Spring fundraising season is upon us! And for many nonprofit organizations, that means your annual fundraising gala. But there’s a reason why CBS rated event coordinators as having one of the most stressful jobs, on the same list with police officers and airline pilots. Planning an event like a fundraising gala is hard. It requires so much coordination, organization, time management. And even if you do your job perfectly, there are aspects of your gala that are out of your hands.
So, to help you out, we’ve compiled our top four tips. Use these tips to make your spring fundraising gala a roaring success!
1. Stay focused on your mission
It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when you’re planning a big event like a fundraising gala. There are so many things to worry about: Food, seating arrangements, budget, guest lists, presenters … the list goes on and on! But try not to lose sight of why you’re planning this shindig in the first place: your mission.
Find what’s important
The goal of a fundraising gala is to raise money, yes. But it’s also about engaging your top donors and keeping them passionate about your cause. Staying focused on the cause above all else can make the planning process much easier. Ask yourself, “Will this advance our cause? Will it spark passion in the people attending?” If the answer is no, it’s not worth fussing over. People won’t remember whether you had rice pilaf or quinoa on the menu at your fundraising gala, but they will remember a moving speech and walking away with renewed vigor for supporting your cause.
Prioritize your cause
Spend the most time and effort organizing aspects of the evening that speak to your mission, such as:
- A slick, professional video showcasing your cause and work
- Speakers, especially those who have personal experience with your cause and have been touched by your work
- Photographs, signage, design work, etc. that center the event on your cause
An awesome gala should be a fun evening for all attendees, but it should also be a celebration of your work and your donors’ contributions. Aim to have every guest leave with an even better understanding of your cause, how their contributions make your work possible, and a renewed spark for your mission.
2. Engage corporate partners
A fundraising gala is a perfect opportunity to get your corporate sponsors and partners involved. And, as a bonus, they may be able to help provide items for your event! For instance, if you’re a food bank that partners with restaurants and chefs in your service area, why not partner up with them to provide food for your guests? Maybe that local florist that sponsors your nonprofit could provide centerpieces. And if you don’t have corporate sponsors, gearing up for a spring fundraising gala is a great time to forge new relationships.
Pitch early, pitch well
Don’t wait until you’re already in the weeds planning your gala to start the conversation with partners. Start making calls and setting up meetings as soon as you start gearing up for this event. Waiting until the last minute can put your partners on the spot, and they may have conflicting events on their schedules. So get in early!
And before you pitch, make sure you have a good handle on your ask. Know what you’re offering and be ready to explain why it’s beneficial to them to be involved. What are they getting from their involvement? Are you offering different levels of sponsorship for your event? What are they? How are you going to give your sponsors an opportunity to market their business and their involvement in your nonprofit? Get all of this hammered out ahead of time. You can even draw up a one-pager for sponsors so they have all the information up front.
Finding sponsors and partners
If this is your first gala, you may need to prospect and approach new partners for your event. And it’s a perfect time to do so, because you have a tangible ask. Focus on finding businesses that align with your mission. For example, if you’re hosting a fundraising gala for your animal shelter, a locally-owned natural pet food store or veterinary practice would be great potential partners. But also be willing to think outside the box! A local farm-to-table restaurant might be just as willing to sponsor you as a pet food store. Look for businesses who have engaged in philanthropic activity in your community.
Another great way to find sponsors? Ask your board of directors! Often, board members have business contacts in the community and can point you toward some great prospects.
Check out this post on corporate partnerships to get the lowdown on how to create philanthropic partnerships in your community.
3. Roll your fundraising gala into your spring fundraiser
It’s easy to think of your spring fundraising gala and your spring fundraiser as separate things. After all, one of them is a one-night event with all of your biggest donors, and the other is a general campaign that last weeks. One of them generates revenue from ticket sales, the other is asking for straight-up donations. So they’re different, right? Wrong!
Incorporate online fundraising
While most modern nonprofits are savvy about fundraising online, a fundraising gala is an old-school kind of event. The basics are the same now as they were decades ago. You invite donors, sell tickets, plan the event, and hopefully leave with a few big checks at the end of the evening. Many nonprofits have moved ticket sales online. But fewer have moved the fundraising aspect online.
But there’s one thing every guest is guaranteed to have on them at your fundraising gala: a smartphone! And that means that when you make your ask, you can make it easier than ever to get donations. Ask them to pull up your spring fundraiser page on their phones and donate now! Mightycause is mobile-responsive, and optimized to make the donation process simple and easy. And they’ll receive their tax receipt immediately.
Incorporating your spring fundraiser into your gala allows you to build momentum for your campaign, and help spread word of mouth!
There are people you’ll invite to your fundraising gala who won’t be able to make it. It’s just a fact of event planning. So, instead of letting those people fall by the wayside, sell “absentee tickets“! If someone can’t attend, ask them to make a donation to your Mightycause page in the amount of their ticket to support your nonprofit even though they can’t attend. It’s an easy follow-up ask that can help you maximize your fundraising efforts.
Set up a donation kiosk
Moving giving online with a donation kiosk or table at your fundraising gala! All you need is a tablet, a Mightycause page, and a wi-fi connection. This makes it easy for guests to make a donation to your spring fundraiser. And we all know that when donating is easy, people are much more likely to do it. (Just give us a heads-up about your kiosk by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share some tips with you!)
4. Use clever marketing to bring in new supporters
A fundraising gala is usually an event that’s geared toward existing donors. But why not bring in as many people as possible?! The more, the merrier! So, think of ways you can market your event to people who may be new to your nonprofit!
Offer discounts for people bringing in others
Events are more fun for your donors when they get to socialize with their friends. So, offer a deal on tickets when donors purchase two or more at once! You can even offer a discounted rate on a full table. That gives people the opportunity to bring their spouses, friends, family and other connections who may be new to your cause. Because you’ll be focusing on your mission while showing them a good time, you have the opportunity to turn these folks into new donors!
Use an integrated marketing approach
One common mistake nonprofits make when planning their fundraising galas is keeping it limited to a select group of people. But if you market your fundraising gala to people outside that VIP list, you may be able to cultivate new major gift donors and sustaining supporters! Make sure you’re using an integrated approach and marketing your event to all of your audiences. Integrated marketing help you cast a wider net and diversify your guest list.
Not sure where to get started? Check out our series on integrated marketing for nonprofits!