Planning a Gala Dinner Event: The Ultimate Guide

Updated on September 26, 2019
Jim Strutzin profile image

I enjoy helping people prepare and plan their major events and parties.

In a perfect world, planning a fundraiser or gala dinner event would be a breeze. Generous sponsors would pay for all your food, entertainment, and accommodations while guests would be more than eager to donate to your cause. Unfortunately, planning a gala event in the real world involves quite a bit more preparation. The perfect gala dinner requires seeking sponsorship and volunteers, but executing these steps effectively can work wonders. Here are some necessities when it comes proper gala planning.

Outline Your Purpose

Knowing what you aim to achieve with your event will help everyone plan accordingly. The cost of planning a fundraising gala can be extremely high, so it will be important to gather support for your cause and spark interest within the community. The first step of the planning process should be setting a goal for your organization, determining who will benefit from the fundraiser, and what guests can expect their donations to support.

Analyze Costs

Before the planning process truly begins, your organization must determine the amount of seed money available. The gala planning timeline will differ depending on the event, but common fees include food, drink, site rental, advertising, A/V equipment, items to be sold, and other expenses. Keeping track of how much money you spend and how much you will need to turn a profit is a key component for creating an accurate budget.

Establish a Ticket Price

When you’ve determined the number of guests you want to attend, set a price for each ticket. The location, menu, and cost of events should all be considered when determining the price of admittance. In addition to regular tickets, also be sure to have a limited number of VIP passes available for a higher price and that include perks during the event. Selling tickets is a great way to raise additional money for your cause.

Alternate Methods of Fundraising

Planning a gala event revolves primarily around raising money, so consider many ways in which to do so. Supporters of your organization will be glad to donate money, but it is also useful to implement other activities for guests to participate in. Some ways to raise additional funds include holding a raffle or silent auction, selling refreshments, selling advertising opportunities, and splitting sales with supporting companies. Be sure to think of as many ideas possible in order to raise money for your gala dinner giveaway.

Acquire Sponsorship

Unless your organization has an overwhelming amount of seed money, it will likely require the support of sponsors. By offering advertising and other perks to certain businesses, you may be able to obtain necessary items at an affordable rate. Contacting sponsors will require you to use every part of your existing network, form long-term business relationships, and establish a symbiosis with the participating organizations. Local restaurants may be able to give you a cheap or free venue to hold your event as well as supply your guests with food and drink. Entertainment can also be sponsored whether it is in the form of local entertainers or larger acts paid for by your sponsors. If you plan on scheduling activities such as a raffle or auction, sponsors may also be able to donate prizes for your event.

Choose a Venue

Your venue will play a large role in during the planning process, so it is important that you research the thoroughly for a good venue that will be able to comfortably accommodate your maximum attendance, including entertainment and meal providers. The environment should be stylish and allow people to socialize freely. If your venue is being donated, it may take a bit of planning fit your needs, so carefully consider any adjustments you may need to make before decorating. Your decorations should match what guests are wearing at your gala event as well as your theme.

Consider a Theme

A creative theme for your gala event provides a unique atmosphere for your guests. Whether it’s broadway, medieval, masquerade, Christmas, nautical, or something else, a theme can help aid your menu selection, decorations, planned activities, and dress code. When planning a themed event it is important to make sure that you decorations, centerpieces, and entertainment fit properly. In some cases, it may be necessary to contact an organization familiar with themed events in order to ensure the right presentation.

Make Food and Drink Preparations

Shop around and contact various catering services, restaurants, and other establishments to see if they are able to accommodate your guests. Consider whether or not you want to have a cash or open bar and prepare a menu that has vegetarian options. Your menu should be diverse and what to serve at your gala dinner will depend on the nature of your event, the theme you have chosen, and your organization’s budget. You also may want to consider personalizing your drinkware to make an extra special impression on your patrons.

Craft Invitations

Your invitation will be the first thing that potential guests see, making it an important step in planning your event. Crafting a good invitation requires accurate information and a presentation that draws attention. Include information such as date, time, location, and formality as well as details such as who will benefit from the event, the chosen theme, and planned activities. The art of writing gala invitations allows you to be creative, but be sure that your tone reflects the formality of the event.

Plan Activities and Book Entertainment

Planning successful gala dinners revolves around appropriate entertainment and activities designed to raise money. Contact local venues and inquire about possible live performances as well as items able to be donated for a raffle or silent auction. If you’ve chosen a theme for your event, be sure to find forms of entertainment that goes along with it and that guests will find appropriate.

Decorate Your Venue

One of the final steps in preparation for your gala dinner is decoration. Choose bold complementary colors and decorate to match your chosen theme. Use unique centerpieces, artwork, and props to create a visually stunning environment for your guests and give your cause a festive ambiance. Due to the importance of presenting a unique atmosphere, it may be necessary to contract help in decorating. A variety of companies have made a living decorating venues of all shapes and sizes by using color schemes or themes as their template.

Seek Volunteers

Once everything is planned, you will need to find people to maintain and help out at the event. Using your network and resources within and outside of the organization, find volunteers to help serve food, greet guests, and help make sure the evening goes smoothly.

One of the best ways to gain support for your organization, a successful gala dinner takes a great deal of planning and preparation. Ensuring everything is in order before a single guest arrives will allow the evening to flow smoothly and present your organization in a professional light. Fundraisers are essential in the growth of any business or non-profit organization, and the effective management of each step is the key to a memorable evening.


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