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How to Plan a Successful Nonprofit Gala

Learn essential steps to plan a successful nonprofit gala. From setting objectives to leveraging impactful design, this guide provides practical tips to organize a memorable event that effectively promotes your cause.

Our Fool-Proof Gala Planning Process

A gala is the biggest fundraising event of the year for nonprofits.

It has the potential to raise the most funds out of every event you host that year and has the power to turn curious onlookers into loyal sponsors for years to come.

That said, hosting a gala is a massive undertaking that requires careful preparation to execute with any level of success.

You need plenty of time to plan for a large-scale, high stakes event to ensure it runs smoothly and delivers the kind of impact you’re aiming for.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need some pointers when it comes to planning your first (or second, or third) fundraising gala, look no further. 

We’ve broken the entire gala planning process down into a timeline to take the guesswork out of an already stressful assignment. (You’re welcome!)

Here’s our fool-proof nonprofit gala planning process from A-Z.

Pretty dining table setup at event.

Milestone 1: 1 Year Before

  • Establish your goals
  • Set your budget
  • Select a theme
  • Decide how to raise funds at the event
  • Start arranging sponsorships with partners
  • Book your venue

Yes, you read that right.

You should be planning your gala event at least a year in advance.

For one, popular venues tend to book out quickly so securing your spot well ahead of time is in your best interest.

On top of that, it’s better to have more time to map out every aspect of your event than less time than what you anticipated.

Stay on track by nailing down the goals you have for your event one year out.

What is your fundraising goal?

Who will you be inviting?

How many people would I like to attend?

What do you hope ot accomplish outside of raising money?

Am I building off traditions that have been upheld from previous years?

Once you’ve settled on your goals, you’ll want to come up with a theme that supports your objectives. (If you need a hand with that, Acton Circle can help!)

Next, you can start creating a strategy for how you will raise money at the event.

Will you hold a raffle?

Host a silent auction?

Call for donations after a presentation?

You should know early on how the event will earn money so you’re sure it’s worth planning it in the first place. You should also start arranging sponsorships with any corporate partners you have at the time.

After clarifying your goals, picking a theme, and deciding how to  raise money at your gala, it’s time to book your venue.

Then, you can mark your 1-year-in-advance to-do’s as complete and take a quick breather!

Four people sitting at a table, having a meeting.

Milestone 2: 6 Months Before

  • Continue arranging sponsorships
  • Make an event schedule and plan each session
  • Contact and hire potential speakers
  • Hire vendors
  • Hire a design team
  • Start creating promotional materials

As you hit the 6 month mark, you should still be arranging sponsorships with partners but it’s also time to start planning the rest of your gala. 

Consult with your team and figure out what the order of events will look like, who you will invite to speak, and what each session will look like. It’s best to contact potential speakers around this time so they have notice and can schedule accordingly.

If you plan on working with a professional to ensure that all your gala event materials are top notch quality, find your designer now. You’ll need to get started on creating Save the Dates, invitations, and promotional graphics if you don’t want your event marketing to take a back seat. (Grab our design checklist here!)

Lastly, you’ll want to secure all the vendors you need to make your gala event one for the books!

Make a list of the vendors you want—in order of priority in case you need to make cuts based on your budget— and start reaching out to each one.

Your vendors should include a caterer, florist, photographer, AV team, or the volunteers that would happily do the job. Consider every detail, like what kind of food or beverages will be served and what type of entertainment you’d like to provide.

Finger foods and glasses of drinks laid out.

Milestone 3: 1 Month Before

  • Order swag for guests, decor, and other materials
  • Finalize the event schedule
  • Check in with vendors and speakers
  • Finish up all remaining design assets
  • Assign your team members roles for the event

At around 1 month before the event, you’ll feel the pressure start to build.

It’s time to start organizing all the physical objects and event materials you need to have prepared for the day of.

That means putting together swag bags for your guests, collecting table decor, ordering event signage, and making arrangements for whatever else you need to make your gala beautiful and memorable.

It’s also a good time to check in with your vendors and speakers, finalize your event schedule, and finish up any remaining design assets on the docket.

At this point, you can begin assigning roles to your team so they know who is responsible for what during the gala.

Then, we’re kicking it into high gear!

People holding up their wine glasses, toasting during a meal at a large event.

Milestone 4: 2 Weeks Before

  • Print all event materials
  • Collect and organize all speaker slide decks
  • Put together guest swag bags

It’s crunch time, ladies and gentlemen.

During the home stretch of gala event planning, you have to double check everything.

Assemble your swag bags, sponsorship packets, and all the materials you plan to hand out at the event.

Run through the itinerary with your team to make 100% sure that everyone is on the same page.

Touch base with your vendors and speakers. Collect and organize all slide decks so they are presentation ready.

Lastly, get all your event materials printed, organized, and get ready to for the biggest night of the year.

The night of your gala has arrived!

The fundraising event you poured your heart into is going to exceed your expectations simply because you had your planning timeline on lock.

And that’s the power of preparation.


March 2, 2023