Honorees harder to nab for galas during downturn

Posted on: May 5, 2009

In Sunday’s (5/3) New York Times, Judith H. Dobrzynski writes about the widespread effect of the economy on the charity-fundraising circuit. “When Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Macy’s, received Carnegie Hall’s Medal of Excellence in April 2008, he beamed with pride. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg presented the award, which goes to a business leader who supports the arts. More than 1,000 guests, including Martha Stewart, Leonard Lauder and Tommy Hilfiger, cheered from their tables in the Waldorf-Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. Tony Bennett sang his heart out. And Carnegie Hall raised $4.2 million. But when it came time to select an honoree for this year’s medal, Carnegie Hall’s board and management were stumped. They canceled the benefit. Why? Because an honoree is not chosen just to give a speech and be feted. He or she must be willing to make a big donation, usually from the company’s coffers, and—more important—to invite friends and contacts to the gala who will buy $20,000 tables or single tickets for $2,000 to $3,000, bringing new support to the organization. … With honorees in short supply, the entire fund-raising ecosystem on which many nonprofit institutions depend—especially those reliant on the financial sector—is endangered. … The most coveted honorees are men and women who can lean on the people they do business with.”

Posted May 5, 2009