An interview by Eric Ashton
To learn about the importance of teamwork among board and staff leadership, we turn to the Brooklyn Community Pride Center (BCPC). Founded in 2008, BCPC provides programs and services to the LGBT community in New York City’s most eclectic and popular borough.
When BCPC’s executive director resigned approximately three months before the organization’s largest annual fundraising event, the Board had to ensure the success of an event that had primarily been staff driven while also focusing on a smooth and effective executive leadership transition.
Placing a priority on the transition, the Board hired an interim executive director and turned their attention on ticket sales. In this interview, Board Chair Debbie Brennan, Development Committee Chair Lisa Davis and Interim Executive Director Dolph Ward Goldenburg share reflections on how teamwork resulted in a fabulous event that met its financial goals.
Ashton: What is the Community Leadership & Awards Gala?
Brennan: The Community Leadership Awards & Gala is our main fundraising event. The gala raises funds and the profile of BCPC, while recognizing some influential people in the community. This year’s event was carried out during a time of change of leadership at BCPC and was a lot of work. But it was the best annual event we put on in this gala space.
Ashton: With a transition in leadership, how did you approach preparation for this year’s gala?
Davis: We needed to have a “win” with the success of this event. Every year, we seem to struggle with support and ticket sale goals for the event as a fundraising gala.
This year, we were introducing a new name for the event and a new concept. We were a little slow in getting interest in the event. Six weeks out from the event, we had only about ten tickets sold - most of these were to board members. We needed help in turning around a low-ticketed event and create a level of excitement for this rebranded fundraising event.
Ashton: How was the alarm sounded that something needed to be done quickly?
Davis: The Fund Development Committee realized that ticket sales were low when Dolph sent out an e-mail informing the committee that only 10-15 tickets had been sold with about six weeks until the event. Debbie, the Board chair, spoke with Dolph and I about whether to postpone or cancel the gala. The three of us decided that postponing or canceling the event would cause damage to BCPC’s reputation.
Goldenburg: All of this occurred in my first two weeks as interim executive director, and I recommended we tackle this problem head-on and lead the charge towards success.
Brennan: We worked together to get the word out to the board that we needed to regroup and recommit to making this [event] happen.
Ashton: What steps did you take to turn things around?
Davis: We took the initiative and motivated ourselves with a daily check-in e-mail. This worked to spark interest from the board as everyone wanted to see this daily gauge what was going on and where there was improvement.
In the daily e-mail, there was a success corner highlighting changes in ticket sales and who sold what number of tickets. This created a new energy and engagement around the gala.
Brennan: I personally checked in with Dolph daily, put boots on the ground, sent e-mails, solicited ticket sales, met with city officials and their representatives, worked on the selection of honorees, and made sure the gala ran smoothly.
Goldenburg: The daily updates weren’t my idea - Lisa suggested them and gets all the credit. This is where the power of teamwork played such an important role. Having just arrived in Brooklyn, I had few local connections for ticket sales. But I could offer campaign structure, tips and suggestions for selling tickets, and draft a daily e-mail update to keep board and volunteers motivated and focused.
Ashton: What role did the Board play?
Brennan: Everybody played a significant role in ensuring the success of this event. The board stepped up and rallied around Dolph’s positive leadership to sell tickets and made this gala a success.
Davis: There was a lot of change at BCPC from a leadership perspective over the course of the past year and it is like a whole new organization now. We got a new Board chair six months prior to the gala in April, then the Executive Director left in February. She had been the main driver of past fundraising events and with her departure there was also the loss of momentum and the loss of valuable contacts. Dolph was hired as interim ED and came in March and hit the ground running. It was all hands on deck but with Dolph’s leadership and work with the Board, it seemed everyone was empowered to step up and do more.
Ashton: How successful were you?
Brennan: The event went very well. We raised more money than we have in the past. We enlisted the Brooklyn Borough President to come and give an award to Citigroup, Inc. (CITI). It was a very successful evening-good food, fun, high energy all evening!
Davis: We were extremely successful as there was a full house, close to 200 people in the room, four tables designated for corporate sponsors and they were full the night of the event. Three of the tables sold at the $10,000 level. There was good attendance by elected officials and/or their staff represented at the event and best of all, we came within a few thousand dollars of the net fundraising goal in spite of the obstacles and slow start.
Ashton: What advice would you give to another organization about how to respond when being tested?
Brennan: My only good advice, if you have a change in leadership, is take your time in finding a good solid leader for the organization. Reach out and hire a strong nonprofit interim executive director. Make sure you secure a qualified dynamic and competent interim who knows the landscape and can navigate past pitfalls and can step in with confidence and authority. If another organization finds itself about to experience a transition at the top and wants real dynamic and focused leadership-this is the route to go.