The 2016 PEN Gala Raised $1.7 Million, Bringing Continued Revenue Through Literary Celebrations
At last night’s PEN Literary Gala & Freedom of Expression Awards up to 400 guests roamed through archaeological exhibits in the American Museum of Natural History with drinks in hand in preparation to celebrate this year’s PEN honorees. Those honored included best-selling and world-reknown author J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter franchise, imprisoned author Ahmed Naji, Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch, and Flint Water Crisis activists Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Lee-Anne Walters.
During opening remarks PEN President Andrew Solomon announced that the event had raised $1.7 million–an increase from last year’s $1.4 million–to continue PEN’s global mission to celebrate and aid writers unable to maintain the freedom to create and share ideas without fear of prosecution and incarceration. Throughout the museum “Freedom to Write” was posted everywhere the PEN logo was as a summation of the nonprofit organization’s overall goals.
The Gala served as a night to celebrate PEN’s mission while also bringing together the literary elite and many others for dining and a quicker, more festive pitch of PEN’s objectives as an organization to increase donor sponsorship. Deputy Director for Communications Sarah Edkins mentioned that the Gala tends to be a significant financial source for PEN. Galas, awards, and benefit dinners appear to be a steady monetary source for nonprofits that cannot rely solely on grants and/or donations from members and supporters.
The costs for attending these events doesn’t come cheap for interested parties. For the PEN Gala one could purchase a Leadership table for a group of 10 at $50,000 or a Literary Gala ticket at $1,250 which included cocktail hour, sit down dinner, dessert hour, and gift bags.
Tonight the nonprofit mentoring organization Girls Write Now (GWN) is also having an awards dinner honoring author and MSNBC So POPular host Janet Mock, executive producer for HBO’s Girls Jenni Konner, and CEO of BBDO New York John Osborn. Tickets for the GWN dinner started at $150 a pop.
The Authors Guild Annual Dinner happens later this month; supporter tickets begin at $600.
When it comes to ticketed events like these big names are key to garner additional interest; they’re also central to the festivities as honorees for a body of work that’s had a large reach. High profile locations such as the Museum of Natural History, the main branch of the New York Public Library , or a four-star restaurant also up the ante and the ticket price. Sponsorship from for-profit organizations can help pay for event incidentals such as programs, gift bags, and after parties, while being a charitable donation for the for-profit. All this culminates in one of the fanciest parties one may go to in the world of publishing and it seems to be worth the price tag.
The price of attendance is also aimed at a targeted audience to help maintain the work various organizations hope to continue doing. Where the Lincoln Centers of the world may land $100 million donation, organizations supporting author rights worldwide cannot simply add a person’s name to a building, though they may be able to have their own award. The PEN Literary Gala provided guests a face to those being silenced domestically and abroad. The Gala shined a light on those who have supported the industry with work that encouraged reluctant readers (in the case of J.K. Rowling) or demanded change and health regulations for tainted water poisoning an entire city (in the case of Walters and Dr. Hanna-Attisha).
The cost-benefit analysis seems to be working in nonprofits favor, which is why benefit dinners continue to thrive and help these companies thrive.
At the end of the main last night’s festivities, guests filtered out of the museum relaying their enthusiasm for PEN’s mission in addition to being awestruck at the presence of literary superstars such as Gay Talese, Zadie Smith, Walter Mosley, and Donna Tartt to name a few. Ladies lifted their ball gowns as they descended the steps and men clutched gift bags from sponsor Hachette Book Group that included PEN donor cards. The PEN staff stayed behind to clean up. Staff members were tired yet enthusiastic to see their numbers rise and their presence broaden a bit more.