Planning a fundraising gala can be an overwhelming process—these eight steps can help.
Planning a fundraising gala can definitely seem daunting at first. But don’t worry—or worry a little less. We’ve come up with a few essential steps your nonprofit can take to ensure your preparation phase runs smoothly.
Before we dive into the list, it’s important to define your fundraising goals. Think about the main message of this years gala, the amount you need to raise, or the number of new donors you would like to sign up. Once that’s done, follow these eight steps (or download our handy planning a fundraising gala checklist) and start planning your next fundraising gala event.
1. Make a fundraising gala budget.
Setting a fundraising goal and budget for your gala event is super important. So important that we’ve made it the first step on our checklist. You should establish your budget well in advance and use it to guide your decision making process while planning your fundraising gala.
Your budget should be pretty detailed and include all expenses such as: venue rental, catering, entertainment, decorations, marketing materials, staff or volunteer costs, liquor license, etc. Everything and anything that will contribute to the overall cost of your event so you can raise enough money to offset that amount and have enough left over to meet your nonprofit’s needs.
2. How to plan a fundraising gala: form a gala committee.
Assemble a committee of volunteers and involve your stakeholders as soon as possible. This will help you delegate tasks, seek out advice, and generally save your sanity.
3. How to plan a fundraising gala: choose a date and a venue.
Next up, figure out when and where you want to host your fundraising event. Maybe you have a venue in mind and that venue’s availability will determine your nonprofit’s gala’s date or maybe you host your fundraising gala on the same weekend every year. Either way, it’s a really, really good idea to book your venue about a year in advance.
There are a few other things to keep in mind when choosing a date and a venue:
- Make sure that the date does not overlap with any holidays or other major events in your area.
- Ensure that all the executives, members, volunteers, recurring donors, and other key players in your nonprofit organization are available and that they book the date in their calendar. (These folks all have important roles to play and you don’t want them to be double-booked.)
- Make sure the venue has the appropriate amenities and is the right size. Too big and your gala will feel empty, too small and your guests will feel crowded and uncomfortable.
4. Set deadlines to keep your fundraising gala budget and planning in line.
Coming up with clear deadlines for every step of your fundraising gala plan will help bring your event together by flagging issues well in advance and keeping you on budget.
One helpful way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with your list of steps to accomplish. Be sure to include who is responsible for leading the step, when you want to have contracts signed, promotions started, branding completed, communications sent out, and ticket sales opened.
Be sure to leave some extra buffer time in your spreadsheet. Life happens, and the best thing you can do is cut you and your team some slack by preparing for the unexpected!
5. You’re a nonprofit and nonprofits can negotiate.
Everyone can negotiate, even for-profit businesses but, as a nonprofit organization you are in a much better position to ask people and businesses what they can do to help. That means that you may be able to negotiate the price of certain services, or even have some services donated. That doesn’t mean they’ll always say yes or that you won’t need to offer something in return (such as tickets to the event), but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about asking.
Good to know:
When it comes to planning a fundraising gala, contracts are your new best friend. Remember to read them all and get them signed well in advance.
6. How to plan a fundraising gala: communication is key.
Start telling donors, volunteers, sponsors, and anyone else you want to attend about your fundraising gala around six months before the data of your event. This means you should have your invitations and tickets designed and printed, programs thought out, emails written, posters ready to go, and other marketing materials designed and ready. (Think: social media posts, radio announcements, updates to your website, etc.)
In addition to communicating your fundraising gala to potential attendees, start reaching out and confirming potential sponsors. The earlier you do this, the better. Sponsor can help you cover some costs, give you ideas for entertainment, and spread the word.
Good to know:
Depending on the size of your event, you should start sending out invitations anywhere from six to three months in advance. (The sooner the better so that potential attendees can reserve the date in their calendars.)
7. Choose an online event management and ticket platform for your fundraising gala.
This one could have been step 4 or 5 on the list, but we felt bad about plugging Zeffy that early on. But, choosing your event management and ticketing platform early will help you generate and send invitations and tickets, process your payments, send tax receipts, organize and track your invitees and confirmed attendees, help keep everyone on your team in the loop, and help you keep in touch with everyone.
There are platforms out there that you can pay to use or there’s Zeffy—the only 100% free online fundraising platform. Zeffy can help your nonprofit organization save thousands of dollars on platform and transaction fees, all while streamlining your fundraising event ticketing and communication process. (Plus, you can use Zeffy for a lot more than your yearly gala event.)
8. Remember to thank your donors, sponsors, volunteers, attendees, team, everyone.
We’ve said it before, and we’re about to say it again: saying thank you is very, very important. Zeffy can help with our donor management tools and we’ve written a blog post on the importance of saying thank you that even includes a few templates to get you started.
Bonus: Learn from your fundraising galas.
This step might just be the most important one. Every fundraising gala your nonprofit hosts will teach you something. So, collect as much data as you can every year:
- Attendee names and contact info.
- Ask for feedback.
- Keep track of any sponsors.
- Note any partners that you loved or not. (And jot down why.)
- Was the venue the right size? Did it have all the amenities you needed?
- Were there any other events around the same time that effected yours?