Spring is the new fall when it comes to annual fundraising galas. With the promise of warmer weather and less competition, many nonprofits have made the switch from year-end events to springtime celebrations. In doing so, they avoid the holiday crush and often end up with a better (and less expensive) selection of venue, catering and entertainment options.
If your organization is gearing up for its spring fundraising gala, now is the time to start planning. Launching this process early (6 to 12 months in advance) gives you the best opportunity to secure sponsorships, fully engage your audience, maximize attendance and boost giving.
Here are some tips to help guide you through the process.
Getting Started with Gala Planning
Choose a Project Manager & Planning Committee
Select a capable project manager to oversee planning and implementation. For the planning committee, include board and non-board members and assign specific tasks. If you’re planning a large gala, create sub-committees to focus on specific areas, such as marketing, fundraising, auction, run-of-show, volunteer management, etc.
Set Your Event Theme & Financial Goals
Work with your project manager and planning committee to decide on a gala theme that aligns closely with your organization’s mission. All aspects of the event should correspond with this theme. At this stage, you should also decide how much you need to raise and how you’ll get there, focusing on how you will cover event costs while funding your organizational needs.
Develop a Budget & Stick to It
Use previous gala budgets as a guide, but adjust your numbers to reflect potential cost increases for event space, catering, entertainment and other vendors. If you must scale back, consider some creative alternatives, such as a breakfast or strolling dinner.
Pick a Less Competitive Date
Many nonprofits are shifting to weeknight events, which typically expand venue and catering options and offer lower costs. Guests also tend to have greater availability since you’re not competing with busy weekend schedules. If you do choose a weeknight for your event, make sure it doesn’t run late (preferably end by 10 p.m.). Otherwise, you’ll end up with tired attendees who may leave early and not contribute as much to your cause.
Maximizing Your Fundraising
Engage with Sponsors Early
Determine your sponsorship packages well in advance and reconnect with previous supporters to confirm their renewed commitment. Start with key sponsors – presenting and other high-level event supporters – and work your way down. As you engage with sponsors, make the effort personal whenever possible. Include quotes or anecdotes from clients who have benefited from your programs, connecting funding support with life-changing experiences. If you need the support of new sponsors, connect with companies that align with your mission. To boost your success, offer a variety of ways for businesses to contribute, whether it’s sponsoring a specific activity (ex. program printing), in-kind donations or volunteer opportunities.
Be Strategic About Ticket Sales
Focus the bulk of your ticket selling efforts on tables rather than individual seats. Offer tables or multiple tickets to your event sponsors and encourage board members to host tables and invite guests who could become new advocates and friends of the organization.
Invite People Who Should Be in the Room
Send invitations to your donors – that’s a given. But also encourage board members and high-level donors to recommend other influencers or celebrities who could be potential partners or funders. Offer free tickets to key stakeholders who may not be able to afford to attend, such as clients you serve or community members.
Promote Your Event
To boost attendance, publicize the event through multiple channels, including your organization’s website, newsletter, social media and paid media outlets, such as Google Ad Grants. If you’re trying to attract a broader audience, seek out event calendars that may be published by local news outlets. To further generate awareness of your cause, consider having board members invite members of the local media as guests to the event.
Encourage Multiple Ways to Give
All organizations try to engage younger donors, so ensure there are ways to give beyond check or credit card. Incorporate QR codes into all program materials that link to virtual payment platforms such as PayPal, Venmo or Zelle. Identify a text-to-give platform and incorporate fundraising moments during the gala to incentivize giving – for example, the first three people to reply to this text get a gift. Encourage these donors to become recurring supporters.
Making Your Gala Inspirational & Interesting
Focus on Your Mission
All aspects of your gala should reflect your theme and give attendees a clear understanding of your cause and how their support makes your nonprofit’s work possible. Secure an inspiring keynote speaker whose experience and purpose are tied to your mission. Focus the event on the people you serve, asking clients with impactful, heartwarming stories to speak at your event or simply attend and chat with guests.
Feature an Impact Video & Annual Report
Research shows that donors are 43% more likely to take action after viewing a video. The video should match your gala theme and make the case for support with impactful personal stories from clients, volunteers, board members and others. Similarly, have copies of your most recent impact report available for attendee viewing.
Keep it Flowing, Keep it Entertaining
Schedule your run-of-show to the minute, practice it and stick to it. Your guests need to have fun so keep things moving and don’t run too long – a 3 to 4-hour event is often a good rule of thumb. In addition to raffles and live or silent auctions, consider musical entertainment, a local celebrity emcee (local TV or radio news personalities are often a good choice) and other activities as long as they don’t interfere with the flow of the evening.
Once the event is over, take a breath but be sure to thank every attendee, sponsor, volunteer and committee member for their support and effort. Track your budget and attendee lists, calculate your results against funding goals and meet with your committee to review what went well and what needs improvement. Your effort and analyses will pay dividends when you start planning for next year.