Advisors Guide: How Charity Galas Become Networking Events

Want to rub shoulders with the wealthiest local people?  Attending a charity gala is often the most direct route.  Put off by the $ 300-500/head ticket price?  Your firm may be one of many sponsors.  This means table seats need to be filled.  Regardless if you or the firm pays for the ticket, what do you do?

The Prime Directive

If you take away only one point, this is it.  Tonight is all about the organization.  You study up on it.  Visit their website.  What’s their mission?  How do they deliver? Here’s why this will make you stand out:  Some companies buy tables and fill seats with staff people out for a free dinner where they can get dressed up.  They often know little about the organization and the cause.  This reflects badly on the sponsor who bought the table. When you are conversant about the organization and ask the right questions, the senior corporate executives, professionals, organization staff and big donors will take notice.  “That guy really cares about what we do.”

Twelve Tips for Attending Charity Galas

You’ve spent money or are attending on someone else’s dime.  You want to have a good time, but making a few business connections would be a nice bonus. 1. Know the major players. Who do you want to meet?  Look at the sponsor list.  If a big drug company or utility is sponsoring, chances are the local bigwigs will be there.  What are their names?  Is there an honoree? 2. Plan to dress well. Most events are business dress.  At charity galas, women often put more thought into their appearance.  In the cocktail reception portion of the evening, your appearance makes the initial impact. 3. Recheck the invitation. Before you leave the house, check again.  Does it say “black tie” and you missed it?  Did you assume shelling out $ 300 a ticket automatically means black tie, but it’s not?  It’s awkward arriving overdressed or underdressed.  I speak from personal experience. 4. Bring small bills. Bring a check.  You will be tipping the car valet and the coat check person.  There will likely be a raffle.  It’s unlikely there’s a cash bar instead of an open bar, but you want to be prepared. 5. Introductory questions. This one’s easy.  Go back to the Prime Directive.  “What’s your connection to the organization?  How are you involved?”  That gets the ball rolling. 6. Look for “WOOFs”. We’ve talked about corporate executives and businesses leaders.  Don’t forget about “Well Off Older Folks.”  Most charities have them.  They’ve been supporting the mission financially forever.  They are volunteer too. 7. Check the stock market close. Once you get to “What do you do?” and they learn you are an advisor, they might ask: “What did the market do today?”  They will also be interested in your thoughts on why it’s doing what its doing and your thoughts about the future.  Have some business cards handy.  You never know. 8. Plan for two on the buffet line. If you are attending with your spouse or a date, there’s no reason both of you need to cool their heels on the dinner buffet line.  Go alone.  Prepare two plates.  Chat with people in line.  “Have you been coming every year?” 9. Participate in the paddle raise. Most organizations announce a project with a reasonable price tag.  “We need a truck.”  They explain why.  They put a price on it.  They start high and work down.  “Who will give $ 10,000 towards the truck?”  The audience is likely seeded with donors lined up beforehand.  The last level is usually “Who will give $100…”  If you haven’t raised your paddle yet, do so now.  Sometimes they ask you to stand. 10. Pay up immediately.  Once the silent and live auctions close (the paddle raise too) wait a few minutes, leave the table and settle up your bill at the welcome desk.  Do this before dessert and coffee arrive.  Why?  Because once everyone gets up to leave en masse, there will be a huge bottleneck as people settle their accounts.  Return to the table after paying. 11. The car valet line.  There are two schools of thought.  If you feel like you are done and want to get home, excuse yourself during dessert, get your coat back and head to the valet station.  They should be able to bring your car up immediately.  The second approach is to go with the crowd, wait your turn and chat with people you met earlier.  It’s a good time to exchange contact information. 12. Follow-up. Maybe you send the organization a note.  “It was a great event.”  Thank the person at the firm who got you the free seat.  Most important, think about those people you met.  Can you connect on LinkedIn?  “We met at the gala on Friday.  I enjoyed talking with you.  Let’s connect on LinkedIn.”  Do you have other contact information, shared interests or another reason to get in touch? Charity galas are meant to showcase the organization and raise funds.  They can also be an opportunity to make some social and business connections. Related: How Drinking Better Wine Can Lead to More Business