Arranging a Gala Dinner or Charity Event – It’s All in The Planning
Popular with private schools and A-list celebrities alike, gala dinners and charity events are a fantastic way to bring people together for a good cause. We’ve thrown a host of these types of events over the years, and have a pretty good grasp on exactly what it takes to put together a social fundraiser that shines. So how can you pull it off? Here’s our tried and tested insider tips that we turn back to time and time again.
Set the date early
People lead busy lives, so to make sure you secure as many guests as possible it’s a good idea to set the date for your event as early as possible. ‘Save the dates’ are always savvy, followed up by an official invitation a month or two later. Remember, if you’re planning the event for busy social periods such as summer or Christmas it’s even more important to be on the ball when it comes to setting the date.
Create a watertight budget
Unlike other events, galas and fundraisers aren’t just about showing your guests a good time. They exist with a final purpose – to canvass cash for a good cause. As such, your budget needs to cover all major expenses, yet not eat into donations.
Define the ‘type’ of event
Are you planning to sell tickets for a set price and tell attendees to leave their wallets at home on the big night? Perhaps a combination of the two? If you are selling tickets, what’s your price point? Alternatively, maybe your event lends itself to in-house auctions, raffles or purchasing opportunities? These are all questions you need to consider when putting together your budget, and defining the overall purpose of the event, as well as the guest experience.
Choose a venue
Another keynote step is choosing the perfect venue. Ultimately, the space should reflect the scope of the event. For example, this year the Breast Cancer Research Foundation’s Hot Pink Party was held at the luxurious Grand Ballroom at New York’s Waldorf Astoria. A fitting venue given the fact that Elton John was on the guest list, and the final sum raised topped US$5.1 million. Ultimately, if your ticket prices are sky-high guests will expect a luxury venue. If they’re modest, you can opt for more budget friendly spaces such as town halls, community centres, hotel conference rooms, public parks and so on.
Find a balance
The underlying goal of a gala dinner or charity event is to raise funds. Whether it’s for a community cause, an established foundation or any other incentive, it’s crucial to ensure that the event yields a profit. That said, it’s even more important to find the right balance between calling on the charity of guests, and showing them a good time in exchange for their generosity.
As aforementioned, it’s important to harmonise the combination of fundraising and fun. Throwing a little entertainment into the mix is a guaranteed way to make guests feel like they’re getting something in return for their goodwill. A live band or DJ is always a hit (tailor tunes according to your theme), a photo booth will have people grinning all night long and games are guaranteed ice breakers.
Consider a theme
Give your event purpose and originality by choosing a theme that your guests will love. Summer’s on its way, so why not get hot, dusty and dangerous with a Wild West theme? Going Caribbean crazy is another of our favourites, with opportunities abound for Hawaiian shirts, pineapple cocktails, coconut themed canapes, blow up palm trees and more. Everyone loves a good theme, as proven at the recent ‘Manus x Machina’ MET Gala. One of New York’s most exclusive fundraising events, the Gala one raised a record US$12 million, with tickets priced at an eye watering US$25,000.
Remind people why they’re attending
Rather than openly encourage people to be liberal with their wallets, pepper the event with subtle reminders referring to the cause at hand. For example, on the flipside of dinner table name cards could be a mini explainer clarifying how donations will be used. Similarly, you can raise decorative yet informational prints around the event space telling guests about your charity or cause. As well as inspiring them to get generous, they’ll also be a great talking point.
It’s fun to get creative, but at the end of the day it’s important not to lose focus of your purpose. Losing relevance will only serve to alienate guests, and jeopardise your cause. Alice Smallwood, director of development for the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Awards ceremony is spot on when she says, “We’ve never strayed from our mission when we’re picking honourees, and that’s very important… It’s a way for us to educate our audience about some of the things they’ve done.”
Need help planning a gala night or charity event that masters a flawless equilibrium of fun and fundraising? Get in touch with us today for expert advice on building a bespoke charity event, from the ground up.