Thursday, October 29, 2009

8 tips for a successful fundraising gala dinner

I've been to more than my fair share of gala dinners, gala balls and other gala events lately. Some have been fabulous. Others have been simply horrendous (and by goodness I hope you know who you are!).

A successful gala event is one where the delegates have a great time, the sponsors achieve their aims, both delegates and sponsors want to return ... and you have generated bucket loads of cash to put towards your programs. Achieving just one or two of these will not give you a successful event.

As both an organiser and a perennial delegate, here’s a couple of tips on how to ensure a successful event ...
  1. Don’t mass market the event – Don’t just do up one flyer, send it to everyone and hope the registrations will roll in. I receive at least 10 invitations to gala events every week. I only to accept those where I’m approached personally by someone I know or when its caught my attention because there is something “unusual” about the event.
  2. Invite the right people - You will have greater success in generating delegates who are able to spend more money at the event by selling corporate tables (generally or 8 to 10). People who are coming along for “free” (the guest of the corporate) are more inclined to spend as they haven’t put out any money on the evening as yet. The best corporate to approach are those who rely on maintaining good relationships with their existing and prospective clients – such as accountants, lawyers, etc. With the right relationships in place you can sell the majority of tables before you've even confirmed the venue.
  3. Have a process for developing your amazing mailing list - You will have more success maintaining a relationship with 200 senior people who each have the ability to buy at least one table than maintaining a relationship with 10,000 people who might by one or two tickets every couple of years. You will already know a couple of well connected people. Call them and personally enlist their help. Let them know that you are putting on a fantastic event that will give them an opportunity to show their clients are really fun night. Ask them to commit to a table ... or two. Since you already know this person it should be relatively easy. Once the deal is done (and you have either taken their credit card details over the phone or organised to send them an invoice) ask for their help. Ask them if they can recommend another three people who might be interested in taking a table. Do it in a fun way ... you’d be amazed at what you can get away with by putting a cheeky grin and a chuckle at the end of a sentence. Then you call the people whose names you have just received and repeat the process. Keep going until you've sold out the event. You then have a brilliant list to use for all future events. Speaking of which ...
  4. Keep detailed records - Keep a database with the full contact details of each person you call – along with detailed notes for future use.
  5. Let people know what to expect on the invitations – Let people know what to expect. The invitation should at least include: the type of event (cocktails, dinner, ball, etc), start time, finish time, dress code, venue address, phone numbers, prizes, auction items, etc. The more information the better!
  6. Don’t gross me out – I don’t want to see dead or dying children, animals or people. I’m trying to keep down my food. Make your gala event inspiring. If you do need to illustrate the cause use an engaging speaker. There is a huge difference between touching the hearts of an audience and making them vomit.
  7. Find out what the sponsors are looking for – Sometimes someone will sponsor an event because they just want to meet one person. You can give them an amazing return on that investment just by seating them at the right table. You need to understand why your sponsors are there and ensure they get value to keep them coming back year after year.
  8. Provide opportunities to donate – I can’t count the number of fundraising dinners I’ve been to where there was no easy way to donate. Put envelopes on the table with slips of paper that enable people to make a credit card donation, run a silent auction, run a live auction, make it fun to donate, pre-arrange for someone to make a large donation ... on the condition someone else matches it. The possibilities are endless! Use as many as you can!
The list above is not exhaustive - feel free to add your own tips (whether learned for running or attending these events) in the comments section below.

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