6 Spectacular Fundraising Gala Tips for Savvy Nonprofits

As a nonprofit expert, you're probably aware of the many benefits hosting a fundraising gala can offer. This classic event is often more formal than other fundraisers, with guests like corporate supporters, major donors, community leaders, and board members.

With so many important people in one place, your nonprofit has the opportunity to state your cause in a compelling way and excite your donors to continue supporting your mission.

As a result, fundraising galas require extensive planning to get right. 

Everything from the venue to the seating arrangements to the check-in process has to be organized well in advance to ensure the success of your fundraiser. 

If you want to host a fundraising gala, keep reading! We'll go over six tips to help you plan a night your supporters won't forget:

  1. Craft a program that focuses on your fundraising gala goals.
  2. Decide on your fundraising gala theme.
  3. Create a fundraising gala budget and stick to it. 
  4. Determine how you will accept donations during your fundraising gala. 
  5. Incorporate popular fundraising gala ideas to entertain guests. 
  6. Use fundraising event software to plan and run your gala.

With our expert tips, you'll be able to plan a fundraising gala in no time!

1. Craft a Program That Focuses on Your Fundraising Gala Goals

Your goals are what set the foundation for your gala; without them, you won't have a clear direction or a way to assess your event's success. 

Whether your goal is to gain gifts from major supporters or celebrate the support and achievements of a recent project, your goals should be an essential part of the planning process. 

Keep your goals in mind as you plan out the program for your gala. Having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve will help you structure your program to focus on those main objectives. 

Let's say that your organization is planning a fundraising gala to launch your capital campaign. One of your main goals might be encouraging guests to contribute.

Here is an example of what your program could look like:

  1. Welcome Speech by President, Board Member, or Emcee: The speaker will thank everyone for attending and briefly touch on the topic of why this event is so important.
  2. Overview of Organization and Mission: The same speaker or a new speaker will take a few minutes to explain the history of the nonprofit and its core mission. 
  3. Testimonial of Someone Your Organization Has Helped: This will give guests an opportunity to see your cause from a different perspective to help them feel empathetic for your mission. 
  4. Capital Campaign Appeal: Have a speaker talk about the reason for your capital campaign, discuss how the money will affect the communities and people you serve, and ask guests to contribute. If you're accepting donations via a giving kiosk or text-to-give, have the speaker demonstrate how to use the giving method. 
  5. Thank Guests and Sponsors: Have the president or executive director thank guests for attending and showcase your sponsors. 
  6. Entertainment: If you're hosting a raffle, charity auction, or another activity, launch into the main event.

As you can see, the entire program focuses on encouraging donors to contribute to the campaign. By including testimonials from the people you serve, guests will see the impact that your nonprofit has, and demonstrating how to use your giving device will help donors see how easy it is to give. 

2. Decide on Your Fundraising Gala Theme

A fundraising gala theme can add to your event's personality and make the experience more enjoyable for guests. Plus, planning will go faster once you've determined your theme. 

Think about it this way: you can narrow down your options when picking food, decorations, and venue locations if you have a very distinctive fundraising gala theme in mind. 

To make sure that you've got everything for your theme, check out Fundly's event checklist. This step-by-step guide takes you through every detail of your event. 

Not sure what theme to use for your gala? The following ideas can help spark your creativity: 

  • Black Tie Event — Keep your event simple and classic by sticking to a black and white color scheme. You can get as creative or unique as you want with this theme as long you keep the contrasting colors constant.
  • Masquerade — This popular theme is great for formal fundraising galas while also giving guests the opportunity to dress up in beautiful masks.
  • Vegas Casino Night — For a night full of fun and casino games, Vegas night is the perfect theme. Having a way to raise money built right into the event is also a great reason to choose this theme. 
  • Hawaiian — Decorating your fundraising gala with an island theme can be relaxing and inviting for guests. This is a great theme to implement in nice weather because you can host the event outside.
  • Broadway — Who doesn't love Broadway? Decorate your venue with a stage and incorporate dramatic musical and theatrical performances.
  • Holiday Celebration — If your event is near the holidays, this theme is perfect to get your guests in the giving spirit. Create a comforting environment using rich reds and greens. 

These are just a few of the themes your organization can choose. Feel free to create your own theme or pick something that directly relates to your cause.

3. Create a Fundraising Gala Budget and Stick to It

As with every fundraising event, having a definitive budget is crucial if your organization wants a return on investment. A well-thought-out budget should include both estimated and actual costs of expenses as well as your projected fundraising goal. 

Everything from the decorations to the sound equipment to the catering to the event management software should be documented on your budget with estimated costs for each item.

Of course, unexpected expenses or situations will arise; you might have to pay more than you predicted for the venue or you didn't consider the expense to hire a sound crew. Either way, it's important to have a section in your budget dedicated to unexpected circumstances. 

Predicting the amount of money you'll spend will help you determine if seeking out corporate sponsorsis necessary to stay within budget.  

Take a look at this chart as an example of how you can budget for your event:

As you start purchasing items and materials, record the actual amount on your spreadsheet. This way, you can analyze the data to see how well you stuck to your budget. 

In addition to tracking expenses, it's also important to estimate your projected funds. Not only will this help you establish your fundraising goals, but it also helps you see if your budget is reasonable considering how much you're likely to raise.

Take into account ticket sales, merchandise sales, donations from a charity auction or raffle, in-person donations, and major gifts. 

If you've hosted a gala before, use your past event data to calculate a close estimate of what you could potentially raise from this event. 

If you determine that you will need more funds to help run your event, you can always get support from corporations. Businesses often have philanthropic programs where they will give donations to nonprofits that meet their guidelines. 

Alternatively, your organization could request sponsorships. In return for a donation or in-kind gift, corporations will receive promotion during your event or other incentives laid out by your organization. 

Creating a budget early in your planning process means you'll have plenty of time to request donations and sponsorships to fund your event well before the big day arrives.


4. Determine How You Will Accept Donations During Your Fundraising Gala

While registration fees and admission costs may be some of the main ways you generate funds from your event, they shouldn't be the only ways. You should encourage guests to make contributions throughout the event and incorporate other fundraising ideas (think: charity auctions and raffles) to generate even more funds.

Since there is a wide variety of giving methods available, your organization should incorporate multiple options so that there is a preferred process for everyone. 

Three popular donation methods for events include:

  • Donation Kiosks — These portable donation tools allow guests to contribute using their credit cards. They're often simple and fun to use and perfect for smaller gifts.
  • Text-to-Give — Since it's highly likely that every guest will have their phones, text-to-give is a convenient option that allows guests to give donations of virtually any size.
  • Mobile Donation Forms — Guests are probably most familiar with using mobile-friendly donation forms. The process is generally short so guests can get back to enjoying your event.

These forms of giving are great ways to encourage donations because they're easy for guests to understand. For instance, with a donation kiosk like DipJar, a donor can simply dip his card into the device and wait for the sound that confirms his gift. 

The process doesn't require donors to fill out any fields and the donation amount is set by the organization.

Not all donation kiosks are made the same, so look for a device that is quick and intuitive as it will make the donation process more enjoyable, and guests won't have to wait in long lines to give.

For more advice on choosing a donation kiosk, check out DipJar's guide on the seven must-have features.

The same goes for text-to-give and mobile donations; most guests will have their phones with them during the event. As a result, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to ask them to give using their phones. 

Make sure to have multiple giving options available as this will increase your chances of reaching (or exceeding!) your fundraising goal.


5. Incorporate Popular Fundraising Gala Ideas Into Your Event

In the last section, we mentioned how having multiple ways to accept donations is important for raising additional funds during your gala. Another way you can boost donations and keep guests engaged is by incorporating fundraising gala ideas into your event. 

These ideas can entertain your donors and ensure that your event is an enjoyable experience. 

A popular fundraising gala idea is to plan a charity auction as the main event. Live auctions work great with galas because guests can bid on their favorite items. Plus, your emcee or auctioneer can keep everyone upbeat and energized. 

Depending on your gala, a silent auction might be a better choice. Guests can bid using their phones (if you have the right software) and they'll be notified if they've been outbid. This version of the charity auction can be less stressful for guests and allows your staff and volunteers the opportunity to interact with attendees as the auction occurs. 

If you decide to host an auction as part of your gala, make sure to organize a committee that can procure items so that you have rare and unique prizes up for bid. 

Another popular fundraising gala idea is to host a charity raffle. Raffles require less planning than a charity auction, but can still bring in a lot of funds for your mission. 

If you're already using a donation kiosk, you can use it to accept raffle entries like MassChallenge did at their event.

Guests dipped their cards in the donation kiosk and wrote their names on strips of paper to enter into the raffle. The funds raised through the raffle appeared on a TV screen to show guests how much they contributed. 

Alternatively, your organization can have guest speakers, casino games, and so much more to keep your guests entertained. 

Keep in mind that the best fundraising gala should achieve two things: raising more money for your cause and keeping donors engaged. 

6. Use Fundraising Event Software to Plan and Run Your Gala

Often, ensuring all the little details run smoothly is what sets a good event from a great one. Having a quick check-in process or making sure you have enough volunteers to answer questions can greatly affect your supporters' experience. 

It's no surprise that many nonprofits use fundraising event software to track and manage every event detail—no matter how major or minuscule. 

Fundraising event software will allow your organization to make gala-specific registration forms, manage your guests, and track important data. 

Organizations that want to get the most out of their investment should also look for software that offers tools such as: 

  • Registration and RSVP 
  • Communication and promotion
  • Seating and table arrangements 
  • Reporting and analytics tracking

Check with your current nonprofit software provider to see if they have any fundraising event modules. Your organization will not only save money but also time. Working with your existing software means you won't have to transfer data between accounts.

Plus, when all your fundraising software "speaks to each other," you'll have access to your donor profiles. After the gala, you can update the information you gain from your fundraising tools so that all your guests' data is up-to-date. 

For example, DipJar has a built-in analytics dashboard that can track donations during your event. That way, you don't have to purchase additional software if you use a donation kiosk.

However, if you do have to look outside your existing tools, consider software that integrates with your nonprofit CRM. 

Having all your information in a centralized location will make it easier to update your constituent profiles and analyze the data to evaluate your event's success. 

Plus, it will make following up with attendees much easier. You won't have to search through multiple fundraising tools for your donors' contact information and gift amounts. 

Now that you've read our six tips, you're ready to plan a successful fundraising gala and raise more money for your cause.

As you start the planning process remember to focus on your goals, provide entertainment for your guests, accept donations during the event, and keep everything organized with fundraising software. Good luck fundraising!

Additional Resources:

  1. Reasons You Shouldn't Use Square for Nonprofits: If you're looking to use a donation kiosk at your next gala, Square might be on your list to consider. Keep reading to learn why Square for nonprofits is not be the best option for your organization. 
  2. Donation Jar Ideas: Accepting donations at your event? Our list of top donation jar ideas can help you raise money from cash and credit card donations. 
  3. 100+ Fundraising Ideas: While a gala is the perfect event for formal engagements, there are plenty of other fundraisers your organization can use to raise money. Check this list of over 100 fundraising ideas from Fundly. You're bound to find an idea for every occasion.

If you have more questions about nonprofit strategy you can always reach out to the DipJar fundraising experts for help. It's what we love to do!