If you’re a nonprofit professional, chances are that you were, at least once, part of a nonprofit gala fundraiser
Gala fundraisers are a popular way for nonprofits to raise money and build relationships with their donors. They’re not always, however, easy to plan and execute.
This is where we come to rescue!
If you’re looking for creative and effective gala fundraiser ideas and tips – you’re in the right place.
Why are gala fundraisers so popular?
For one, gala fundraisers are an opportunity to gather some of your nonprofit’s supporters and donors in one place and present to them your achievements and successes.
They are an opportunity for everyone to interact in-person – which happens more and more rarely in the nonprofit space unless you’re a small, local nonprofit.
Donors and supporters get to witness the impact their donations have made so far, to see the faces of those they’ve helped, and to celebrate the cause that connects everyone in the room. This usually compels them to give – which is another reason why galas are so popular with nonprofit professionals.
Galas are also a great opportunity for everyone to network and can even be educational.
Although nonprofit leaders sometimes stray away from organizing galas because they can be a lot of work, a nonprofit of any size can organize a gala.
To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of our best gala fundraising ideas.
Best Gala Fundraising Ideas and Tips
1. Ensure Your Gala Will Help You Achieve Your Goals
This fundraising tip goes without saying and is applicable to almost every fundraising idea out there. Goal setting is an essential step in planning and executing any healthy fundraising campaign or event.
Hopefully, your nonprofit has set strategic goals already. If you haven’t, now would be a good time to do it. This is an important step if you want to ensure the success of your nonprofit, especially when it comes to fundraising. Following that:
– Review your strategic goals and objectives;
– Look at your fundraising goals and objectives;
– Clearly ensure that organizing a gala fundraiser fits with those.
It’s important to do this in order to ensure that you’re not squandering your resources on something that’s not the best tactic to achieve your specific goals and objectives.
If you’ve gone through this step and confirmed that a fundraising gala is what you want to organize, ensure that you set specific goals for your gala event.
Consider using the SMART method to set goals.
Specific – The goal should deal with a specific area of performance or a specific KPI.
Measurable – The goal should be measurable, not subjective.
Attainable – The goal should be ambitious, but remaining within the realm of possibility.
Relevant – The goal should be connected to the overall mission and vision of the organization.
Time-bound – The goal should have a deadline.
Don’t forget to make your gala agenda reflect your goals!
Once you’ve set clear goals for your fundraising gala – and these can vary – start working on your event agenda. Your gala fundraiser agenda should clearly reflect your goals.
2. Put Together An Event Team
Organizing a gala fundraiser is no small task. Oftentimes, a gala fundraiser is the single biggest thing a nonprofit will organize in any given year.
This requires commitment and hard work. And to organize a successful gala that will impress and raise funds – you need a dedicated event team or committee.
Ideally, you would have a team whose sole responsibility for at least a couple of months is organizing the gala fundraiser. It’s very important to distribute tasks among the team members – not only during the preparation stage but also during the event itself.
Consider allocating responsibilities by zone. For example, someone is responsible for the registration zone, someone else for greeting the speakers, a different person for the equipment, for catering, communication with the press, etc.
Also, consider identifying one key Event Manager or Event Chair, and if possible leaders/chairs of the following areas:
- venue and logistics management;
- marketing and PR;
- attendee/delegate experience.
3. Think About The Venue
The amount of effort you invest in finding the right venue will depend on how big of an event you’re thinking. If you’re organizing a smaller get together, perhaps spending a lot of time looking at venues is not as important. This is not to say that having a good space doesn’t matter if your event is smaller. Choosing the right space for your nonprofit gala fundraiser is essential.
This is particularly the case with bigger events, especially annual galas (often occurring during Christmas and New Year’s holidays).
The venue will probably be amongst the largest items on your budget, so it should be looked at early in the planning process. Finding a suitable venue is already hard by itself and it will not get any easier with a limited budget or by incurring any extra, last minute booking costs.
Book early while carefully considering the location and access, the type of venue, the dates, the type of your agenda, the food and beverages.
Make sure you negotiate, shop around, and always personally vet the venue before booking. Make sure that the venue can provide you with everything that you need: A/V equipment, Wi-Fi, event staff, catering, etc. Otherwise, draw up a list of the things or people to be hired.
4. Do More With Less – Or Not?
When organizing any event, it can become really tricky to balance the spending and saving – especially when the organizer is a nonprofit organization.
On one hand, nonprofits should spend their money in the smartest and most cost-effective way possible. On the other hand, organizing a really ‘cheap’ event can leave a poor impression. If the budget isn’t generous enough for organizing a face-to-face event, go virtual. However, spending a lot on an event can potentially cause some attendees to start thinking the money could have been spent better elsewhere (e.g. on programs and services).
Since every nonprofit’s circumstances are so unique, it’s hard to put any number on it. Therefore, the best way to go forward is to look at this complex but important issue with your team and set a budget that balances smart spending and providing a great environment for your attendees.
A good nonprofit fundraising gala budget should include both estimated and actual costs of expenses as well as your projected fundraising goal.
Don’t forget to include the small things: decorations, sound equipment, different software programs, and more. All the small things add up.
5. Go Digital
In today’s day and age, a lot of event management can be outsourced to technology.
Technology can facilitate the management and planning of your event, allowing you more time and space to focus on the attendees and their experience. Consider outsourcing the following to technology:
– registration and payment;
– displaying schedules;
– sharing information about and around the event;
– seating and table arrangements;
– reporting and analytics tracking.
There are tons of event management software programs out there. Do some research and consider investing in one for your nonprofit – ideally one that can integrate with your CRM.
Having a digital solution means that your data collection and analytics will be much smoother – and this will help you plan even better events in the future.
Consider a mobile-optimized, event-specific website or creating an event app.
Going digital allows you to have alternatives to printed materials for planning your events and to be used at events for your attendees. This saves you money and saves a lot of waste. And your attendees will love that you had sustainability and environment in mind!
Finally, don’t forget to go big on socials. Create an event on Facebook, and a dedicated hashtag the guests can use across socials.
Hire a photographer that will take photos and videos that you can share later and use for next year’s event promotion.
6. Decide How To Accept Donations
One of the main, if not the main, goals of gala fundraisers is to raise funds for the nonprofit in general or for a specific program/initiative the nonprofit runs.
Part of the funds usually comes from the registration/admission fees, but that shouldn’t be where you stop. Consider accepting additional donations at different points in time during the event.
You can also organize auctions and raffles (more on that next). Whatever additional ways you choose to organize to raise more funds, you’ll need a way to collect/accept donations.
It’s best to offer multiple giving options. This will increase your chances of reaching your gala fundraising goal.
There are many ways to accept donations during a gala event:
– donation kiosks;
– mobile-optimized donation forms.
All pros and cons considered, mobile-optimized donation forms might be the most effective way to accept donations during an event. It’s highly likely that all of your attendees will have mobile phones with wi-fi access or mobile data on hand.
Donorbox donation forms are mobile-optimizable, and you can customize them to match your nonprofit branding. It also allows for multiple payment options (which can help increase the number of donations).
Donorbox is a powerful fundraising software that is super simple to set up and attracts more recurring donors. And you can start fundraising with a fast, optimized donation payment system in 15 minutes!
7. Enrich Your Program With Activities
An important way to ensure you meet your fundraising goals and enrich the experience of your attendees is to include interesting activities in your gala fundraiser agenda.
These entertain guests and boost attendee engagement.
The two most popular activities for gala fundraisers are auctions and raffles.
Auctions are a staple when it comes to gala fundraisers and nonprofit fundraising in general. Not only are auctions a fun and exciting way to engage your gala fundraiser attendees, but they can also help your nonprofit raise a lot of money. Seeing as donors will be making charitable contributions in exchange for amazing auction items, the very nature of auctions is incentivizing.
There are many different types of auctions (silent auctions, live auctions, online auctions etc.) – so consider all the pros and cons before deciding which one to go for.
There are many different steps involved in planning an auction – which is why it’s important to have a dedicated team working on your gala fundraiser. When thinking about which items to solicit, you’ll probably want to start by consulting your donor data. The items that tend to do best will appeal to your attendees’ interests as well as fall within their general income levels.
There are tons of different auction items that you could consider: travel packages, bar crawls, high-end restaurant vouchers, artwork, a day with a personal assistant or a trainer, lessons, tours, and more.
However, if you want to take your auction to the next level, get creative! Think of items that are directly related to your nonprofit mission and activities. For example, can an auction item be a trip to one of your field offices or an all-expense paid volunteering experience with your organization?
Raffles can either be run as part of a fundraising event, or as a dedicated fundraiser outside of an event.
If they are, choose attractive items that get donated for the event to use in the raffle, or purchase them at a reasonable price.
For a raffle to work, you need to make it visible (not tucked away in some back corner of the room). Train your staff and volunteers to sell the raffle tickets. Encourage guests to buy multiple tickets, send staff members from table to table selling tickets, and announce the raffle multiple times from the podium.
Note: Make sure you read up on rules and regulations when it comes to holding a raffle in your respective country. In the United States, your state may, or may not, permit charitable nonprofits to conduct raffles, Bingo, auctions, and other games of chance. If it does, it is likely your nonprofit will need to apply for a license from the state beforehand. Here’s more information about licensing in the UK.
8. Make the Guest Experience Your Priority
Although gala fundraisers present a wonderful opportunity to talk more about your nonprofit, your initiatives and successes –this approach shouldn’t be overwhelming.
Stay away from the ‘me, me, me’ approach and make sure the attendees are at the center of your attention. Make sure you emphasize that the donor support is what enabled you to achieve what you achieved. Showcase the impact your donors and supporters had.
In addition to this, consider dietary requirements of your attendees. Especially at large international events there are bound to vegetarians, vegans, or people with dietary restrictions for religious or health reasons, etc. Cater to those preferences and requirements.
However great your content, if the fundamentals are not done right – it will make a big difference in the guest experience. Make sure you really nail the basics: food, drinks, check-in process, and donation process. Having enough volunteers to answer questions can greatly affect your supporters’ experience.
Finally, although gala fundraisers are often specifically created by nonprofits to solicit donations – gala fundraisers should be about celebration too. Get that spirit across through your decorations, your words, and your agenda. This can help reinforce the commitment your donors and supporters already have.
A good way to entertain, celebrate, and showcase impact is to play a video. The video should be short, high-quality and ideally produced by professionals.
9. Fun, Fun, Fun
Even if your attendees have supported you for years and really believe in the mission of your organization, fun is the essential ingredient of a successful gala fundraiser.
If your attendees don’t have fun, they are less likely to donate, less likely to stay a supporter, less likely to come again next year or spread good words about your nonprofit.
In addition to enriching activities like auctions and galas, consider having a theme for your gala fundraiser. Here are some ideas:
– Wonderland (a grownup tea party with scones, pastries and other British sweets complete with cricket and a hat contest)
– Masquerade (masque ball with a live band complete with mask competitions and fireworks)
– Magical Garden (a gala in a botanical garden with bold patterns complete with organic and healthy appetizers)
These are only some of the many ways you can make your gala fundraiser fun for everyone attending.
Design your event in a way that is both fun and encourages interaction on social media. For example, create a pop-up photo booth with a cool photo background, or paste the Instagram logo throughout the venue as a call to action.
Here is where it’s very important to know your audience and cater to them. Younger generations might desire a completely different experience, activities, and dress code than older generations.
Building an engages supporter base of passionate donors requires attention and listening.
10. Don’t Forget About The After
In the euphoria and tiredness that follows the organization of a big event, nonprofit professionals often forget about the “after”.
To get an objective assessment of how it all went ask participants to complete a printed or online evaluation form at the end of the event or when they get home.
Ask them to assess various aspects of the event: logistics, speakers, locations, and the work of the organizers. This information will help you avoid mistakes in the future and improve the quality of your events.
Send ‘thank you’ emails to all the attendees and share ‘thank you’ messages on your social media profiles.
Also thank sponsors, speakers, VIPs, etc. by mail, phone call or e-mail – whatever is most appropriate for your specific relationships.
Post photos, short videos, and testimonials on the event website in order to keep interest alive and encourage attendees to tag themselves.
Reconcile all accounts. Have a meeting with your team to go over what went well and what could have been done better. This will help you start planning the next edition.
Organizing gala fundraisers can be a stressful and resource-consuming endeavor.
However, in addition to being a great platform for raising funds, gala fundraisers are also an opportunity to build strong, lasting, and meaningful relationships with donors and supporters.
Now that you’ve read our top 10 tips and ideas for organizing a gala fundraiser, you’re ready to start planning!
Don’t forget to set goals, think about the venue and the logistics, consider the budget, go digital, decide how to accept donations, enrich the event with activities, make the attendee experience a priority, create fun, and pay attention to the time right after the event.