The best dish I ever had at a dinner party was my friend’s ex-girlfriend’s adaptation of a chickpea curry. (This isn’t a picture of that, it’s a picture of a rustic apricot tart I made last summer. Don’t ask.) Most people like dinner parties. Even introverts like me enjoy good company, and if the food is well-made and the drinks delicious and the music interesting and the setting pleasant, there’s almost nothing better.

Dinner parties make people feel good. Maybe that’s why so many nonprofit leaders believe special events are a great way to plump up the bank account. Events are an easy sell, to the board and to the public. Staffers like to pitch in. Adrenaline pumps. Sometimes, the media calls. Fun is had.

The only thing that suffers is the organization’s account balance. Because, here’s a secret – studies show events are not a good way to raise money. This data from 2007 shows that it costs more than a dollar to raise a dollar. I’m no business major, but to me, this doesn’t add up to a great return on investment.

In this 2010 post, nonprofit consultant Susan McLaughlin asks, can you afford another special event?

Think about it this way. If you’re having trouble paying the heating bill, are you going to throw a roast in the oven, stock up on Bordeaux, and invite three other couples over? Well, maybe. But if your goal for the evening was to end up with more food than you started with, you’re better off saving your energy and eating cereal alone for dinner.

I believe nonprofits should have special events (just as folks on a budget should have dinner parties). But these need to happen for the right reasons, and in addition to – not instead of – other efforts at shoring up the bank balance. There’s nothing like an event to raise your profile and make people feel warm and fuzzy about your mission.  There are so many ways to leverage the good feelings that come from a successful soiree.

So, go ahead and plan your dinner parties for 2012. Just be sure you’re doing it for all the right reasons. And message me if you want that chickpea curry recipe.

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