A gala for glory or good?

The art of fundraising is an elusive mistress. She can take you to new heights, or leave you just, nauseous. Non-profit organizations know all too well the highs and lows that come with a season of fundraising, and our local free clinic is no exception. Inevitably, at the end of each year we are left pondering how our annual fundraiser is perceived. I can only pray that our supporters know what looks like grasps for glory, are truly all meant for good.

With Health Partners Free Clinic’s, Healing Jar Gala just weeks away, the volunteer gala committee is swathed with planning and preparation. This, our seventh annual fundraiser to support the cost to run clinic programming, is set to be the largest yet. In the eye of the storm, inevitably there are moments of question: Have we gone too big this year? Have we not done enough? Will current donors continue to support us? Will we develop new donors this year?

Non-profit organizations all over Miami County have had to ask themselves these same questions at some point along the way. We are blessed to live in a community with very generous grantors, foundations, and United Ways that support our organizations, but at some point, we have to put skin in the funding game. In this vein, everyone is working to create the next great fundraising “modus operandi.”

The past seven years have been quite the fundraising journey for Health Partners, and our little free clinic is finally seeing the fruits of this labor. In good faith, our board and staff have established and cultivated the Healing Jar Gala through trial and error. Three years ago, in the name of self-sufficiency, they took the risky step of changing the event entirely by taking it from an informal, informational breakfast, to an all-out, evening affair, complete with catered dinner and high-dollar ticket prices. Everyone was affected by the change pain, but the risk has paid off.

From phone-a-thons to an ice bucket challenge, there seems to be a plethora of great ways to garner supporter involvement with a mission-driven movement. When well-managed and carried out correctly, a quality fundraising event has the ability to generate exponential support, alleviating much financial stress and thus freeing up more time for organizations to focus on their programming. If done incorrectly, the same organization, and therefore its mission, could be stuck in limbo for years.

Yet, with all of these budgetary implications, still the greatest elicitor of nail-biting anxiety through the Gala’s planning process is the public perception of the fundraising event: “Will a large and lavish event put a bad taste in the public’s mouth? Or, will a lack of investment in the event scare potential partners away?” Where one donor may be appalled at the notion of a high-dollar event held in the name of charity, another donor may applaud the refined nature by which the organization presents itself and shows gratitude to its supporters. It is all perception.

At the end of the day, regardless of their chosen method, the fundamental purpose of fundraising is to allow non-profits to pursue and support their missions, and this is the most important part. Donations to non-profits go towards programs that teach kids to read, provide emergency shelter, treat addictions, and (in our case) deliver quality healthcare at no cost. Each year, The Healing Jar Gala tries to marry sophisticated elegance and mission-driven humility. The public may only see the extravagant event and wonder if their support makes a difference, but I can assure you, here at Health Partners Free Clinic, every dollar counts. There are no grasps for glory, only grasps for the hand of another patient in need.


Justin Coby has been affiliated with Health Partners Free Clinic as a volunteer pharmacist since 2007, and was appointed executive director in 2012.

Justin Coby has been affiliated with Health Partners Free Clinic as a volunteer pharmacist since 2007, and was appointed executive director in 2012.