Quick Guide to Nonprofit Fundraising Galas

Fundraising Events

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Ah, the fundraising gala. If you’ve worked as a fundraiser for long enough, chances are someone has pitched this type of fundraising event before. But what is a gala event? Is it right for your nonprofit? And if you do host a gala event, how can you make it successful? Read on to learn all about this tried and true fundraising event.

What is a fundraising gala?

A gala event is typically thought of as a sophisticated party. Guests dress up, enjoy food, socialize, and maybe do some dancing. Nonprofits began using these gala events to entertain their supporters before asking for donations to their cause. A fundraising gala is a party during which an organization asks for donations to their cause. Many fundraisers also host silent or live auctions and other sub-events during the gala to raise funds.

Much of the time, gala events are upscale social events. A theme isn’t required but can be implemented to enhance the fun or make it easier to select the decor for the evening. More lighthearted galas give guests the opportunity to choose their own decor and decorate their table.

Is a fundraising gala right for you?

Now that we’ve explored what a fundraising gala can look like, let’s determine if it’s right for your organization. Ask yourself: 

  • Who are our supporters? What demographics give to us? Would our target audiences attend a gala? 
  • Does a gala event match the mission, voice, and personality of our organization? 
  • What kinds of events have we been successful with? If your activity-based events have performed better than sit-down, formal events like a gala may not be the right event for you. 

A gala event may not be the ideal event for every nonprofit, but the versatility of this type of event can make it a great fundraiser for many different types and sizes of nonprofit organizations. 

Tailoring your gala event to your audience

If you’re planning to host a gala event, it’s important to make sure the event is tailored to your ideal audience. This means adjusting the level of formality for your target audience, planning activities that resonate with your community, and determining what the decor and entertainment needs should be. Consider these tips for tailoring your gala event to your audience.  

Should you call your fundraising gala a gala?

Picture a fundraising gala. Did you envision an upscale, formal event?  

Often, that’s what people think of when they’re invited to a gala. That can excite some of your supporters and leave others feeling less enthusiastic. Calling your event a gala will either attract participants or scare them off depending on who your donors are.

But galas can be adapted to different audiences and themes. So, if you think a formal gala isn’t right for you, consider calling it something else. A gala is still a gala even if you call it a party, bash, or hootenanny.

Design the gala around your audience

By using your donor data, you should have an idea of who your average supporter is. If you’re hosting a gala event, try to build the experience around your audience’s expectations.

For instance, a more formal audience may require upscale decor, a refined menu, classical music, etc. While an audience made up of families might require a kid-friendly environment, decor that’s colorful and fun, a menu with kids meals, activities for kids to participate in, etc.

While you can consider both of these parties gala events, they’re going to attract vastly different types of attendees.

A great example of this is the Making Legends Local Gala & Lip Sync Battle hosted by The Carousel Center. Their gala was more than just a fancy party for attendees. Instead, it featured an intense lip sync competition that provided entertainment for attendees and gave performers a chance to dress in costume and shine on stage.

The Making Legends Local Gala & Lip Sync Battle fundraising page.

How to host a fundraising gala

  1. Set a fundraising goal
  2. Determine how you’ll raise funds
  3. Create an event budget
  4. Establish an event committee
  5. Select a venue
  6. Determine entertainment and food options
  7. Market your event

1. Set a fundraising goal

The first step to hosting a successful gala is determining what you need to raise for the event to be a success in the first place. Set a reasonable goal based on what you’re trying to accomplish with the funds you raise. Do you have a specific mission to fund? Want to start groundbreaking on a new building? Galas are great for these types of initiatives because they can raise a lot of money very quickly.

By establishing a fundraising goal and publicly sharing it with your event attendees, they will have an idea of how much you’re hoping to raise and they’ll naturally want to help make your event a success by donating to your cause. Be sure to create a fundraising thermometer to visually track your progress toward your fundraising goal. If you can, publicly share this fundraising thermometer during your event so attendees can see how close they’re getting to helping you achieve your fundraising goal.

2. Determine how you’ll raise funds

Your fundraising gala won’t just raise funds by itself. You need to determine how you’ll engage donors and raise those crucial funds during your gala. Instead of just expecting donations to roll in, consider hosting sub-events during your fundraising gala to inspire giving. You could run a silent auction, raffle, wine pull, etc. to raise money at your gala event. We’ll go into more details about sub-events later in this blog post.

Additionally, you could raise funds by asking for donations after a presentation at your gala event. Get an engaging speaker to tell a story—bonus points if it’s someone who has benefited from your nonprofit organization. Have them share their story and let donors know they can continue to do good by supporting your nonprofit at this gala. Then, ask your donors to raise their hands, or bidding paddles if you’re hosting an auction, to donate to your cause. You can ask for certain amounts and note which donors are willing to give, or you can entrust the decision for how much to give to your donors.

3. Create an event budget

The next step to launching an effective fundraising gala is to set an event budget. The event budget will help you determine how much you can spend to bring the event to life. You can figure this out based on the amount you budgeted to host the event plus any money you received from sponsors to host the fundraising gala. Sponsors are great for offsetting costs and saving you funds that you can use to further enhance this gala and other events.

Be sure to establish how much everything will cost when preparing your budget. If you have a vision, determine the cost of each line item you’ll need to make the event happen. You’ll want to budget for more than what things cost in case anything comes up that adds additional expenses to your event. Then, if you manage to keep your spending low, you’ll be able to save money on the overall cost of the fundraising gala.

4. Establish an event committee

Another important step is to establish an event committee. It’s hard to plan an event solo, so don’t go it alone! Instead, get your board, staff members, and volunteers to help. Each committee member can take on certain responsibilities for planning and executing your fundraising gala so that one person isn’t solely responsible for the event planning.

5. Select a venue

You can’t host a fundraising gala without a venue. But what goes into selecting the right venue for your fundraising event? Well, it helps to anticipate how many guests you’ll have at the event and book a venue big enough to accommodate everyone. Not only that, but you may also want to look into other factors such as whether chairs and tables are available on-site or if you would need to rent them, or if decorating is allowed or not. Take your time and carefully evaluate the available event spaces in your area to choose the one that will work the best for your fundraising gala.

6. Determine entertainment and food options

Next up is a subject that’s near and dear to my heart, food and entertainment. Nothing can give attendees a positive impression of your event quite like a catered meal and a star-studded lineup of entertainment. The possibilities are endless. If you have a themed gala, make sure that your food and entertainment are on theme. Or, if you’re hosting a fancy banquet, you may want to find upscale entertainment like a classical music group to play while everyone’s eating a catered meal from a high-end catering service. Be sure to have a floor for dancing so guests can immerse themselves in the music.

Pro tip: Be sure to plan for vegetarian and vegan diners. Nothing can turn people off your event like not being able to enjoy the food. A salad isn’t a fitting substitute for a three-course meal, so do your best to be inclusive and offer items like vegetarian lasagna or eggplant parmesan (with vegan cheese, of course!).

7. Market your event

Lastly, you want to market your event to get the word out that it’s happening. The best approach is multi-channel marketing, so that you’re able to reach your prospective attendees where they’re at. By casting a wide net and reaching out on multiple channels to let them know about your event, you have greater potential to sell seats and tables for your fundraising gala. You can learn more about multi-channel marketing in this blog post.

Tips for hosting a fundraising gala event

If you’ve decided to host your first gala event, or want to be successful hosting your annual fundraising gala, these tips will help boost the fundraising performance of your gala.

Incorporate sub-events

Sub-events are a great way to raise additional funds at your event. Some of the best sub-events for galas are auctions, raffles, table decorating and/or costume contests, and games that guests pay to play. Just make sure that any sub-event ideas you use match the audience and theme of your event. Doing so ensures more people will participate. 

Say no to cash-only events

You’re probably not surprised to learn that not everyone carries cash. Digital payment options have made paying by credit card, eChecks, or even smartphone apps incredibly convenient. Your gala event may attract a lot of participants, but if they need to rely on cash to participate, you’re leaving money on the table. 

Instead, set your gala event up for success by using software to take electronic payments at your event. Be sure your guests can pay with credit card and eChecks. With Qgiv, guests can also use the Givi app to make donations or bid on auction items if you’re hosting an auction sub-event. Providing fast and convenient ways to pay encourages donors to give more during your event.

Make your fundraising gala accessible

2020 taught us that virtual and hybrid events can make for excellent fundraisers. That rule applies to gala events! Even if you fill every seat in the house, you can still delight participants who miss out on attending your sold out in-person gala by incorporating virtual audiences into your fundraising gala. 

To make your gala event accessible to virtual guests, livestream the festivities and encourage virtual guests to take part in auctions and raffles from home. You can get them involved with fundraising by using a text fundraising tool and creating a fundraising thermometer to show progress toward your fundraising goals. 

With Qgiv’s Mobile Suite package, nonprofits can set up a FundHub Live, broadcast their fundraising progress to both in-person and virtual guests, and accept donations via text! It doesn’t get more accessible than that! 

Seattle Shakespeare Company’s 2020 Bills Bash event pivoted to a virtual format because of the pandemic, but did an excellent job of making the event accessible to guests at home.

Bill's Bash was a successful gala event that raised more than $320,000.


Fundraising gala events are a great opportunity to raise funds for your organization. The key to being successful with this type of event is catering it to your audience and the mission you’re raising funds for. You’ll also need to have a solid plan in place, the right sub-events for your gala, and the ability to accept payments of any type during the event. While a gala event may not be right for every nonprofit, they’ve proven to be a valuable fundraiser for many organizations.

Qgiv offers online fundraising tools that make hosting fundraising gala events a snap.

Increase online fundraising with Qgiv! Request a Demo

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