A gala is a bit of a broad term. For the most part, it’s a good descriptor for an event on the more formal end. This might mean an enforced dress code, a catered dinner, live band, and speeches or presentations on the guest (or cause) of honor.
Galas can less commonly also describe just a casual social outing or festival with a large guest list. Either way, gala events can really boost your brand reputation, especially if it’s a corporate function designed to impress potential investors and high-end clients.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you kick off a lavish gala that will showcase your company or organization in a positive light.
Kick off your planning with these unique gala ideas:
1. Set Your Sights on Your Goal
What’s the purpose of your event? Are you trying to recruit new clients? Are you planning on unveiling your latest product? Perhaps this is a charity event, and you’re trying to raise funds for a noble cause. Make it clear what your goal is for anyone helping you with the planning process, and craft a strategy to get to this end. Your objective should be clear and be more specific than just achieving a certain number of ticket sales.
What impact are you really trying to create?
Goals should include multiple objectives, such as:
- Reaching a certain number of social media shares (i.e. making your event hashtag trend)
- Acquiring X number of sales leads within Y number of weeks of the event
- Achieving a new benchmark ROI
- Raising $X for your chosen cause
While goals are important, don’t focus all of your efforts in reaching an arbitrary number. What’s more valuable is that your still have an impact on your business or charity through this gala. If you missed your goals slightly, extract whatever lesson to be learned from it so you do it even better next time.
2. Venue Selection is Key
If you’re hosting a formal event, then it stands to reason that a high school gymnasium isn’t probably going to cut it for your venue. Fortunately, there are no shortages of high-end venues, especially in major U.S. metropolises–whether you’re going for a historical vibe or a modern flair. Some of these places also overlook notable landmarks that you could tie into your theme (but we’ll get to theme selection a bit later!)
You also need to decide between a blank canvas venue or a venue already built to suit your favored style. The former is more or less a bare or “theme-ready” facility that can be freely decorated by your event team or the venue’s staff.
New York’s Madison Square Garden, for example, is a top venue that can be considered a contemporary blank canvas facility. By contrast, The Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver is an open-air venue designed specifically for music concerts or music-themed events.
Galas may also take on a festival-like structure, meaning that some portion of the event may take place outdoors. Consider a venue known for its exterior space if you want your guests to be able to soak in nature on top of your indoor spaces.
3. Choose Complementary Entertainment
A gala is not complete without some form of entertainment. If you’re holding a formal event, a rave dance probably won’t be a good fit, though it’s not out of the question. More fitting, however, would be something along the lines of a string or orchestra band.
You can pair musicians of any type with dancing for a fun affair–especially with themes that lend themselves well to a dance floor pairing (like a masquerade ball!)
DJs are appropriate, too, if it’s a better fit for your theme or audience. There’s a misconception that DJs only perform for more informal events, but this is absolutely not the case. DJs are versatile and can play an array of classical beats fitting for black-tie events or electric/funk/hip-hop music for a more groovy crowd.
4. Wow Guests with Food and Drinks
It goes without saying that you should serve up memorable food at your gala. Cheeseburgers and hotdogs probably aren’t going to suffice for formal galas unless you’re shooting for a more casual setting. Look for catering companies known for serving formal events, such as weddings and corporate functions. You will also need to decide between a buffet-style dinner or a single-serve meal depending on whether you want guests to mix and mingle or get to know their table neighbors.
You can also serve light refreshments during the reception if your event spans a few hours–and you’re looking to make sure guests have enough fuel to dance the night away. Typical finger foods like pigs in a blanket and mini cheese bites, all served by a formally dressed server carrying the appetizers in a silver tray, are a fun pairing that guests will love at late-night.
As for the drinks, setting aside a martini bar, make-your-own margarita station, or another twist on traditional bar service will leave a lasting impression on your imbibing guests Have a mixologist on-hand who can create customized cocktails on the spot.
5. Plan Your PR and Maximize Your Marketing
Galas need to be marketed just like any other event. While you need to be active on social media, you shouldn’t completely eschew offline methods, either.
For social media, try ALL of the following:
- Using an event hashtag that showcases your cause and theme
- Creating an official events page on social media to gain organic reach and new attendees
- Using multiple social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and so on, to match your target attendee. Definitely try LinkedIn for corporate events targeting certain companies or relevant professions.
Your social media marketing foray should also include assistance from brand advocates, affiliates, sponsors, and other industry influencers who can leverage their own followers to help you pack your venue with enthusiastic attendees.
For offline methods, one good strategy is to send out traditional flyers in the form of an invitation. Cordially invite the guest to your gala in a themed hand-out that feels special and exciting–and make sure it gives all the necessary details about registering online, buying tickets, and more.
6. Navigate Themes to Find a Perfect Fit
Themes deserve a section all their own! Galas are so much more vibrant when there’s a theme your guests can get excited about. This also gives you more room for some creativity as an event planner and helps you navigate details like food selection, music choices, etc. Themes can be specific to a season, like a winter wonderland for a December event. You might also opt for a theme that complements a certain industry, such as a travel theme for an international organization or cause.
The theme will also dictate the type of activities you can provide guests to keep them occupied all night long. For a casino night, you could definitely try to include various tables for card games and roulette, and maybe even award real prized for the night’s biggest winners.
Brainstorming gala fundraiser ideas is all about creating a good time for the guests and making sure you provide a fun escape from run-of-the-mill events or parties. With a carefully planned event, not only could you achieve your goals of fundraising or brand awareness, but you will also uplift your brand’s image and drive a bigger following in the aftermath.
Looking for a helping hand with your gala event planning? Get the best of diagramming, check-in, guest management, and venue sourcing — all in one event planning app.
Dan McCarthy is an Event Manager at Venueseeker, an event management company based in the UK. Dan has 6 years of event project management under his belt. He has worked on many successful events, and currently, he shares his knowledge by writing on the company blog. Follow him on Twitter @DanCarthy2.