Edit ModuleShow Tags

How to Throw a "Non-Gala Gala"

Monarch School was able to raise $1.1 million without serving dinner or holding an auction

When Monarch School, downtown’s K-12 for homeless children, first held what would become an annual fundraiser in spring of 2015, it was a simple housewarming party. “We called it the non-gala gala,” says Katherine Field, senior director of external relations at the school. “We had just come off of our capital campaign to move into the Nat & Flora Bosa Campus. We had turned over every rock in San Diego and people were tired of hearing from us, so we wanted people to come see the campus and reconnect with the work we do every day.”

They hadn’t intended to make it an annual event, but it was a success. In 2016, they named it “Building Bright Futures”—“because you have to brand it,” she says—but stuck to the idea that they wanted it to be an engagement event, not a fundraising gala, where people could come and witness what their support means to the students. Here is Monarch’s recipe for hosting an authentic engagement.

Timing Is Everything

Rather than throwing a ball on a Saturday night, Monarch does a two-hour event on a Thursday. “Start at 6, end by 8.”

Don't Feed the Guests

“We didn’t want people to feel like it was just another dinner. That was the first rule: No dinner,” says Field. But it’s still a night out with friends, and the event ends early enough, so a lot of the guests go to dinner as an after-party.

Stay On-Site and Evoke the Fundraiser's Results

Monarch holds its event on campus, in the place where the money will end up, increasing awareness and understanding for guests and potential donors. To keep things “super authentic,” they open the school doors so guests can enter the same way the students do. Inside the atrium, students play music while attendees enjoy drinks and tray-passed hors d’oeuvres. Then guests tour the campus and interact with the students. They are self-guided tours, with four or five staff members and students at each stop to explain why that place is significant to them.

Mingle and Graze

Guests socialize at food stations outside the gym. Monarch serves beer and wine and, in 2018, Cutwater Spirits donated their new canned cocktails.

Formal Seating? No Thanks

“The first year, everyone said we needed 10-person round tables,” Field says. “It was awkward. It wasn’t the feel we wanted. We try to make it cocktail-y.” They now opt for casual, lounge-like seating with groups of about six chairs arranged into pods.

Dressing Up is Out

The dress code is business casual, meaning many of the 300 guests can go straight from work and be comfortable at the party.

Be Quick and Painless

The main event takes place in the auditorium at 7 p.m. “We very quickly thank the people that need to be thanked and try to do it as cute and painless as possible.” Cute? One year, they played Timbuk3’s “The Future’s so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” and the board wore oversized sunglasses.

Ix-Nay on the Oring-Bay Eech-Spay

“We’ve told so many politicians, ‘You can’t have a speaking role; that bores people,’” says Field, who advises instead to “Keep it short and sweet. Effective and impactful and a little bit of fun.”

A/V for the Win

“We rely on video because it’s usually kids telling their stories. That’s hard for them to do in front of 300 people, but especially so when they have such difficult stories in the first place.”

End with a Song

Following the videos, they don’t auction any items, they just ask people to give at various levels. Everyone has a bid card that comes with their name tag; they can make their payments at the door or request an invoice. The program wraps up with a song or dance performance by the students.

Star Power Helps

Monarch was able to reach $1.1 million in 2018 thanks to a matching gift from Alexis and Ron Fowler for any new or increased gifts. “It made a huge difference. Alexis got 50 percent of the sponsorships and built an amazing honorary committee. She was such a key part of the event being a success. While we have an effective event and program, we also obviously have very influential people that are supporting us as well.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

The SoCal (Social Calendar!)

From black-tie galas to costumed 5Ks, these events will keep your social calendar full—and you feeling good

North Park's New Home Décor and Dog Garb Shop

How Brittney Garbani came up with the concept of Home + Hound

Inside the Coin-Op Owners' Point Loma Pad

How this cheeky couple made over their home into a three-story
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Charitable Events

October 2019


  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
29 30 01 02 03 04 05
06 07 08 09 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31 01 02
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. The Best of San Diego 2019
    Our annual compilation of everything delicious, cool, and Instagrammable in San Diego (and Baja!)
  2. The Problem With Bright Red Tuna
    Many Americans still think bright red tuna means it’s fresher (it’s not)
  3. First Look: Animae
    Puffer Malarkey Restaurants unveil 5.5 million-dollar pan-Asian concept
  4. Jason Mraz and his Historic Coffee Bean
    The singer and Bird Rock Coffee Roasters unveil the first California-grown Geisha coffee
  5. Morning Glory Is a Millennial Wonderland
    The Little Italy restaurant may finally break San Diego's aversion to brunch
  6. A Deep Dive into the San Diego Fishing Industry
    A $2 billion project is poised to revive San Diego’s commercial fishing industry
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags