Guides & Resources

Eight Fundraising Gala Must-Haves

Stewardship & Marketing: Donor Relations/Stewardship
Fundraising Strategies: Special Events
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Fundraising galas can be essential to nonprofit resource generation and create a buzz around the charity’s cause that can last long after the event’s end. However, these galas are no small feat. They can take months upon months of planning, require substantial investments and endless details. Although an event to-do list is never-ending, below are 8 fundraiser “must-haves” to make the most of your next gala.

  1. Pre-event promotion – Timing is everything when it comes to promoting an event. Giving enough time for attendees to save the date is critical, but too much time can make the event lose relevancy. A general rule of thumb is to start advertising the event about 3-5 months in advance of the event date, with a heavy focus on the final few months leading up to the day. One important thing to remember is to not announce or promote the event without the majority of details finalized to avoid keeping guests waiting for additional information and to ensure consistent messaging. Encourage guests to purchase tickets early for the event by selecting winners at random from those registered to win a small prize or send teasers to potential attendees of the grand raffle prize or silent auction items.
  2. Story-telling – Fundraising galas are a night to celebrate the wonderful work nonprofits do in our communities and world. Attendees want to hear how the funds raised at the event affect the organization and what the organization’s vision is for its future. Use this opportunity to pull at the heart strings of attendees and allow them to see the impact donors have on the cause.  The power of story-telling goes beyond the four walls of the event as those in attendance find a deeper connection to spread those stories through word-of-mouth. 
  3. Have a hashtag – Hashtags are an effective and easy marketing tool to utilize at a fundraising gala. It allows all online conversation about the event to be grouped into a simple search and lets the audience connect to each other. It also increases event exposure and encourages social media users to find out more. However, if the audience does not know about the hashtag, they won’t use it, so make sure the hashtag is promoted on event signage, marketing collateral, website, social posts, and by the event speakers. A few tips to the perfect hashtag include making it short, unique, and relevant, avoiding hashtags that could be misinterpreted or have an unplanned negative connotation. 
  4. Raffle – A raffle or “split the pot” is a simple way to raise additional funds at an event. Having the right priced raffle ticket – between $50-$100 is recommended – allows attendees, no matter their wallet size, be able to participate in a chance to win a coveted prize. Guests like raffles because there is typically a low barrier to entry with a small investment. Even if they are not the lucky winner, their dollars are going to support the cause. Raffles can also be promoted before and after the event to generate even more money from people outside of the event attendees.
  5. Auction – Holding an auction can be a lot of work, but totally worth it for the fun and engaging way to raise money at a gala. A live auction creates energy and builds momentum on items, helping to raise more money with friendly competition.  A silent auction can be held over an extended period of time and allows for people outside of the event audience to be contributors, especially with mobile and online bidding. A live auction typically generates about two-thirds of a fundraiser revenue, while a silent auction is closer to one-third. However, offering the right number of items and the right types of items can be difficult to determine. A good rule of thumb is to offer about 6-12 live auction items and one silent auction item for every seven guests.
  6. Content – Content from the fundraiser, including pictures, videos, and social media posts, are shareable forms of communication for attendees to enjoy following the event and makes them feel appreciated.  Content also creates “FOMO” (fear of missing out) for those not in attendance and sparks interest in the next fundraiser or event. Posting pictures and videos to an organization’s website and social platforms helps to keep the event experience alive after the event conclusion and can be used in promotional material for future fundraisers.
  7. Party Favors – Stay top of mind following the end of a fundraiser by giving guests something to take home. An easy “favor” to have is a photo booth at the event where guests can take home pictures of the memorable night or download and share directly to social media. A branded item that ties into the cause, such as a personalized card telling the story of a child in need that the organization supports through donations, is another way to provide a reminder of the event and organization. A great example is the Alzheimer’s Association supplying colored windmills at End Alzheimer Walks. Participants can personalize these windmills with names of those affected by the disease and place them in their yards at home as a constant and personal keepsake. 
  8. Follow-up – The final “must-have” of a fundraiser gala is to always send a personalized thank you message, expressing appreciation towards all event attendees, sponsors, committees, and volunteers. The message should report on the total amount raised and crediting donors with the event’s success. It can also begin getting the word out for the next fundraiser or annual gala, as well as ask attendees for feedback from the fundraiser for improvements for next year.

As challenging as planning, managing, and executing an organization’s fundraiser can be, the benefits of money raised, brand awareness, and allowing guests to find a deeper connection with the cause, can immensely improve a nonprofit for the better.

Krista Kuhlman is the experiential marketing manager at Giveback Sports, LLC, which provides remarkable experiences and custom travel packages to support nonprofits in their fundraising efforts.

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