April showers bring spring galas: tips for success

Galas

Spring weather brings more hours of sunshine and, with it, an abundance of nonprofit galas designed to raise awareness and much-needed funds for a variety of important causes. Whether your nonprofit works to combat homelessness or hunger, to support children or adults in underserved communities, or to find disease treatments or cures, a spring gala is likely on the horizon. Given the competition, how do you ensure that your event is a success in meeting fundraising and friendraising goals? Here are some tips:

  1. Put the right person in charge. Identify an experienced project manager on your staff who will coordinate the team and ensure all the deadlines are met and details are correct.
  2. Review your list of supporters to determine the size of fundraising gala you can successfully host. Be sure you will have enough supporters and guests to fill the venue you book.
  3. Determine how much money you can realistically raise. Then set your event budget to ensure your net revenue is enough to justify holding the event.
  4. Check with other local nonprofits and venues to make sure you are looking at dates when there aren’t other big events scheduled.
  5. Consider what type of event would be meaningful to your supporters? A dinner? A party? An activity? A performance? Choose a theme and carry it through all elements of the event from print materials to the menu and the décor.
  6. Start planning early and send a save-the-date as soon as you can. Spring is a busy season and you’ll want your guests to mark their calendars early and hold the date.
  7. Is there a role for an emcee? If so, the bigger the name, the more opportunity you will have to attract attendees who may not already be involved with your organization. And if the emcee is a media personality, their media outlet might offer pre-event promotional support.
  8. What is the compelling fundraising message? Do you need to raise general operating funds to fulfill your mission, are you trying to expand to reach more people who need your services, or are you planning to launch a new initiative? Choose a message that will engage your audience, include it in every communication leading up to the event, and weave it through remarks at the event.
  9. Do you have hard-working and well-connected board members or major supporters willing to co-chair the event?
  10. Engage volunteers to help with event planning. Assembling an event committee of doers with diverse skills extends the bandwidth of your staff.
  11. Share an event graphic on LinkedIn and Twitter and ask board members and other ambassadors to share it with their professional networks.
  12. Create event fundraising materials to showcase giving levels and opportunities, tying each donation amount to the work it will support. Consider who you could ask to make an early challenge gift that will help you secure other leadership gifts and send the message that your nonprofit is a worthwhile investment.
  13. Ask your board members to introduce you to local companies for sponsorships.
  14. Set and communicate print deadlines to prospective sponsors so you can include major donors and corporate sponsors’ logos on the printed invitation and other materials.
  15. Be sure to include an option on your printed invitation for those who can’t attend but would be willing to make a gift, or would like to purchase a ticket for your organization to offer to someone else, such as a recipient of your nonprofit’s services or their family member.
  16. Create a media outreach plan and look for pre-event opportunities for media coverage, such as calendar listings, that will raise awareness and could drive ticket sales.
  17. When people are registering for your event, give them a “share” option. This will amplify your event’s reach by creating micro-influencers out of your attendees.
  18. Ask your board members to purchase a table or two and invite colleagues and friends to fill the seats. This will help you reach your event attendance and fundraising goals and may engage future supporters.
  19. Do you or your board members know local companies that would donate services or reduce costs? Florists, caterers, photographers, and even hotels often offer nonprofits discounts.
  20. Empower your vendors and sponsors by providing them with social media posts and copy that they can use to promote their involvement with your event. Ask them to tag you in any social media posts and repost their content in your feed.
  21. It can be effective to share poignant stories that pull at the heartstrings, but also look for ways to weave the optimism of your mission into the event to ensure your guests have fun.
  22. Showcase your organization’s success stories, in person through event remarks if appropriate, through compelling video, and on your Instagram stories and highlights. There will be people in the room who are new to your organization. Make sure they leave able and eager to talk about your mission.
  23. Diversify your content. Don’t post the same event promotion over and over. This will get old for your followers. Share a mix of photos and video from past events, of your team getting ready for the big day, or stories of the people your gala directly impacts.
  24. Don’t forget to leverage influencers before, during and after your event. Social media influencers with a high follower count and social engagement can bolster interest in your event, particularly if there’s a strong personal connection for the influencer with your cause.
  25. Create a list of key photos you would like to capture during the event and hire a professional photographer. Quality photos are a great investment and can be used for post-event publicity, in your annual report, and in next year’s gala marketing materials.

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