Gala events have been a mainstay of arts funding for decades, but for many arts organizations the bloom is off the rose. There has been a proliferation of special events in almost every city, corporations are purchasing far fewer tables than they did in the past, and the current state of the economy has affected gala sales as it has every aspect of our fundraising efforts. This has had a major impact on total fundraising revenue. Galas are not just great sources of revenue, they are also the best prospecting opportunities for arts organizations. The friends our current donors bring to our special events are the best prospects we have; they have already come to one of our events and have a friend or associate who considers us worthy of support. Smart arts organizations devote a great deal of time on follow-up with their gala guests and typically find that a high percentage of their new donors were introduced to their organizations through a special event.

At the Kennedy Center our special events are central elements of our entire fundraising strategy and demand and receive a great deal of attention from our development staff. Recently, my Vice President of Development, Marie Mattson, told me she was optimistic about reaching her target for a major fundraising event because our list of LYBNTS (pronounced lie-bunts) was so long. What is a LYBNT? It is someone who gave Last Year But Not This (year). This is a crucial list in our fundraising strategy.

The easiest people to raise money from, in general, are those who have already given to an organization. They have already demonstrated that they are willing to be generous and capable of giving at a level that is helpful. Those who gave last year have also given recently -- another strong indication that they might give again now. (As opposed to SYBNTS -- Some Year But Not This -- who have given at some point in time but not as recently. They are still often reasonable prospects but not as likely to give as LYBNTS.)

LYBNTS often simply require a nudge to give. If we are selling a gala event, for example, we will gather our underwriters and campaign committee and work with them to sell tables to their friends and associates. Then we will send out the invitation to a broader list. After a number of weeks we can judge how far we are from our target. That is when the development staff really gets to work. And that is when the LYBNTS and SYBNTS come into play.

We determine who has not bought tickets this year but bought them last year. This is the first group we attack. Every LYBNT gets a phone call from a member of my staff or the gala committee. We get a very high response to our LYBNT list. So when the LYBNT list is long enough, we are confident that we can make our gala target.

If you don't have a LYBNT list, try making one. None of us has the time to reach out personally to every prospect. We need to focus on the most likely prospects, and for many organizations it will be their LYBNTS.