Even if you’ve never been to one, you’ve probably seen pictures in magazine spreads or segments on TV featuring formally dressed movers & shakers mingling about at charity galas. In some areas these lavish affairs are held regularly to raise the profiles of organizations and causes. However, look beyond the glitz and glitter and you’ll find a veritable army of worker bees putting forth a major collective effort that may take up to a year to organize.
If you’ve been asked to host such an event, remember first and foremost to recruit plenty of hard-working, socially active volunteers and allow plenty of planning time to produce your event.
Hold an organizational meeting as far in advance as time allows. Invite volunteers, staffers and other interested parties. Make sure your potential volunteers and committee members have enough time and energy necessary to dedicate to the event.
Set the date, establish a theme, and consider the planning details in a calendar format, if possible. The more organized you force yourself and your team to be, the better.
Draft a budget so you start off on the right financial foot. If money has been put into an account that’s earmarked for the gala, you’ll be ahead of the game. However, if there is no line item for the event in your budget, you must figure out how to fund it. If you find yourself in this position, go to your best donors and most connected committee members to seek cash, goods and services to help underwrite the gala.
Choose a venue. One of the best ways to organize this part of your fundraiser is to select a small group of committee members to make a series of site visits (each of which has already been cleared as a site that’s available on your target date). Book several visits on the same day for efficiency’s sake and make sure your sales contact is armed with all that you need to get a complete read on everything from menus to space dimensions. Select the venue that offers the best combination of price, menu and amenities.
Build your invitation mailing list from your contributor base and rely upon these donors to provide you with additional leads. Determine if your demographic will respond better to paper or digital communication and send out a “save the date,” followed shortly thereafter by a formal invitation to your event. If staff and budget allow, always include folks who have offered to donate money, goods or services on your invite list.
Create a floor plan. While you’re amassing a master list of attendees for your fundraiser gala, begin to set up the ballroom’s layout by using room dimensions provided by the venue’s sales staff. With the help of your favorite draw software (or your hand), cut circles and rectangles (depending upon the shape of the tables you’ve chosen) to represent tables, chairs, buffet and serving stations, a dance floor and space for a band or DJ.
Plan your silent auction. If you’re staging a silent auction in conjunction with your gala, make sure you’re planning your auction simultaneously as you’re planning your event. Be sure to dedicate enough time and resources to securing items, writing descriptions, and determining rules for your silent auction.
Get out the word. Leverage your social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to keep people in the loop on the status of your event. Send a press release or other notification about the fundraiser to the local press a few weeks prior to the event date, then follow-up with a media alert a few days before the big day. Gaining media attention will add to your charity’s credibility and give credit to folks who helped get the event off the ground.