Charity galas put a fancy spin on fundraising. They give your organization a way to fundraise and raise awareness in style. From donation goal-setting to choosing the perfect venue, there’s lots to learn about planning a successful fundraising gala.

What is a Fundraising Gala?

A fundraising gala is an event hosted by a non-profit organization to raise money for its missions and initiatives. While bake sales, fun runs, and car washes are fun ways to raise funds, Galas add elegance and formality to fundraising. They are extravagant events that may include:

  • A formal or semi-formal dress code
  • Entertainment
  • A meal
  • An awards ceremony
  • Auctions or other fundraising activities
  • Special presentations

Although fundraising is the primary purpose of these galas, they are also excellent networking opportunities. They provide great, authentic ways to strengthen donor relationships and connect to your community. They promote your mission and provide a fantastic platform for stewardship. Galas are a lot of work to plan and execute, but they are worth it. Here are 11 steps to planning the fundraising gala of the year.

1. Assemble Your Planning Team

Trust us when we say planning a gala is not a one-person job. Whether you hire a corporate party planner or assign roles within your organization, you’ll need an event planning committee, and each person should have an established role. Roles on your committee might include:

  • Event planner
  • Marketing Coordinator
  • Fundraising lead
  • A/V and tech team
  • Volunteer Coordinator

2. Set Your Monetary Goal

One of the most essential aspects of fundraising is setting a goal. This goal helps you keep track of past and future efforts and enables you to continue setting realistic goals each year. You want your fundraising goal to be ambitious yet still attainable.

Whatever goal you settle on, make it public and highlight the beneficiary so donors know where their money is going.

3. Set a Budget

Your fundraising goal and your budget go hand in hand. The last thing you want is to wind up losing money. That defeats the whole purpose and puts you worse off than before. A budget helps to avoid going overboard on spending and acts as a guide in your spending decisions. The only red you should see is on that lovely red carpet! The most significant costs to work into your budget include:

  • Venue
  • Food
  • Decor
  • Promotion
  • Entertainment
  • Raffle/auction expenses
  • Technology
  • Photographer
  • Printed materials

Once you set your budget and factor in all your costs, you can determine how many tickets you must sell to break even and what it will take to meet your goal.

4. Select a Venue and Date

The “where” and “when” are essential details to nail down early in your planning. Many venues get booked up and have waiting lists for over a year. Make sure you don’t procrastinate when selecting and booking your venue. Plus, if you build a solid relationship with the venue, it may be easier to lock in the same date in the future.

Galas are considered formal events, and perfect venues include:

  • Banquet halls
  • Art galleries
  • Hotels
  • Historical venues
  • Yachts
  • Conference halls
  • Botanical gardens

Selecting a date early is essential so guests have plenty of time to plan. Galas can be any time of the year, but November marks the start of gala season. Donors often prefer end-of-the-year charity events to end the year on a charitable note — and get those tax receipts. For hosts, it can be nice to put all your effort into a gala and then have the new year to breathe a bit.

5. Create Your Gala Program

A gala must have a program to lay out the timeline of events. Guests are more likely to stay until the end if they know the exact sequence of events. Here’s an example of a typical fundraising gala program:

  • Registration and Welcome (30 minutes before the event starts)
  • Cocktail Hour (60 minutes)
  • Opening Remarks and Appeal for Support (20 minutes)
  • Sit-down Dinner (60-90 minutes)
  • Impact Story or Video Presentation (10-20 minutes)
  • Fundraising Activity or Live auction (30-40 minutes)
  • Entertainment or Special Speaker (25-30 minutes)
  • Closing Remarks and Conclusion (5 minutes)
  • Networking Opportunities and Dessert

Put some thought into your program and distribute it before the event. Supply each guest with a copy of the program at their dinner spot.

6. Reach Out to Sponsors

Once you’ve done the nitty gritty planning to lay the foundation for your event, it’s time to connect with sponsors. A great way to start is to create a set of event sponsorship levels that can entice your sponsors to cover the venue, catering, and other core costs. This means guests can buy an individual ticket or choose a sponsorship level.

When you encourage sponsors to cover the costs of the event, you can show your other donors that their money will go straight toward the cause at hand.

Here’s a typical breakdown of donation thresholds based on fundraising galas across the country:

  • Individual Ticket: $230
  • Bronze Sponsor: $4,000
  • Silver Sponsor: $6,000
  • Gold Sponsor: $8,000
  • Platinum Sponsor: $10,000

7. Lock Down the Entertainment and Refreshments

It’s time to finalize the fun and food. If you have a live band or other musical entertainment, assign your A/V team to stay connected with them throughout the planning process to ensure everyone is on the same page and has all the resources and tools they need for their performance. Don’t wait until the last minute to finalize all the details.

If your venue has a drinks and refreshments package, contact them to ensure all details are squared away and ready to be executed. If you’re working with third-party caterers, stay in touch with them to update the headcount for the evening. You can finalize food and refreshment plans and make sure the caterer is on schedule. Cover all your bases to avoid no-shows or date mix-ups.

8. Send out the Invitations

The invitation is the first piece of the overall gala puzzle your guest receives. It’s their first impression. A fancy gala deserves a fancy invitation. Make it branded, organized, and easy to read. Some critical information to put on your invitations include:

  • A brief description of your event and its mission
  • Name of your organization
  • Date and time
  • Location
  • RSVP details

Now, it’s time to pull from your contact lists and send the invites out. Send invitations to all your past donors and members. Digital invitations provide an effective way to reach guests and track RSVPs. They are also eco-friendly. However, some people prefer to send hard-copy invitations when they are hosting formal events.

9. Promote Your Gala

It’s time to put your marketing team to work. Have your team devise a marketing plan and encourage people to register for the event. Use social media as much as possible to keep your gala top of mind. No matter the scale of your gala, treat it as the event of the year that everyone and anyone will be attending. Your marketing strategy could include the following:

  • Email campaigns
  • A social media campaign
  • TV and radio slots
  • Local newspaper ads
  • Physical and digital flyers

10. Highlight Your Event’s Cause Throughout the Event

Galas are fun, fancy, and enjoyable, but don’t lose sight of their purpose. This is your chance to highlight your cause in front of a large group and show your passion. Make a statement and make an impact. Keep your cause front and center. Talk about your beneficiaries, share some data about your nonprofit’s impact, and encourage supporters to donate. Keynote speakers and impact stories can help drive home the importance of the cause.

11. Gather Feedback Post-Event

Post-event surveys are invaluable, especially if this is your first time hosting a gala. This is an opportunity to solidify your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses for the next event in hopes that each gala will be better than the last. Send out a survey after your event and request feedback within a week of the event so the experience is fresh for attendees.

Fundraising galas are fantastic events that raise money for a good cause while providing a night to remember. If you need an award-winning party planner in Los Angeles, D.C., or Dallas for this year’s gala, contact Andrew Roby Events today.