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Galas, a traditional fundraising workhorse, can be easy to write off in today’s world where so many lower cost fundraising options exist. But if you can construct a gala experience that brings people into your organization and deepens engagement for supporters in an intentional way, you can see ROI that goes beyond the dollars raised during the event.

Best Practices

Here are a few items to keep in mind specifically when planning your event:

Create and follow an itemized budget to ensure you stay focused and on track. Most items should fall under a larger category but leave extra monies for incidentals that might arise. An effective way to off-set expenses is to promote outside support. Benefactors will help fund your fundraising event and, in turn, receive public recognition. Form sponsorship levels and increase the benefits in monetary increments. Marketers know that if they get their product or company under the right event sponsorship, they can get visibility among their target audiences. Also, make sure to account for all in-kind donations on your profit and loss statement. The IRS requires all nonprofits to recognize donated items as revenue and an expense, producing an accurate cost synopsis. A budget should include (but is not limited to):
– Invitations/mail house
– Entertainment/lighting/sound
– Catering
– Bar service
– Staffing
– Printing
– Rentals
– Security
– Parking
– Incidentals

Build a committee of volunteers, staff, and board members to escalate ticket sales, increase publicity, leverage additional resources, and create a sense of ownership. Most people donate their services, time, or monies because they are asked by a friend, family member, or peer. A committee is a perfect way to secure new volunteers and/or donors. Be creative and give them an identifying name, such as “Friends of the Festival,” intensifying their purpose, strengthening their drive, and increasing exposure and community support. Use your committee members’ resources and recognize their efforts on your social media posts, website, and printed collateral. They are your advocates and should feel appreciated.

Create an event marketing strategy. Your marketing plan will vary depending on the target audience and formality of the event. All events need exposure and have similar goals, but your publicity techniques will vary. Casual events can use social media and electronic invitations, while formal events will need printed save-the-dates and invitations. Make sure your marketing efforts reflect the voice of the event and appeal to your invited guests.

Build sales goals for your event. Determine how you will sell tickets and consider the delivery method (remember that it will need to be convenient for your guests). Ticket prices should reflect the style of the event and align with your target audience. Have multiple ticket prices available so your guests can choose their level of involvement. It’s important to have an exclusive price for your members so they feel special and acknowledged for supporting your organization annually. For example, offer a general admission ticket, VIP ticket, and a member ticket, each with its own experiences. Simplicity is paramount—ensure that you don’t have too many options, which can become confusing. Offering different levels will increase your revenue and enhance the guest experience.

Create an intentional atmosphere for the event. Allow your guests to be amazed while creating a fun environment. Develop a unique atmosphere, and treat guests to out-of-the-box, memorable encounters. If possible, include a theme that will heighten the originality and allow guests to get involved. Build experiences that generate buzz to sustain attendance for your next affair.

Train staff and volunteers to be ambassadors for your mission during the event. A full run-through of the event is likely unnecessary, but meet with staff and volunteers at least one week prior. Provide a detailed outline defining the event flow, explain each position’s duties, and make sure expectations are understood. This meeting will prepare staff and volunteers and allow them to manage any troubleshooting that may arise. Also, form a strategy for each attendee that would benefit from cultivation. Assign board members, leadership, and staff to approach certain donors and/or prospects and allow for personalized tours. Make sure to capitalize on all possibilities and not miss a single opportunity.

Schedule a run-of-show. Timelines will vary depending on the complexity of the event, and practicing how the day-of will operate can aid in execution. The run-of-show, which is a detailed event timeline, is extremely important to stay organized during the busy days leading up to a fundraiser.

Acknowledge your donors and volunteers. You can’t thank your donors, vendors, staff, and volunteers enough since you will be leaning on them again in the future. Ensure that you have a strong communication program in place to nurture your donors and event attendees. In terms of logistics, events are a team effort, and everyone contributes a unique talent. A thank you can be simple and impactful. For example, write hand-written notes, attach a piece of candy and leave on the desks of staff members. This small gesture will brighten their day and make them smile. They will know, and remember, that you appreciate them.

Evaluate the event. Take time to think through the entire event and track your suggestions for the next one. Meet with staff and the planning committee to solicit their feedback. Highlight the things attendees truly enjoyed and make note of lessons learned and changes to make.