April 15, 2014  |  by Brianna McKinney

5 Tips To Plan A Better Nonprofit Gala

Remember that last great nonprofit gala you attended? You know, the one with the great food and engaging activities where you met all sorts of interesting people?

Now, do you remember that terrible event? The one where the food showed up hours late, the band was drunk, and you were stuck all night sitting to Bob-what’s-his-name, the boring insurance adjuster from Iowa?

The difference between these two nonprofit celebrations was night and day, but organizers could have worked equally as hard on the project. Basically, it all comes down to organization and promotion – work smart, not hard, and take advantage of all the resources around you. If you’re getting ready to set up your own nonprofit gala, here are a few tips that will hopefully make it more like the former and less like the latter.

1. Start Early
Planning a gala for three months from now? It may seem like there’s plenty of time, but the work needed to pull off a big event is probably more than you imagine. Shoot for a timeline of at least eight months and a full year is even better. With the extra time, you’ll be able to build committees for individual aspects of the gala and delegate responsibilities to get more accomplished. Of course, there’s no doubt you’ll have last-minute problems, but if everything else is set, you won’t be too rushed to get them taken care of.

2. Establish A Budget
With a long lead up to the event, you’ll have more time to create an accurate budget. Bringing money and awareness to an organization is the name of the game with galas, but all your hard work could be for naught if you end up with a negative balance on the event. Estimate how much you think you could gain from the gala and go from there. In the months leading up to the event, talk to companies about sponsorship opportunities to help keep the costs as low as possible. In these talks, you may even get to meet a few key people that could give a big promotion boost. Definitely take down contact info and keep potential guests in the loop about how things are shaping up.

3. Use Social Media
If you’re not using social media to promote your gala, then you’re either missing out or your events are already in such demand that you shouldn’t even be reading this article. The fact is this – Facebook, Twitter, and the other big social networks connect people. One person being vocal on FB could drive massive crowds to your event. They tell their friends, their friends tell other friends, and so forth and so on ad infinitum. Set up an event page with attractive graphics and send out invites to everyone you think might come as well as those that have no chance of attending. Again, it’s the friends of friends thing. Then start a discussion on the event page – ask questions to start the discussion and keep talking.

4. Make Tickets Available
It may sound silly, but you need to make sure that guests have an easy way to buy tickets once they decide to go. A common pitfall of nonprofit galas is that ticket sales are often done by word-of-mouth. Talk to your sponsors about leaving some tickets at their physical business or have a dedicated phone line for ticket purchase and send them out by mail – just be sure to confirm that tickets have been received. Without an easy way to buy tickets, you’re effectively limiting how many people could show up – not a great strategy if you want to pack the house.

5. Develop Organized Activities
If you’ve rented the swankiest joint in town, don’t think that a bake sale is going to cut it. Match your activities to the space you’ll be using to give a consistent feeling to the event. Conference room at the Ritz? Then plan a casino night and go all-in to win some big donations. Maybe a local community center is your digs for a night – raffles and games with prizes might make a better fit. Think about your guests and what kind of activities they would collectively enjoy. What you want is to get people talking. Bringing strangers together for the benefit of your organization is exactly what you’re after, so why not build your activities to encourage this interaction. If you’re at a loss for ideas, ask them directly or browse through this exhaustive list of fundraising activities.

In short, for a gala that your guests will remember (and come back to the next time you host one), everything needs to follow a line – the food, the entertainment, the activities, and everything else need to work together. Mismatching gives a feeling of unprofessionalism, which is the last thing you want your potential donors to take away from your event. Give yourself enough time, make sure all the details are covered, and your next gala will be the best ever.