Fundraising galas are one of the most lucrative and effective event types, bringing in an average of $275,000 in profits for even the smallest, low budget versions. The gala planning tips and tricks below will help you maximize your investment and create a killer attendee experience that guests will be talking about for the rest of the year. 

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1. Form a committee of designers, venue managers, and caterers who are also personally or emotionally affected by the focus of your event. 

Because they’ve experienced these issues on a personal level, they’ll be more willing to commit their all to the event. If you don’t already have anyone in mind, post on your social media or email your network list about the opportunity and see who responds with the most enthusiasm. You can also take a peek at past event attendee lists and see if any of those guests are also events professionals. 

2. Livestream the event online. 

If your gala has special meaning to a large group of potential remote attendees or involves any big reveals/announcements then you should at least consider livestreaming it. If you do, make sure to only livestream interesting action (like presentations and fundraiser counters) and double check that speakers or guests are comfortable with being on camera. 

3. Invite people who have benefited from your organization to mix and mingle with donors. 

This tactic is especially effective if you plan to raise funds at your gala. If their story is particularly emotional or memorable, invite them to give a short speech. 

4. Pair a financially focused activity with one that’s just for fun. 

For example, if you do a silent auction make sure you include something entertaining like a stand up comedy performance so donors don’t have to feel like every part of this event costs them more and more money. 

5. Add classy event decor that adds to your brand.  

Gold, silver, and copper accents elevate any gala color scheme or decor item and can be used for logo displays, event-specific marketing materials, and branded take home gifts. Make sure to also include plenty of candles, fresh flowers, and upscale dishware in colors that match your company. 

6. Use past event data to help determine your gala theme. 

Were certain events more well attended than others? What did your most popular events all have in common? Find and exploit these similarities in your gala design. You can also pull feedback from past attendee surveys and apply their notes directly to your new event. 

7. Consider partnering with a corporate sponsor. 

Not only will this save you money, you can also strategically choose who to align your own brand with. And if you’ve never reached out to potential corporate sponsors before, be sure to follow this great guide

8. Streamline your check-in process. 

Paper and pencil lists can fluster event staff as crowds tend to arrive in waves. Use event software that makes it easy for employees to update attendee info with details like additional party members, new donations, and captured photos of VIP guests for future event promotion. 

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9. Gifts, prizes, and goodie bags should all support the main theme and meaning behind your gala. 

Examples of well done swag bags include branded merchandise paired with luxury blankets, candles, or books (coffee table photography books related to your primary charity or event theme are always a hit). If you have the budget, try finding these items at high end department stores like Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth. Or you can make them (sites like Shutterfly allow you to create your own hardcover photo albums with premade templates). 

10. Choose an unconventional event venue

Art galleries, theatres, and even arcades can be the next location of your gala. As long as it fits the theme, charity, or brand, the sky’s the limit. 

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11. Provide group ticket packages. 

Here are some tips for maximizing ticket sales for any event type, including ones where tickets are bought in bulk. 

12. Allow guests to donate through their phones. 

Cutting edge donation apps (like the ones on this list) offer custom branding and digital security. 

13. Integrate physical representations of your association’s main cause into your event design.

For example, if your non-profit or business works with children, create a photo backdrop entirely made up of drawings and thank you cards made by charity recipients. 

14. Use event software to gather, assess, and analyze the success of your event. 

Just don’t base it on just one dollar amount. Galas are also helpful for building your brand, spreading awareness, and building long term relationships. All of these benefits can be measured through guest polling, attendee registration input, and ticket sales analytics. 

15. Take time to acknowledge how far your organization has come. 

This gala could be the first time some of your attendees have ever interacted with your organization so reminding them of where you came from (and, consequently, where you’re potentially going) will help provide proof that their investment of time and/or money was well placed. 

16. Consider how your event lighting will set the tone for the evening. 

Expert event lighting suppliers recommend dimming or eliminating overhead lighting. Then add some color splashes or highlight interesting decor pieces with LEDs. Add some string lights, GOBOs, or 3D mapping if you really want to get fancy. 

17. Use a gala planning timeline template to perfect your process. 

This toolkit will help you get started. In general though you should expect to begin planning your gala at least 18 months out. 

Guide: How to Create an Event Planning Checklist

18. Surprise guests with celebrity speakers, jaw-dropping decor, or a touching experience.

Ubuntu Pathways famously used giant portraits of the children they’ve helped (dressed up as what they want to be when they grow up) at one of their galas. Thoughtful, out-of-the-box touches like these make your event even more memorable. 

19. Theme your catering menu with special event cocktails and specific audience considerations. 

For example, if your gala celebrates fair animal treatment, you should probably focus on offering a vegan menu. You can also create some craft drinks with unique straws or glass decor. And if you go that route, make sure they have some proudly displayed punny names

20. Choose an event date just before a national holiday or cultural event. 

Some of the best galas take place over Halloween or the Super Bowl. If you take this approach, you can base the majority of your design choices on that time of year. 

21. Use video marketing to engage potential attendees on social media. 

Every gala should include the following types of videos in their marketing content: 

  • A short and sweet introduction to your company as a whole. 
  • A story that symbolizes the meaning behind your gala and why it’s so important. 
  • An awareness video that highlights your main cause. 

22. Let guests know that if they can’t make it you will donate their ticket to another worthy attendee. 

Guests can still feel great about having donated to the cause or your business while giving someone else (who normally wouldn’t be able to afford it) the chance to enjoy the event themselves. Raffle the extra tickets off on social media or publicly present them to worthy attendees and tag or shout out the person who made it all possible. 

23. Send handwritten invitations through snail mail. 

It’s a really thoughtful gesture that will catch the recipient’s attention better than an email. If your gala will have a very large guest list, you can always outsource some of the letter writing using sites like Fiverr or Upwork

24. Create a surprise scavenger hunt. 

Follow in the footsteps of Disney’s Hidden Mickey and stash some “Easter eggs” throughout your event venue. Attendees can hunt for them, share hashtagged pictures on social media, and collect enough images to be entered into a grand prize drawing at the end of the night. Use brand mascot plushies or logo symbols for the items. 

25. Make dessert a networking opportunity. 

Interactive dessert experiences are a great way to help guests mingle and meet once they’re all comfortable and settled into the gala. Set up DIY cupcake, hot chocolate, or even mini pie stations. Or have pastry chefs prepare share worthy desserts on narrow, buffet style tables. 

26. Add a door prize. 

Delight guests with a special gift the minute they arrive. Fill it with something that will excite them or make them really happy. It sets the tone for a fun-filled evening and can encourage them to be even more generous. If you also plan to hand out swag bags later on, make sure the door prize item goes well with what’s in the larger gifts too. 

27. Feed guests as soon as the event begins. 

Noone, in the history of events, has ever enjoyed waiting for their food to be served. Happy, well fed guests are more likely to donate money than “hangry” ones. So keep the appetizers flowing or start the buffet right away to make sure everyone has a chance to nibble whenever they want. 

Now you’re ready to win over all your gala attendees! 

Here are even more unique gala ideas, a few ways to exceed your event KPIs, and some event floor plan best practices to make your event a huge success. 

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