Fundraising galas can be an excellent way to increase awareness of your work, create meaningful connections through networking, and raise capital for ongoing success. It may seem daunting to plan, market, and host your own gala, we know! But with the right tools, it can – and will – be a rousing success. On The Stage (OTS) offers a few tips and tricks to help you on your way to hosting your first (or second, or one hundredth) theatre fundraising gala. 

Steps to Plan a Successful Fundraising Gala

1. Create your leadership team. 

The amount of logistics involved in throwing a fundraiser can be overwhelming – that’s why you need to pull together a great team. Even if you want to captain the ship, you need members in your crew to carry out the many tasks necessary to get the job done. When creating a leadership team, it’s integral that each team member understands their specific tasks, objectives, and preferred outcomes. Delegation is key – and teamwork makes the dream work. 

So make sure you have staff members who can handle: 

  • Venue/catering/drinks acquisition 
  • Sponsorship/patron outreach
    • Pro tip: Having businesses and community partners sponsor your event will make the ride much smoother. Make sure you’re using your networking contacts to find these contacts. This will open the door to a higher caliber of events, as well as more capital at your disposal for anything you need along the way. 
  • Marketing and promotions
  • Ticket sales 
  • Volunteer management
  • Venue setup/teardown 
  • Event follow-up

When team members know exactly what is expected of them, you decrease the chance of miscommunication and human error and increase the chance of success! 

2. Determine your goals.

Now that you’ve got your stellar team, it’s time to create objectives for your event. Yes, the general goal is simple: raise money. But get into the specifics of your objectives before you make any major decisions about your event.

For example, ask yourself the following questions before embarking on your planning deep dive:

  • How much revenue do you want to bring in from this gala? 
  • Do you want to acquire new patrons, make existing patrons feel appreciated, or both?
  • Do you want to market new shows, merchandise, programming, or other content?
  • Do you want to recognize volunteers, staff, or long-time ticket holders? 
  • Do you want to increase awareness and engagement within your theatre? 

No matter what your goals are – and really, you can’t go wrong with any of the above – make sure that you can quantify them and that they are reasonable and reachable. In short, create a metric for success from the onset to help guide you in your planning. 

3. Decide what type of fundraiser to throw. 

There are a variety of ways to determine what type of fundraiser you should throw. Remember to keep in mind the following elements before pulling the trigger:

  • Study your demographics and donor databases. What sort of fundraiser, gala, or theme will resonate best with your audiences and make them interested in attending and donating? 
  • Measure your patrons’ engagement outside regular performance windows. Do you see a lot of interaction on social media and in person all year long, or is engagement only saturated during show weeks? If so, you may want to steer away from crowdfunding or donor-led events and pay attention to engagement spikes when setting a date. 
  • Consider the season. Will weather impact your event? If you’re gearing up for an outdoor fundraiser, make sure you’re planning well in advance and have backups in place. If it’s a winter-weather gala, make sure you’re ready in case icy weather strikes. 
  • Do you have venue restrictions? The type of fundraiser you throw will impact your venue choice, so if you’re working on a limited budget, make sure to consider that. 

4. Establish your fundraising event budget.

As the old adage goes: You have to spend money to make money! Now that you’ve determined your financial goals for the fundraiser, it’s time to determine your budget to get there.

When you think of the big picture, a few major expenses come to mind. But remember that throwing a fundraiser, no matter how small has a bevy of hidden costs. 

When setting up your project, plan to spend some dough on the following: 

  • Your event space or venue rental 
  • Any entertainment offerings you want to bring in. 
    • Pro tip: Consider your own staffers, actors, and tech to act as pro bono entertainment. You’ll save a good chunk of change and keep your team involved. 
  • Mobile bidding tools and fundraising software if you plan on having an auction or taking donations during the night 
  • Food and drink
  • Marketing assets and promotional content 
  • Service staff 
  • Tables, chairs, dishes, and cutlery

These are only a few of the items you’ll need to consider when setting a budget – so make sure you take the time to fully think this portion through before general spending begins. 

5. Set the date and time. 

You may think this would be the easiest section of your fundraising planning – but determining the date of your fundraiser requires quite a bit of research. 

Consider the following components before landing on a date and sending out marketing materials with it:

  • With this date, are you giving yourself enough time to reach your goals realistically? On the flip side, are you giving your patrons enough time to RSVP, get a babysitter if necessary, or move around other plans? 
  • Do you plan to make this an annual event? If so, ensure you’re ready to host it again around the same time next year.
  • Check your community’s social calendar. Are there any major events that may conflict with donor attendance? Consider graduations, concerts, major holidays, and the like. 
  • Is your date and time choice setting you up for general success? Remember, most people won’t be able to get out of work at 2 p.m. on a weekday to attend your event. Make sure you’re choosing a date and time that allows most people the freedom to attend – and stay late, if need be! 

6. Market your fundraiser.

By the time your fundraiser doors open, everyone in your community should know about it. That’s why marketing and promoting your event is so incredibly important – without it, you wouldn’t have any guests!

As we’ve all learned by now, the most effective marketing strategies tend to involve multiple channels of communication – both online and off. Make sure you’re marketing your event in as many outlets as possible, including:

  • Direct mail – some people like old school! 
  • Flyers and posters around town
  • Print and digital ads 
  • Your show site 
  • Email newsletters and e-blasts 
  • Social media channels
    • Pro tip: Consider sponsor posts where you can target your preferred demographics; this way, a lot of the work of getting higher engagement happens without any additional labor from you! 

7. Sell tickets.

With marketing efforts well underway, it’s time to ensure your tickets are ready to be sold! 

A few tips for selling the maximum amount of tickets include:

  • Sell tickets as early as possible—the more time you have, the more tickets you’ll sell. You can also offer early bird discounts for the first *insert number here* patrons. 
  • Offering mobile ticketing options and a strong ticketing website 
  • Offering tiered pricing for maximum inclusivity – and the chance to get extra revenue with VIP packages! 
  • Utilizing promo codes for a sense of urgency or a way to get you out of a sales hump 
  • Ensuring attendee information is organized with updated software 
  • Incentivizing larger ticket sales by offering ticket bundling deals

8. Follow up.

After your event is over, it’s not time to hang up your hat just yet. Ensure you’re getting feedback from patrons about the fundraiser – what they liked, didn’t like, wanted to see more of … you name it! To follow up, reaching out via phone, email, text, or even letter is great. Make sure you thank guests for coming – and specifically mention any donation amounts they made at the event, as well. If you know for sure, let them know what that donation will be going towards. Additionally, keep them updated on upcoming events or showcases, then ask for feedback. 

A few helpful questions to start include: 

  • How did you hear about our event?
  • What was your favorite moment of the evening?
  • Were there any elements of the fundraiser you wish were different? 
  • Can you remember any specific details about the event that you feel made you more or less likely to donate?
  • How can we make our next event better?

On The Stage Fundraising Suite

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge to host your own fundraising gala, you should also have an all-in-one fundraising solution for your theatre! That’s where On The Stage (OTS) comes in. 

With the OTS Fundraising Suite, you can take control of your theatre’s financial destiny by:

  • Raising funds and engaging your team through targeted campaigns
  • Experiencing year-round fundraising for your program
  • Collecting and managing donor information for insights and ongoing engagement
  • Tracking towards your goal in real-time and streamlining your processes with comprehensive reporting

With an extensive library of ready-to-use campaign templates and the option to build a fully customizable campaign, our Fundraising Suite is designed to help you start building momentum on day one. With a fundraising suite that does it all, the only limit is your imagination!

If you’re ready to elevate your theatre experience, book a personalized demo with On The Stage today. 

Related products and solutions