6 Tips for Gala Planning That Nobody Ever Told You

We love planning galas. Galas allow us to combine all of our organizational strengths- strategy, creativity and execution- while also giving us an opportunity to stretch and grow, as we try new things.

As we wind down the 2017 spring fundraising season, we wanted to share a few things organizations should be thinking about, as they are planning their events.

Fundraising.  The majority of nonprofit galas are focused on fundraising, yet many organizations leave some of the most important aspects to chance. While you can’t fully control the outcomes, you can certainly have clear strategies and tactics to help you succeed. A few common errors:

  • Assuming a specific honoree will be a huge draw for your organization, so you don’t do any target outreach to their network.
  • Not being clear with honorees about your expectations of them, or not asking them directly to fundraise.
  • Not leveraging your Board of Directors because they’re not a “fundraising board.”
  • Not having the appropriate follow-up discussions with sponsors to understand their needs, so you can solidify their participation in the future.
  • Not doing an “Ask” during the event, or giving this responsibility to someone that is not comfortable asking for money.
  • Taking the money and running. Read our previous post here.

The Experience. Many large corporations are great at creating integrated experiences at their events. They find ways to give the consumer an experience that highlights the need for their brand. While nonprofits don’t have the large budgets used for those events, there are many ways to create an emotional connection between your cause and your guests. Think about ways to create a sensory experience that immerses your attendees in your world. Allow them to see themselves as problem solvers, by offering support to your organization.

Your goal should be to impact every attendee in some way, so that they become ambassadors for your brand from that day forward.

Advisory Roles.  Confession: we hate Planning Committees. They typically take up a lot of time on decisions that we (the knowledgeable trusted advisors) can help you make quickly and effortlessly.  We do however love Fundraising Committees. Bringing a group of people together committed to helping your organization raise money is a gift. Provide them with all of the information and coaching that they need, to help them close. Understand that even in the Committee environment, it may not be a one size fits all solution, so take the time to understand each person’s circle of influence, support them in their approach and cheer them on.

Messaging. Make sure that everyone that represents your organization knows exactly what key points they should be communicating about the organization. For our Events and PR clients, it is common for us to write the actual script for everyone participating in the program, but also to provide talking points for Board members, senior staff and advisors. We additionally help clients think through conversations with high profile guests, to help them continue the dialogue beyond the event.

Reverse Engineer Your Gala. Take some time to imagine your upcoming gala, moment by moment. What’s happening? What are guests doing? What is the first impression you want them to have when they arrive? Who’s presenting? How are guests responding? Map your vision out and then back into the practical steps needed to make that vision a reality.  You will be surprised by what you uncover through that process, and how helpful it is in identifying potential problems, or opportunities to improve an experience.

The CEO’s Table Should Be The Hottest Table in the Room.  Your gala is not the time to show everyone that you’re one big happy family by having staff sit at the CEO’s table. Your gala is not only about fundraising, but also about positioning your organization and its leadership. Seats at the CEO’s table should be reserved for special funders and influencers that you want your CEO to have face time with. This is a non-negotiable. Any of our clients will tell you how passionate and stubborn our CEO is about this during the planning process.

There are many other items on our list, but these are the top 6. Master these, and you’ll be in good shape. Reach out to me here to share your thoughts about planning your gala, or if you are interested in our team helping you make your gala the most impactful and memorable it can be.

Schedule a confidential consultation to learn how our strategic communications offerings can elevate your organization’s impact.