Charity galas are an important piece of the fundraising puzzle, but many organizations question if the ROI is worth the time and resources spent on producing these events. When you add in the extra stress and staff burnout, there is a single question that arises.
“Are charity galas worth it?”
The answer is an unequivocal YES! Truly successful live events go far beyond just raising money. They engage volunteers and board members. They introduce your mission and program to guests who have previously never known about your organization. And, most importantly, they are an excellent stewardship opportunity.
Here are the seven steps used by professional event producers to create engaging and profitable fundraising events.
- Identify well-defined goals
- Get your Board excited and engaged
- Recruit a rockstar event committee
- Attract and engage event sponsors
- Create a marketing plan
- Have an engagement strategy
- Keep the momentum going post-event
Step 1: Identify Well-Defined Goals for Your Charity Gala
Too often organizations will be laser-focused on the amount of money they hope to raise at a charity gala, and they lose sight of the other opportunities presented to them by live events. When planning an event, there are five goals to consider.
The five goals of all fundraising events should be:
- Raising funds
- Raising awareness of your organization’s existence
- Promoting your organization’s impact and programs
- Starting or advancing the stewardship cycle
- Showing appreciation to your donors and guests
Don’t get stuck on just focusing on the money you hope to raise. Take the time to identify how you will achieve each of the other goals as well. Don’t forget to write down each of the goals and share them with your event committee and Board.
Step 2: Get Your Board Excited and Enthused to Participate
One of the biggest roadblocks to a successful event is what I call “Grumpy Board Syndrome”. This happens when:
- A board has been disappointed by past events.
- They think past events were overly long and unfocused.
- They were embarrassed that their guests were bored at past events.
- They just don’t want to have to ask their friends for donations and sponsorships again.
It is up to you to change your Board from grumpy to enthused! It is up to you to give them confidence that this event will be different.
Keep the Board in the loop during your planning of the event. Let them know the five goals you have identified for the charity gala. Share with them your guest engagement strategies and timeline for a fast-paced, streamlined stage program. Let them know how you are going to open hearts and wallets during the event.
Your enthusiasm and confidence in the event are key to getting your Board to participate in the planning, outreach, and ticket sales.
Step 3: Recruit a Rockstar Event Committee
Recruiting and managing a charity gala committee can seem like a lot of work, but a rockstar event committee can help with the workload and will help ensure your charity gala’s success.
An event committee should consist of loyal supporters of your organization as well as any friends they feel would be an asset to the group. The best committees have between six and twelve members, and committee meetings should follow a fixed agenda that has bullet points for discussion.
Committees work best when the members have both an affinity for the organization and the “assets” they can bring to the event. These assets include connections for soliciting auction items and sponsorships, as well as the ability to help sell tickets to the gala. Committees also function best when there is a committee chair, or two co-chairs, who lead the meetings and can help focus the group on the decisions and tasks at hand.
Step 4: Attract and Engage Gala Sponsors
Sponsorships are key to the financial success of any charity gala or fundraising event. Sponsorships can provide funds well in advance of the date of the event and help ease the pinch of the cash outlay that galas require for the venue, catering, and other costs. Sponsorships also help fill seats at your gala as sponsorships usually include one or two tables of tickets.
To learn more about how to get sponsors for your fundraising events, read Queen Bee Fundraising’s blog Success with Event Sponsorships.
It is important to stay in touch with sponsors in the months and weeks prior to your event. This is part of the sponsor stewardship that is integral to forming a relationship with the sponsor company and ensuring they feel their participation in your event was a good investment. This stewardship is key to getting that sponsor to sign on to sponsor again in the future.
Step 5: Create a Marketing Plan to Promote Your Charity Gala
An event is an excellent opportunity to get exposure for your organization and your sponsors through email blasts, social media posts, and newspaper coverage. To ensure you maximize your marketing efforts, it is important to have a plan in place as to how you will schedule this outreach.
A marketing plan details each of the different avenues and target dates for the promotion of your event. This schedule helps you allocate your resources so you can have a consistent presence on social media and through emails and allows you to create your posts and emails in advance and schedule the dates they go live.
A marketing plan is also an excellent way to show sponsor prospects the extent of exposure their sponsorship will receive through your marketing efforts.
Step 6: Have an Engagement Strategy
The sequencing and pacing of events are key to opening guests’ hearts and wallets. Unfortunately, few organizations spend much time on the planning of these elements which are so important to maximizing the event’s impact and engagement.
Your charity gala should be paced to build a sense of community among your guests from the moment they arrive at the venue. Have volunteers and staff greet guests stationed at registration to thank guests for attending. Make sure you instruct your registration team to warmly welcome guests as they check-in.
Your Board is also an integral part of your charity gala’s engagement strategy. Let them know in advance that they will be goodwill ambassadors for your organization during the event and assign them specific guests and sponsors to greet. Encourage them to introduce themselves to as many guests as possible and thank each one for attending and for their support.
The most impactful portion of a gala is the stage program. This is the part of the event when you have a chance to introduce guests to your organization’s mission and make your case for support. The most impactful stage programs usually last between 60 and 90 minutes.
A stage program can also include an award presentation or a live auction, but it is important that the focus remains on your organization and the impact of your mission. Auctions and entertainment do little to build guests’ affinity for your organization, so don’t allocate too much of your stage program’s time to those.
Step 7: Keep the Momentum Going Post-Gala
The days following a charity gala are hectic and filled with the many loose ends that need your attention. Immediately after an event is when you are busy finalizing auction purchases, closing out vendor accounts, and reconciling the budget. However, the most important post-event task for a nonprofit is thanking guests and sponsors for their attendance and support.
Post-event communications are key to building on the goodwill and affinity you created during the event. As the days following an event are busy, plan in advance for your post-event engagement. Have a protocol for thanking guests and sponsors in place well in advance of the event. This should include at least three email blasts over a period of several weeks that show both appreciation and impact. You should also be sharing the charity gala’s impact on social media. You can include photos of the event attendees in these posts but make sure to get their permission to post the photos in advance.
For sponsors, send them a copy of the event booklet along with a thank-you note. This will allow them to see their ad placement in the booklet and see details of what transpired during the event. A phone call to thank sponsors after an event is also a nice touch and a great opportunity to offer them the chance to sponsor again next year.
About A.J. Steinberg, CFRE, of Queen Bee Fundraising:
With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit event producer and engagement strategist, A.J. Steinberg has worked on over 100 successful events and raised millions of dollars for organizations with her Los Angeles-based production company. She is a recognized topic expert and trainer and presents on subjects such as nonprofit event planning, event sponsorships, committee and volunteer leadership, generational giving, and guest engagement.