Honor for sale

One of the things we lose by treating social enterprise as something new is the opportunity to learn from existing social businesses. Case in point: the benefit circuit, which has been funding charities for years.

Think about it. Benefits are in many ways the lifeblood of certain industries, particularly in major urban areas. For example, many of the celebrity photos you see on sites such as Getty Images come from charitable events. In fact, at the very moment I wrote this, the New York media scene is buzzing with photos & news from The Costume Institute Gala, one of the major social events of the year.

In social enterprise we talk a lot about the value of offering value added, but most of us got nothin' on the benefit biz. Such is the value added of these shindigs that people pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of sitting at a table for three hours to see someone else get an award.

But that's not all. As this article notes, the real coup has been the way that charities have been able to get the honorees themselves to pay for the privilege of being honored. While universities have long been notorious for giving honorary degrees to rich and famous people in hopes of getting a mention in the will, for other charities honor is strictly on a pay-as-you-go basis:

an honoree is not chosen just to give a speech and be feted. He or she must be willing to make a big donation, usually from the company’s coffers, and — more important — to invite friends and contacts to the gala who will buy $20,000 tables or single tickets for $2,000 to $3,000, bringing new support to the organization.

Which brings us to reason why this scene is now attracting interest beyond the society beat. Apparently, since the financial crisis some charities have been experiencing difficulty in finding honorees willing to pay to receive an award. To learn how charities are dealing with this crisis, read the whole thing: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/fashion/03benefit.html.