first look, at 5 p.m.
Cost vs. Revenue: 74 percent. The 2003 event cost $169,000 and raised $228,000.

Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “2005 Gala Tribute” at Avery Fisher Hall.
What: Cocktails, tribute show, and “supper dance” honoring Dustin Hoffman.
Tickets: From $40 for tribute; from $1,000 for tribute and party.
Cost vs. Revenue: 79 percent. The 2003 event cost $456,280 and raised $575,327. Executive director Claudia Bonn estimates that the event pulled in twice as much if you factor in high-level donors whose tickets were comped.

Multiple Sclerosis Society’s “Dinner of Champions” at the Marriott Marquis.
What: Meredith Vieira emcees a dinner and silent auction honoring Beverly Sills and Deutsche Bank Americas CEO Seth Waugh.
Tickets: $750 to $1,000.
Cost vs. Revenue: 12 percent. The New York City chapter’s 2003 event cost $314,977 and raised $2.7 million.

Blowout Galas