Top 3 Secrets for Gala Fundraiser Success

Hosting a fundraising gala this fall? Worried about filling all the seats at your tables or achieving your fundraising goal? I surveyed top Event Managers from across the country to gain the secrets to their gala success. 

The vast majority of non-profit Event Managers have a love-hate relationship with fundraising galas. With budgets often creeping into six figures, the RISK is high! The right silent auction item can be the difference between making goal and losing money. Yet, the opportunity to energize the donor base in a single night and the fiscal returns keep non-profits in the gala game.

I thought I would have to sell my soul to gain these high-performing Manager insights, but I was amazed at how freely they shared from their experiences. Here are the top three secrets to their success.

Secret #1: Diversify your giving options

There are endless ways for you to ask your gala attendees to empty their pockets, and you need to have a giving option for every type of attendee at your event,

In response to the question, “What is the #1 missed fundraising opportunity at a gala?” Event Managers agreed on two things:

First, choose a registration software (company) that maximizes additional giving opportunity. If you are still using paper and pen, then you are leaving thousands of dollars on the table. Companies like @501Auctions offer cloud-based solutions for RSVP, Check In, mobile hosting for auction/bidding, and Pledge-to-Give opportunities. Your attendees are on their phones throughout the night, so you need to reach them there!

Second, a poorly managed auction will sink your fundraising goal. Everyone agreed that a silent or live auction is a must do, but you have to organize it well. Get a quality auctioneer for live events. Ensure you have auction items that people actually want to bid on. And create signage that informs people of the auction, how to bid, and where to go.

Secret #2: Don’t go cheap on experience & location

Cutting expenses is always a good idea, right? The answer is a simple: NO!

When I asked, “Where is the one area Event Managers try to cut expenses, but it comes back to haunt them in the long run?” 90% of the respondents had the same answer: venue + experience! One EM from New York City said it this way: “If your attendees feel like you provided a sub-par experience then their donations will be sub-par.” Another EM said, “If the venue feels special, then attendees feel more inclined to go above and beyond because they feel invested in.”

Secret #3: It is all about the event chair

Whether your gala is small, large, or somewhere in-between the outcome depends on finding the right Event Chair. Selecting the appropriate person for this position will help you find additional volunteers, sponsors, and attendees to buy those tables!  I spoke with an Event Manager at a large health based non-profit with a fundraising goal of over $10million/year. Her advice for a new manager in the gala world was simply, “If you can’t recruit a strong Chair then you cannot put on a high-powered gala. Mission alone will not help you meet your goal. A high-powered Chair making the ask is the necessary compliment to a strong mission!”