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Close Up The Great Debate: Are there good alternatives to charity fundraising galas?

The Great Debate: Are there good alternatives to charity fundraising galas?

The Great Debate: Are there good alternatives to charity fundraising galas?
By Melissa Gail Sing
October 12, 2015

Are there good alternatives to charity fundraising galas? Lee Shu Yen, Noor Quek, Harpreet Bedi and Caroline Low-Heah share their opinions on the great debate.


Are there good alternatives to charity fundraising galas? Lee Shu Yen, Noor Quek, Harpreet Bedi and Caroline Low-Heah share their opinions on the great debate.

Lee Shu Yen

A senior consultant of vitreoretinal Service at the Singapore National Eye Centre, Lee Shu Yen is also an adjunct associate professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. The current president of the Singapore Society of Ophthalmologist chaired the organising committee of the SERI Eye Ball in 2012.

While there are many alternatives to charity fundraising galas, not all have the potential to raise as much funds from a single event as a fundraising dinner. More than just raising funds, a charity gala introduces the charity to people through speeches by key individuals helming the organisation, videos showing how funds are used, and testimonials from the beneficiaries. They also allow for cultivation of future donors when friends of donors are invited to the dinner, and of course, they are an opportunity to thank regular donors for their support. 

There are some limitations with this method of raising funds, however. Typically, only 500 to 1000 individuals attend a gala, making outreach and awareness limited. Also, as dinner tables usually cost at least $3000, it tends to only reach out to the upper echelons of society. In Singapore, this accounts for a small group, and when the same group is repeatedly asked to buy tables at events, donor fatigue can result. Thus, instead of purchasing a table, more people are going back to giving outright donations. Some people feel that when they make an outright donation, the full amount goes to the charity, whereas when they buy a table at a dinner, a proportion of it is “lost” to the expenses for the dinner. While effective in many ways, fundraising galas should be complemented with other fundraising channels such as concerts and even funfairs that beneficiaries could be a part of it. This way, supporters can better understand the challenges faced by the needy and why they need support.


Noor Quek

Noor Quek is the president of the Breast Cancer Foundation. Every October, to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month and raise funds, BCF organises the Wear the Pink Ribbon Campaign and the Pink Ribbon Walk. The founder of NQ International is also a director of the Singapore Ireland Fund which organises the Emerald Ball every November. She’s known for hosting events as well as playing music and singing with a band at charity events held by organisations such as the Singapore Red Cross and the Chinese Women's Association.


A fundraising gala reaches out to people who have purchased tables as well as the guests whom they invite and their friends. When guests who have had some experience with the cause, either directly or as a caregiver, are invited, they not only learn how the cause could benefit them or the people they know but they may also decide to contribute to the cause later.

Unfortunately, lesser-known charities, those that do not have the resources to market their cause or may not be supported by regular charity gala organisers because they do not feel for the cause, may be cut off from making their cause known, and thus are left out from this fundraising channel. While on the surface, it may appear that such events reach those who have greater means to contribute financially, there’s also a big proportion of wealthy individuals who do not like public shows of giving and thus are left out of the action. This potentially means the galas keep reaching out to the same pool of people. 

In order to avoid the perception that charity galas are extravagant, it’s best not to use event organisers who ask for a percentage of the funds. There are creative ways to organise a low-cost simpler event that is no less effective in order that maximum funds go directly to the beneficiary. A more sustainable way to raise charity dollars is to engage potential donors with the cause. By meeting the charity’s management, staff and beneficiaries, and through opportunities to volunteer their time, they not only understand the cause better but can suggest improvements then promote it as an ambassador of sorts. The outreach is wider and felt more directly, and the giving can be sustained.


Harpreet Bedi

Harpreet Bedi, the Founder and Executive Director of non-profit organisation, Bioethics Legal Research in Singapore (Belris), says the ideal method to support a cause is a direct donation.


With the sheer number of charity galas conducted in Singapore, it’s possible that causes and messages become diluted. Although galas can be a valuable way for a charity organisation to raise funds, the reality is that these events tend to only be accessible or attended by a certain—often more wealthy—segment of society. In Singapore, this segment of the society appears to be experiencing “gala fatigue” of sorts, resulting in a greater general apathy towards a deeper understanding of the causes underlying these grander fundraising events.

But charity galas are here to stay. Nonetheless, the cause is increasingly used as an excuse to host a party, hence other avenues should be considered to achieve the necessary awareness and funds for a cause. A trunk show, for example, like what Belris, my bioethics think tank, organises with Indian fashion designer Malini Ramani. Customers buy the clothes because they like them, and Malini gives a percentage of proceeds to us because she believes in the cause.


Caroline Low-Heah

As Founder and Chairperson of Kidz Horizon Appeal, general practitioner Caroline Low-Heah finds gathering a strong and united team is the toughest part about organising charity galas.

Since the beginning of time, having a good time at an event and raising monies at the same time has been ingrained in us. Especially with social media today, the nicety of dressing up for an event to show support always goes down well. A charity gala can be an excellent party without blowing the budget, if there’s a good organising team behind it. Most charity organisations hold a charity gala primarily to sell their pitch and raise funds for their work. It can also be a pivot for growing your network of supporters, especially if existing donors bring guests along. What better way to pitch an important cause to 500 guests—which would include existing and potential donors—in one sitting, than this!

Moreover, a charity gala allows organisations to show their appreciation to their donors. As much as they are philanthropic, most donors appreciate being acknowledged for their donations. And as long as there’s a market that depicts exclusivity, charity galas will remain relevant.





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