Comp Is a Four-Letter Word
I bet you’ll agree. Seriously, we probably spend more time in committee meetings both before and after every major event talking about who should get complimentary tickets than we spend discussing food or music or decorations or anything else — and those discussions can become a little heated because, often, if you based your decision on who deserved to be comped or who you’d like to comp, the list would be very long indeed.
Cash sponsors are, of course, a shoo-in. To me the only question is how many comps to give them. For our most recent event, we gave our $5,000 sponsor four $125 patron tickets and our $500 — $1,000 sponsors two patron tickets, sweetening the deal with various levels of logo recognition on signs and in the event program. Easy enough.
But the question of who else to comp can get, well, complicated. I often hear the argument that comping an $85 ticket really only costs us, say, $40 (the actual per-person cost of the food). But the truth is, these events are designed to raise essential funds — and, to me, that means filling as many seats as possible with guests who will not only buy a ticket but also bid enthusiastically on auction items and spend money at whatever other activities might be offered. Filling too many seats with people who don’t meet that criteria can seriously impact the bottom line.
That brings me to the question that’s really on my mind — what to do about staff comps? Actually, I never ran into this issue when I did events for schools or cultural organizations, where there seemed to be a much clearer delineation between program and development, but it comes up at every animal welfare event. Each time I’m asked to let the staff and their significant others come for free, I reply that, since the purpose of the event is to raise money to pay staff salaries and other program expenses, we’d love to have them come as paying guests (though we would never pressure them to do so) — and that we have another party every year specifically to celebrate the staff and volunteers. Sadly, I don’t think the message is understood and, if our staff members (who are and should be highly respected) really feel underappreciated because they can’t come free to a party, I worry about staff morale. We have invited staff members to work events as volunteers, but that doesn’t seem to make the situation any better (it might even make it worse), since we generally give volunteers their own modest food and drink behind the scenes rather than serving them as paying guests.
So I turn to you for advice. Do you invite your staff to attend your major fundraising events for free or give them discounted tickets? Is this even an issue for you? Am I falling into the “being cheap” trap I warned against a couple of weeks ago? Please let me know what you think.