Easy Ways to Make Your First Fundraising Gala A Success

Fundraising Gala

A gala is a festival or celebration for a particular community. Galas typically focus on some characteristic of that community (usually a specific aspect of its culture, value system, or religion). Throughout history, galas included getting gussied up in your fanciest attire to enjoy food, entertainment, and celebration with your community.

Fundraising galas have long been a useful tool for charities and nonprofits to expand their networks and raise much-needed money. Though they might sometimes feel like fundraising from a previous era, galas still work quite well for many organizations.

Of course, it can be challenging to organize and execute an effective fundraising gala. Here are some handy tips and tricks to determine if a gala is right for your organization and ways to make your next fundraising gala a smashing success!


Who should host a fundraising gala?

Though galas are fun and festive, they aren’t the right fundraiser for every organization. This type of event is more formal than other kinds of fundraisers and typically includes bringing on corporate sponsors, major donors, community leaders, and other influential people.

Before you start planning your first gala, weigh the costs and potential benefits. It’s critical to estimate the costs, feasibility, and likelihood of success for each major fundraising event you host. Though you won’t be able to guarantee an event will be profitable for your organization, you can reasonably predict an event’s effectiveness with a little research.

Here are some key questions to ask that will help you determine whether a fundraising gala is a good fit for your organization:

What is the culture of your nonprofit?

If your organization is very informal, then a fancy gala may not attract your target audience (though sometimes an event that breaks from the usual routine is fun and welcome). Ask some of your core supporters their opinion.

Also, consider the values of your organization. Will a gala accurately reflect your values and help advance your mission? For example, it’s pretty obvious that it wouldn’t be in good taste for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to host an event at SeaWorld. Similarly, it might not accurately reflect Food for the Poor’s values if they host a fine-dining experience to raise money to feed those without food around the world.

Are you and your team good at selling tickets?

Fundraising galas typically rely on ticket sales for revenue. Do you have the right systems to sell tickets? Do you have people on your team who are excited to sell tickets? Are your core supporters enthusiastic about rallying their networks?

Do you have the budget for a significant fundraising event?

Even a small gala will require a budget to reserve a location, food, entertainment, decorations, etcetera. Some nonprofits find sponsors and donors to cover costs, but any event still requires a sum of money. Do you have the funds needed, and do you believe the benefits will outweigh the event price tag?

Do you have the right people with enough time?

Planning and executing a gala requires a significant amount of time and energy. Do you have the right people with the right organizational skills to prepare a gala? If so, do those volunteers or employees have enough time in their schedules to plan the event? The organizers must have all the skills, time, and resources necessary to make the event successful.

Will a fundraising gala help you achieve your goals?

Hopefully, your organization has specific, strategic goals for accomplishing your mission and for fundraising. Will a fundraising gala help you achieve one or more of your goals? Will it be possible to make your gala reflect your organization’s values and goals?

Choose the right planning team

Often, a gala is the largest fundraising event of the year for a nonprofit. Planning an event of that magnitude requires a lot of time and energy. Experienced event planners recommend taking about 18 months to plan your first gala.

Once you decide that a gala is the right fundraising event for your nonprofit, the next step is to assemble a planning team. Identify a team leader who will oversee the entire planning process and assign responsibilities.

Next, gather reliable committee members who have the time, skills, and enthusiasm to organize an event of this magnitude. If possible, include staff members, volunteers, and board members on the planning committee.

The most important things to plan are the budget, venue, food and beverage selections, entertainment or speakers, ticket sales (and invitations), sponsorships, and follow-up plans. Many galas also include raffles, drawings, silent auctions, and other fundraising streams.

Easy ways to take your gala to the next level

There are many ways to be creative and make your gala unique, fun, and successful without overwhelming your planning committee. Some of these ideas will actually help your fundraiser run smoothly and improve the overall experience.

Have a plan to sell tickets and check people in

One of the common complaints from nonprofits who host galas is the logistical nightmare of welcoming and checking in all the attendees. Alleviate the stress on your team and help your guests have a calm, enjoyable arrival by using an online ticket-sales system.

An online ticketing system will also improve your ticket sales before the event. Your core supporters will be able to help advertise the event and encourage their network to purchase tickets.

The secondary benefit of online ticket sales and event registration software is you can collect new or additional donations at any point before, during, and after your gala!

Create FOMO

"Fear Of Missing Out" (FOMO) is your friend! Live-stream portions of your event on social media. Assign one staff member the task of posting photos, updates, quotes, and video clips of the gala to your social media platforms throughout the evening. Encourage people to give online even if they cannot attend in person. In doing this, you are expanding the reach of your gala and increasing your fundraising potential.

For an added layer of fun, take photos of your guests in front of a themed background at check-in. If you have the budget, give guests a nice print of their picture at the event or in a thank you card afterward. These photos make excellent keepsakes for attendees and great promotional material for you. Posting a few online from the event will add to the online excitement as well.

Invite people who benefit from your organization to attend as honored guests

This is a particularly impactful fundraising tactic. Invite people whose lives are transformed by your organization to attend, mingle with donors, and share their stories. You might even ask them to give a short speech.

Pair fun and fundraising

Attendees and donors don’t like feeling as though every part of the event costs more money. One easy way to alleviate that feeling is to pair fun with fundraising. For example, if you plan to have a silent auction or raffle at your gala, invite a stand-up comedian or some lighthearted entertainment to perform during the event. The two activities balance each other out and offer your donors the opportunity to enjoy the evening while also supporting your cause.

Are you ready to plan a gala or major fundraising event? Here are three more resources to help you succeed!