wine glasses and table settings

A fundraising gala is a great way to raise money for a cause or organization while also providing a fun and memorable event for attendees. Galas tend to be bright, colorful, and attention-grabbing events, which can attract donors with deep pockets as well as corporate sponsors. Fundraising galas can become a yearly tradition that bring in new potential donors each year.

However, planning and hosting a successful fundraising gala can be a daunting task. From choosing a theme and caterer to creating the perfect invitation and choosing an MC, there are many factors to consider. In this article, we’ll provide 10 tips for hosting a successful fundraising gala that will help you achieve your fundraising goals and create an unforgettable event.

Tip 1: Set Clear Goals and Objectives

Before you begin planning your fundraising gala, it’s important to set clear goals and objectives. This will help guide your decisions and ensure that your event is focused and effective. Determine how much money you want to raise, who your target audience is, and what message you want to convey through the event. This will also help you measure the success of your gala after it’s over.

Consider the success of your previous fundraising events as you set your goals. Who are your current donors and what is your community usually interested in supporting?

Tip 2: Choose a Theme

Choosing a theme for your fundraising gala can make it more memorable and engaging for attendees. Consider the cause or organization you are raising money for and choose a theme that aligns with it. Some popular fundraising gala themes include a masquerade ball, a casino night (you might want to check the legality of having actual games of chance at your event), or a black-tie affair. Be creative and have fun with it, but make sure the theme is appropriate for your audience and aligns with your goals.

Tip 3: Create a Budget

Creating a budget is crucial for any event, and a fundraising gala is no exception. Determine how much money you have to work with and allocate it to different aspects of the event, such as venue rental, catering, decorations, and entertainment. Be sure to leave some room for unexpected expenses and prioritize your budget based on your goals and objectives.

Budgeting is part of why it is important to start planning your gala as early as possible. You’ll need time to secure corporate sponsorships in addition to booking a venue, caterers, and other services. Depending on how many people you plan to host, you should think of your gala like a wedding: start planning a year in advance if you possibly can. 

Tip 4: Secure a Venue

fancy event venue with dining tables

by Joakim Jardenberg, Unsplash

The venue you choose for your fundraising gala can greatly impact its success. Consider the size of your event, the theme, and the location when choosing a venue. Make sure the venue has all the necessary amenities, such as a stage for performances or a kitchen for catering. Does your venue offer wait staff, if you need them? Check that it is fully accessible to attendees with mobility aids. It’s also important to negotiate a good deal and secure the venue well in advance to avoid any last-minute issues. Work with your venue manager to choose a date that works for both of you, as much as a year in advance if you can.

Tip 5: Plan the Menu

Food and drinks are an important aspect of any event, and a fundraising gala is no exception. Work with a caterer to create a menu that aligns with your theme and budget. Consider offering a variety of options, including vegetarian and vegan options, to accommodate all dietary restrictions. You can also incorporate a signature cocktail or mocktail that ties into your theme. Some restaurants might be able to offer a discount on catering for a fundraising event, but many are small businesses who cannot accommodate this, as much as they might like to. Work with your caterer to agree to fair prices, and be prepared to budget for full price meals for your guests.

Tip 6: Create a Compelling Invitation

blank invitation with gold ribbon and pen

by Diana Polekhina, Unsplash

The invitation is the first impression attendees will have of your fundraising gala, so it’s important to make it compelling and informative. Include all the necessary details, such as the date, time, location, and dress code. You can also include a brief description of the event and its purpose. Be creative with the design and make sure it aligns with your theme. Don’t forget to ask printers if they offer discounts for nonprofits!

Tip 7: Promote Your Event

Promoting your fundraising gala is crucial for its success. Utilize social media, email marketing, and traditional marketing tactics like fliers to spread the word about your event. You can also reach out to local media outlets and influencers to help promote your event. Be sure to highlight the cause or organization you are raising money for and the impact the event will have.

Create Your Own Flier

Download our flier template, customize it, and print it.

Tip 8: Plan Entertainment and Activities

musicians at a party

by Oscar Sutton, Unsplash

Entertainment and activities can make your fundraising gala more engaging and memorable for attendees. Consider hiring a live band or DJ, having a silent auction or raffle, or incorporating interactive elements such as a photo booth or a dance competition. Make sure the entertainment aligns with your theme and appeals to your target audience.

Tip 9: Recognize and Thank Donors

A fundraising gala is a great opportunity to recognize and thank donors for their contributions. Consider having a special recognition ceremony or including a thank-you note in the event program. You can also have a designated area for donors to take photos or display their company logos. Showing appreciation for donors can encourage them to continue supporting your cause in the future.

Tip 10: Follow Up and Measure Success

After your fundraising gala is over, it’s important to follow up with attendees and measure its success. Send a thank-you email or letter to attendees and donors, and provide them with an update on the amount of money raised and the impact it will have. You can also send out a survey to gather feedback and suggestions for future events. Use the goals and objectives you set at the beginning to measure the success of your event and make improvements for next time.

Craft Your Own Thank You Letter

At a loss for words? Download our thank you letter template.


A successful fundraising gala requires careful planning, attention to detail, and effective promotion. By setting clear goals and objectives, choosing a theme, creating a budget, securing a venue, planning the menu, and promoting your event, you can host a successful fundraising gala that raises money for a cause or organization and creates a memorable experience for attendees. Remember to follow up and measure the success of your event to make improvements for future events. With these tips in mind, your fundraising gala is sure to be a success.

Fundraising FAQs

What should I wear to a fundraising gala?

This question comes up even for hosts! After all, nonprofit employees and volunteers also need to look sharp at their fundraising galas. Do some research on what your dress code entails: for example, cocktail attire generally means swanky (but not necessarily floor length) dresses and suits, or at least button-down shirts and nice slacks.
If you are the MC or head of your organization, you should embrace the dress code fully, as you will be more visible throughout the evening. However, if you’re a volunteer running bags of auctioned-off goodies to different tables, consider something in the business casual to formal zone, so you can wear more comfortable shoes and have some range of movement. You can always accessorize according to your event’s theme.
If you’ve held an event like this before, it can be helpful to share photos from it in your emails to donors, so that potential guests get a clearer idea of what to wear, too. Remember that the more formal your dress code, the less leeway you should take in interpreting it. Black tie means tuxedos for men and gowns for women.

What happens at a gala event?

Fundraising galas can include a number of formats and activities, but generally it goes something like this:

Guests arrive and start finding their tables or assigned seats, if they have them, usually while music plays in the background

If there’s a silent auction, this might be when guests can browse the items, or you can have a slideshow on a big screen, to show the items in your online silent auction

If you’re hosting a gala dinner, you’ll want to tell your guests to be seated for the first course (or for buffet style seating where you call one table at a time). You’ll want some opening remarks during this period reminding guests what you’re raising money for and what they can expect this evening. The same goes for a gala ball or performance. You’ll want to greet everyone and thank them for helping your cause before the festivities begin.

A variety of activities like dancing, live music, live acts (perhaps orchestra students from the school you’re raising money for, for example) can accompany dinner or be the main event. Auctions and raffles are popular ways to raise more money beyond the ticket sales of your event.

You’ll wrap up festivities with a final thank you to your guests, you can make sure everyone has their auction or raffle items (or knows how to get them) and goodie bags. Now your staff has to start cleaning up and vacating the venue.

What should I call my fundraising gala event?

Naming your gala event is a tough task. We recommend brainstorming with your fellow staff members and volunteers, or even putting it to a vote on your social media channels. We have some more tips on naming fundraisers, but in general you should choose something short enough to be memorable that reflects your theme in some way. Here’s an example we like: the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center hosts A Night of Heroes every year. It’s a clear theme that’s simple to remember and their donors can look forward to every year.

What’s the best month to hold a fundraising gala?

This depends on a lot of factors like your theme, desired venue, and your community’s calendar. While the holiday season between November and January 1st is a popular time for fundraising events, this makes it a bit crowded between both other fundraisers and holiday celebrations. You don’t want to lose guests to other popular events.
Similarly, if you want an outdoor venue, you might need to fight for it during wedding season (May through October depending on your location’s weather), or expect to pay more. Ultimately the timing of your gala will depend on your organization’s cause and what works best for you and your potential guests. If you have a dedicated donor pool or followers on social media you can even ask their opinion.

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