Six Steps to Plan a Successful Gala


Planning a fundraising gala is far from a walk in the park. Gala planning requires commitment, resourcefulness, and a lot of man-hours. However, for not-for-profits and charities, their annual galas are essential for their cash flow, donor stewardship, and for raising public awareness of their cause.

Each year more and more galas get thrown in the mix, each with a worthwhile and meaningful cause. With so many competing galas fighting for the spotlight, it’s crucial for organizations to take the right measures to avoid being left in the dark.

To ensure the success of your fundraising event, follow these six steps:

1. Save the Date
First rule of business, choose your date as early as possible. These dates are often finalized as far as a year in advance. Yes, this means our clients sometimes finalize next year’s date, even before this year’s date takes place. Be sure to check that your date doesn’t conflict with any religious holidays, large city events (e.g. hockey games), or even any competing galas that may have your sponsors or ticket-buyers torn. If all is a go, run your date off with the venue of your choice and book!


Photo Credit: Manuel F. Sousa Photography

2. Set Goals
What is our fundraising goal? How many seats are we hoping to fill? What are our revenue streams during the event? Are we collecting live and silent auction prizes? These are all important questions that should be answered at the beginning of the planning process. Your goals will help shape what your event will look like, and what steps you’ll need to take to make it reality.

3. Have Deadlines
It’s so important to schedule a strict timeline and critical path of deadlines and stick to them. Plan as much as you can in advance. Send out those sponsorship packages earlier than you did last year. Schedule your meetings with the venue and vendors at the beginning of the planning process to ensure they’re available. Most importantly, be sure to follow-up with everyone you said you’d follow-up with.

4. Find a Catch
It’s important to distinguish to potential sponsors and ticket-purchasers why your gala will be different (and more valuable) than others. The key is to know your target market, and to understand what compels them. At times, it means bringing in an all-star sports athlete to speak at the event. Other times, it means wowing them with the décor and entertainment, or maybe even giving away a once in a lifetime auction prize.


Photo Credit: Ian Mccausland

5. Hire a Planner and/or Designer
Companies often underestimate the time and resources it requires to pull off a fundraising gala. Chances are the internal employee who is planning your gala is already trying to balance a full-time workload. In order to yield the best results, invest in a professional team of planners and designers and take the stress off of your staff. When the day finally comes, your planner will have décor and production covered, while your staff can enjoy the night and schmooze with donors.

6. Do Something Different
Donating money to an important cause looks great on any company, but let’s face it, after countless galas, they all start to blend together. Be sure to bring in key-note speakers who have unique and compelling stories and testimonials. Go beyond the typical chicken and potato banquet main course and try fun cultural food stations. In addition, keep the party going all night with an energetic live band that performs covers tailored to your crowd’s taste. By throwing in interactive and entertaining elements, it will keep your guests engaged and raving about your gala (and your cause) for days and months long after.


Photo Credit: Jeremy Hiebert Photography

To find out more about how to plan a successful gala, or to discuss an upcoming event you are planning, connect with Events by Emma at, or call 204-779-8812.


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