How to Run a Gala Dinner Fundraising Event
Are you ready to take your fundraising efforts ot the next level? If you’re trying to think of something sophisticated with big revenue and plenty of press opportunity, a gala dinner is a perfect opportunity to put on the event of the year.
There are quite a few different cogs that all need to turn in sync for this event to work. So don’t rush into anything, make sure you’re planning everything down to the last detail and have plenty of contingencies. Your first step though is to read this article.
We’ll take you through everything you need to know so that when the moment comes, you’re more than equipped to make the night a huge success.
Finance and budget
Before you can get any ideas for your gala dinner fundraiser, you need to look at finances and budget. First things first – how much money is available? This may not necessarily be set as your budget, but knowing how much you have in the bank is the best starting point.
If you’re part of an organization that hosts multiple fundraisers in a year, you’ll know you can’t afford to use all the money available to host the gala dinner. Alternatively, you may decide to use the majority of the funds available in order to try and maximize profits for the next fundraiser. By analyzing future events and looking at your available money, you can decide what your budget is.
When you have your budget, be prepared to give it a 10% contingency. This means aiming for your costs to come in slightly lower than your maximum budget. As soon as the finances and budgets are in place, the fun can begin.
Selecting venues and businesses
Depending on where you live this may or may not be a quick decision. In some towns, there will only be one or two locations to host a big gala fundraiser. However, in larger cities, there will be plenty of chances to rent hotels, conference centers and other large venues. Remember that when you’re selecting your venue, you need to keep in mind your budget.
Your venue shouldn’t maximize your budget but it will probably account for 40% of it. Other than a room big enough to seat all your guests you will also need to enquire the following:
- Do they have seating and tables or will you need to hire them separately?
- Is there a kitchen for preparing food or will food need to be brought in hot?
- Are there wheelchair and disabled facilities in the building, and how accessible is it?
- Does the facility have separate rooms where you can store items needed for the gala?
- Are there hotels or rooms nearby that guests can spend the night in?
- Is there parking available or where is the nearest bus stop?
- Can guests buy drinks at the venue’s bar or will they need to bring it?
Food and beverages
Speaking of kitchens and bars, the next step you’ll need to take is sorting out the food and drink for your gala dinner. It will more than likely be the second largest expense. Depending on how many guests and courses you have – it could cost more than your venue!
Finding a local business to help cater for your event can really help to keep costs down. The fact that they won’t need to travel so far to reach you should be seen as a bonus. Speak to a few caterers before making your decision. You’ll need to get a good idea of just how much business they can cope with. Give them information about how many people you are expecting. Any reputable business should be able to tell you how many dishes they can serve and how long it will take to do so from appetizer to dessert.
It’s important that your caterers can deal with multiple requests. You may have guests with a gluten or nut allergy, vegetarians and vegans, or perhaps even just a fussy child who only eats pizza. Your caterers need to be able to adapt to these situations so make sure you ask important questions about how they overcome these situations.
Inviting your guests
While you may already have a list of people in mind to invite to your gala dinner, we urge you to consider who will bring in the most money on the night. Who will spend money at the bar, who will donate to the cause during the event, and who will participate in the auction? Remember that ticket sales aren’t the only way to make a profit.
That being said, your ticket sales should be a big focus after you’ve set a date. Encourage people to buy tables, not just seats. The benefit of having an entire table of guests means the affair can be more private and enjoyable for a group of people – rather than getting to know strangers over dinner.
Pricing the event for your guests
When it comes to setting a price per seat and table, we say look at how much money you need to make in order to break even. Most of your revenue will be coming from ticket sales, so put together the price of the venue and food and then divide the price per seat. It’s a good starting point for setting your prices, but make sure you add a few dollars onto the price to make sure it’s worth the price of dinner. You don’t want to be selling a three-course dinner for $20 just because it’s what the math says will cover your costs.
The bigger this event, the better. This is why bringing in sponsorships is a great idea. Speak to local corporations and businesses to see if they want to feature their brand at the gala dinner. You can sell advertising space on the invites, the table numbers, banners at the front door and even business cards on the table. Don’t be shy about asking multiple brands to sponsor the event. There’s always a way to feature someone else – for a price of course.
Sponsorships can be a great way to inject a few more dollars into your evening. It might allow you the capacity to give a few free drinks to your guest. Alternatively, you could just take the extra money and put it into your pot of profit.
Speakers and entertainment
Your venue may be able to help you out with this one depending on the facilities, but if you want this to be upscale event on the social calendar, you will want to have a live band there for your evening. There would be nothing worse than 80 people in a venue all eating dinner in nothing but silence and quiet chatter.
You could hire a local professional band, but if you want to save some money, why not speak to a high school band? Ambient music for a couple of hours while people eat is the perfect opportunity for them to practise skills as budding artists. Plus, you’ll probably manage to sell a few more tickets to their family and friends who want to witness them in a professional setting.
Alternative entertainment might involve hosting some sort of auction or raffle. These are great opportunities to raise more money for your cause but make sure you have a host who has the personality to do so. It might be someone from the event organization team or you could hire a stand-up comedian to do the job. Remember, make this event as big and fun as possible without busting the event.
The follow-up to your event
You may have been planning your event for almost a year, it certainly will have taken a few months. The last thing you want to do is host the night and then that be it. Over. Done. Nothing left. Following up with your attendees is essential. Thanking them for coming is one thing but letting them know all the good their money has done is even better. Showing your guests that they are appreciated is a great way to get them excited for the next event you host.
It might be a yearly gala or there could be another fundraising event just around the corner. But reaching out to the guests who supported you is essential for keeping them in the loop.
There you have it. Essential steps you need to take in order to run a gala dinner fundraiser. No matter where you are or what your budget is, it’s all completely scalable so it can work for anyone.
Senior Fundraising and Events Consultant
Emily is an experienced and passionate fundraising and events consultant, working with and supporting clients on their special events and fundraising campaigns all over the world.