Reading time: 11 minutes

How To Host A Gala Dinner

Published: Feb 8, 2019

Every year, nonprofit organizations host a charity gala dinner where like-minded people engage in meaningful conversation while having a meal. These events include entertainment, food, and sometimes even auctions or raffles. It’s an evening of wining, dining, and toasting to an organization and building lasting relationships.

You can think of it as a prom –– but for adults.

These galas give you an opportunity to interact with your donors and supporters in-person. They also let your donors witness the impact of their donations and celebrate the cause that connects everyone present in the room.

While it can boost your nonprofit’s reputation, a gala dinner also deepens relationships with donors and kick-starts fundraising for your next cause.

With the right strategy in place, an organization of any size can pull off hosting an extravagant event like this. Following these tips will not only help you breathe new life into your annual gala but also cultivate life-long donors and supporters.

Get The Basics of How to Host a Gala Dinner Right

As a host, you must make sure your donors and supporters have a great time at your gala event. That means you don’t want them to be put off by how long it takes to find a table, make a bid or get another glass of wine. The basics obviously matter, so get it right.

People want a smooth check-in, so give them that. Get volunteers to wait at the check-in to greet your guests, take tickets, give important information, and show them to their table.

Remember, frustrated attendees will not pay attention to the story you’ve created. So, make sure you have everything in place starting from check-in, food, auction items, to check-out.

Give Importance To Celebration Rather Than Solicitation

Although your gala is a fundraising event, you mustn’t make it the main focus of the evening. It’s not just about coming and contributing to a cause. It’s about celebrating progress. Illustrate the problems you’ve tackled and how their donation has helped you overcome it.

You need to communicate the difference your loyal donors helped create. When you show them that their efforts are working you’re reinforcing their commitment to your cause. This will lead to more donations and retention.

Build Lasting Relationships

Without connecting with your donors, retaining them is impossible. And your charity gala dinner gives you the perfect opportunity to do so. Talk to your donors and supporters in-person. Learn more about their interests and thank them for showing their support. Get to know them better.

Having face-to-face conversation acts as a driving force to get them to support your organization again. This shows donors that you care about them and your event is not all about raising funds.

Major donors and loyal donors must be greeted by your director or board members. This shows that you value them and in turn builds donor loyalty.

Show Donors What You’re Fundraising For

Your gala fundraiser cannot be deemed a success if your donors don’t know what cause they’re giving for. Make the ask clear when you’re appealing to your guests. Tell them what they’re contributing to, with the added incentive of visual proof. For example, if your organization works for providing education to underprivileged children, then you can decorate the room with portraits of kids dressed up as what they want to be when they grow up. This will act as visual proof and remind your donors of how the contribution of investing in children’s future will change their lives.

Pick The Right Fundraiser For Your Gala Dinner

The most common type of ask at a gala dinner comes in the form of a raffle or silent auction. And yes, you can do both. These kinds of fundraisers make it easy to keep your guests engaged and excited. Let’s look at some of the important things to keep in mind while deciding on a fundraiser.

Raffles: a raffle is a contest in which you sell tickets to your supporters and a person is drawn, at random, as the winner of a grand prize. This type of fundraiser is easy to set up and requires little to no upfront cost. For it to succeed, you have to sell a lot of tickets, which means you need to have a lot of people available to do so. Encourage guests to buy multiple tickets, send volunteers from table to table selling tickets, and promote the raffle multiple times.

Auction: At a charity auction your nonprofit raises money by taking bids for auction items and selling it to the donor who places the highest bid. Auctions give you an opportunity to mingle with guests, let them socialize, and bid on the item that they want. It also generates a lot of interest in your event. There are different types of auctions –– silent auctions, live auctions, and online auctions. So list out the pros and cons before deciding which one to go for. And if you want all your items to get sold, look at your donor data and pick items that appeal to your donors.

Use Auction Items To Deepen Donor Connections

Auctions are fundamental to the perfect nonprofit gala experience. And your auction items gives you a chance to tell a story that deepens donors’ connections with your organization. So it’s essential to put a lot of thought into what you’ll be auctioning.

Rather than auctioning unrelated prizes, like a trip to an exotic location, offers prizes and experiences that are directly related to your nonprofit’s cause. Use the opportunity to talk about what you do and where you do it. For example, give away a trip to visit your field office or an all-expense paid volunteering opportunity (preferably in a different state or country) with your organization. This lets donors see first-hand how your organization is changing lives. Providing this kind of experience creates loyal, lifelong supporters. Your gala dinner must reward and reinforce donors’ commitment.

Promote Your Gala And Auction Items

Now that you have the essential elements of hosting a successful gala auction, it’s time to focus on telling your supporters about your event.

Send out event invites to all your donors and supporters. Add personal notes to make it more authentic and to boost attendance at your event. You can either send out email invites or text invites. While sending text invites keep them concise. Schedule different texts to give your guests the necessary information about the event:

  • Event details and event schedule
  • What your organization is doing with the proceeds
  • Bidding rules

The next important thing to do is to promote your auction items. Giving donors a taste of your auction items ahead of time will get them hyped up about your event. Follow these tips to promote your items:

Before the event: Send a quick welcome text message to your donors which includes a link to an information page on your website. Encourage them to start bidding before the event by sending texts the day before—or the morning of your event.

During the event: Keep donors updated on the program and remind them to bid on items. Use texts to:

  • Warm them up before the auction starts.
  • Tell your guests when the auction’s about to close so that they can make their final bids.
  • Direct them to their seats for dinner.
  • When you’re done with the auction, send them a text which tells them where they can collect their items.

After the event: Send thank-you texts as they head home or the next morning to show your appreciation to event attendees and reinforce the goodwill with your organization.

Knowing your donors well is the key to hosting a successful gala dinner. Listen to them and create various opportunities to keep them engaged. Remember, that gala fundraiser gives you an opportunity to build strong, lasting, and meaningful relationships with donors and supporters. So, follow these tips to host a great gala dinner.


Enjoying my work? Share this article!