Gala Events: A Prime Way to Connect

nonprofit fundraising

For many of today’s nonprofits, hosting an elegant, yet impactful gala is a great way to authentically and passionately connect with donors, making them feel personally linked to your cause. Gala events are also a great opportunity to engage with new and prospective supporters.

Since it’s your chance to captivate them for just a few hours, it’s important to not miss the chance to move them to action.

The key, however, is to do it right, and up front. This means starting out in your guests’ hearts.

I’m not implying that you shouldn’t have your committee chair welcome everyone at the start of the evening. But it will be even more effective to have this same volunteer welcome attendees by introducing a short, powerful video about the impact your organization is making.


Not Your Father’s Fundraiser

In today’s competitive nonprofit environment, old-school, high-falutin’ galas simply aren’t enough, especially when – after all of the hard work and planning – your organization does little more than break even on the costs.

Instead, it’s critical to recognize a gala as more of an awareness tool, or your platform, to educate donors – and potential donors – about your cause and the work you have accomplished.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:


1. Plan Out Every Detail

Map out everything you need written, designed and produced, such as invitations, social media content, meaningful table centerpieces, videos, banners, posters, speaker remarks, auction items, postcards and even post-event “thank you” notes. Devise a timeline to get it all done (in advance).


2. Tell More Than Just a Great Story

Before you make a lot of progress, ensure that your planning committee has identified a theme that depicts a compelling, persuasive story. It should be something meaningful that clearly speaks to what your organization does, why your work is important and its true impact. Incorporate supporting messages that will be sure to move your audience. Get all of your speakers on board with branding and messaging to ensure they, too, deliver remarks that are on-point.


3. Conjure Up Emotion

What will your guests see when they walk through the doors of your gala? Think about the various spaces in your venue as valuable real estate waiting to be splashed with poignant key messaging – from the main entrance to the auction stands, dinner and dessert tables, as well as parting gifts. The key here is to keep messages throughout the space simple, but effective.

And because at least some of your attendees are likely those who know very little about your organization, find creative, unique ways to engage them throughout the evening. For example, one children’s organization recently reported letting the “kids do the talking.” During the evening, their student “ambassadors” shared with gala attendees the impact the organization has had on their lives.


4. Keep the Program Engaging

As you progress through the evening’s agenda, it’s crucial that each portion is neither too short or too long.

How can this be accomplished? Some organizations use video to tell a powerful story. In fact, one organization we work with incorporates a video each year at their gala featuring survivor stories. They also have the video’s featured survivor deliver brief remarks during the program. These videos are also used to promote this nonprofit’s work well beyond the gala to really gets its money’s worth.


5. The Show Must Go On

Following your gala, be sure to send a short “thank you” to everyone who attended. One smart organization we heard about recently took this approach, and titled an email, “About last night” and sent it the morning after their gala. I’m pretty sure they had a good open rate. A post-event email also can be a great way to continue to engage these guests by inviting them to sign up for your e-newsletter, connect with you via social media or even volunteer.


In a 24/7 world of advertising overload and once-in-a-lifetime offers, we believe nonprofits must leverage every opportunity to reinforce key messages, strengthen their relationship with constituents, and make every engagement count.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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