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Goodbye Galas?
Goodbye Galas?

Why one college encourages alumni to stay home

By Summer Jiang

Hilbert College in New York was considering a fundraising gala when a trustee gave a less-than-hearty endorsement: "If you decide to do it, I will write a check. I will double the check so that I won't have to go!"

The solution? Hilbert College's No-Tie Gala, a virtual fundraising affair no one attends. No suit or tie, no rubber chicken dinner, no dry conversation with people you barely know.

It didn't take long for Gregg Fort, then-vice president for institutional advancement, to come up with the idea; he secretly shared the trustee's sentiment. Fort had represented the institution at several civic group galas last spring and attended events with his wife, who works at a different university. "I was gala-ed out," Fort says.

To promote the virtual gala, Hilbert mailed "don't save the date" cards, instead of its standard fall appeal letter, to a targeted group of nondonors. Acquisition was the goal of this campaign. The advancement team also used its social media channels and emailed invitations informing alumni that "your absence is requested" for "an evening with NONE of your closest friends." To RSVP for the Nov. 6, 2014, nonevent, people made a gift at

"We wanted to promote that 100 percent of the money raised goes to scholarships," says Fort.

Nearly 165 donors participated, making more than $27,000 in gifts in November. Annual alumni giving participation has been rising—from 6.6 percent in 2012 to 13 percent in 2014—but because of the virtual gala, Fort says, annual giving toward the end of 2014 was up 27 percent from the previous year. Young alumni in particular loved the joke, which garnered coverage in two local news outlets.

About the Author Summer Jiang

Summer Jiang was a fall 2014 CURRENTS editorial intern.




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