Finding Nemo… or an Honoree

Those of us in the nonprofit world know that gala season is upon us, and with it, hope springing anew for buckets of cash to sustain our paltry efforts to make the world a better place. The common misconception by those with real jobs (i.e., anything but what we have chosen to do for a living) is that we get to “chill” after the event. Kick back, enjoy a tall one or three (who are we kidding, more like six), and generally coast until approximately six weeks before next year’s gala. Isn’t that how it works?

Us war-weary nonprofit veterans know that once gala ends, the search for next year’s honoree begins. It’s a yearly tradition among the gala throwing nonprofit crowd that involves at least 3-6 months of prep and research, meetings, emails, hair pulling (usually not our own), bad ideas, wasted energy, cringing, eye rolling, groaning, the occasional flogging, and no shortage of regret.

The search always begins in earnest because, most likely, there are few people worth honoring that haven’t already been honored by at least five other organizations and asked by at least 20 more. If we could have one sacrificial Mayan wish during this spring gala season and beyond (OK… really if we’re talking about events, we’d have at least 20) it’s this: May the nonprofit community come together in harmony, unity and downright mutiny and force the “Honoree Model” of event planning to swan dive off of Captain Jack Sparrow’s plank into shark infested waters.

It starts with an equation. A master set of identifiers that we use to torture ourselves, and our teams, into thinking that this unreasonable alliance of characteristics can be demonstrated by anyone living, let alone anyone within our social/relationship network and thereby remotely attainable. In more clear terms, picking an honoree starts with an equation designed by Pinhead, whose only goal is to create the lament configuration, steal souls and force you to cringe, look away and generally question why you chose Hellraiser on Netflix for your first date. Surely a Jane Austen adaptation would have been more appropriate.

For safety purposes, we recommend that after you read the following equation, be sure to show it to another nonprofit professional within 7 days, lest the ghosts of Leona Helmsley and her pampered pooches emerge from your smart phone and drag your soul into the well-ish caverns of her Greenwich Mansion. We’re going with The Ring theory on this one.

So, here’s the equation…

Mission Fit + Past philanthropy + Accomplishments + Reasonably “well-known” and therefore can attract new audiences + Propensity for “Making the World a Better Place” MULTIPLIED BY  Name recognition/cache in the community Address book of Celebs, Wealthy Friends and Corporate/Media connections DIVIDED BY # of times said honoree has already been an honoree (i.e., hint, 42 is too many) + Overestimating their potential philanthropic contribution to the organization (i.e., just because said honoree gave $100k to the local University that her entire family attended, doesn’t mean she’s going to give that amount to your tiny childcare center) + The costs associated with paying for the honoree’s entourage (i.e., you’re going to pay for a hotel suite for his Aunt Tilly flying in from Saskatchewan to see her favorite nephew being honored) + Lack of Media/Celebrity interest in the honoree (i.e., sorry, nobody cares that the potential honoree wrote a haiku collection 37 years ago about cheese) + Honoree’s lack of mission fit (i.e., umm, maybe our Anti-Defamation non-profit shouldn’t be  honoring someone that’s being sued for discrimination) + Honoree’s minimal contribution to “Making The World A Better Place” (i.e., she’s a narcissistic jackass with a propensity for throwing her shoes at the hired help while screaming, “Don’t you know who I am!”) + Honoree’s potential for shenanigans at the event (i.e., last time he was honored, he hijacked the mic for 90 minutes to regale the crowd with the minutia of financial practices in post-colonial America) + Assorted X Factors (i.e., asking for a glass carriage ride to the event, yellow peeps in the dressing room, a 10-top table for the honoree’s rescue dogs, etc.).

Phew. Exhausting, isn’t it?  All that math just to get to some esoteric sigma that’s bullshit anyway because, well, let’s face it, the Board President is still going to blurt out publicly in the Event Planning meeting that she wants you to cold call Adele and ask her to be this year’s honoree. Because. Rich. Famous. She likes her music.

So, plucky nonprofit warriors you have your mission which begins right after your upcoming gala ends. We know, you’re unreasonably busy with unreasonable tasks, so you don’t have much time. But we challenge you to these two very important and very reasonable tasks:

1) Find a nonprofit buddy and share the love, but really, make sure they read the equation; and

2) Pick up the nearest sword and keep advancing on the deck. Making the “Honorees Model” Walk the Plank is just the first of many fine sacrifices we can make to advance the field.

– Sarah and Jon


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