8 essential steps to making your gala event a shining success

8 essential steps to making your gala event a shining success

No one can resist the glitz and glamour of a good gala event. Alex Talcer shares all you need to know to make your event a shining success


You say the word ‘gala’ and it conjures up a whole host of images and ideas. But before you start, the two most important questions should be: why do you want to hold the event and what do you want it to achieve?


Why do it?

This will differ from charity to charity but the most common reasons to hold a gala event are to raise money and awareness.

Holding a big event can create a lot of noise about your charity. With the right marketing and PR plan in place you will see your brand appearing in a range of different media. Raising money through ticket and merchandise sales is, of course, another important objective.

Something you may not have considered is using your event as a stewardship opportunity to cultivate existing and potential supporters. Inviting important supporters helps to build on existing relationships makes them feel closer to the organisation. It also aids communication of what the charity does and the difference it makes. The invitation shows recognition of the support you have been given and how important it is, while helping to secure continued support. Glitzy events are also a great way to entice new supporters, potentially appealing more than your annual events programme due to the exclusivity of the ask.


Get them all involved

Make sure you agree a budget and a fundraising target. To plan a successful gala event you will need to work with a variety of internal stakeholders to ensure it appeals to all your supporter segments. It’s not about targeting a certain group of supporters; this type of event should have across the board appeal.

Invite everyone but develop selection criteria to make the most of any kind of marketing activity, for example distance from the event and level of engagement of the supporter. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box on this one. Also speak to senior volunteers and patrons about their networks. Lots of different people like big gala events and will want to be part of something special.


Where do I begin?

A great question and there isn’t necessarily one right answer. Personally, I like a mind map. I draw it out on a giant piece of paper and keep adding to it as I come up with ideas. It’s a great visual tool; however a traditional project plan is also essential. Divide it into suitable headings; including, start and end dates, who is responsible for each task and a status report. This can be referred to at any point and is a good way of keeping track of progress.


Team work

Put a project group together by inviting colleagues from different departments. The more input you receive from other teams at the start of the project, the better. It will help shape the event. The group might be able to highlight areas that you have not considered as well as help build useful relationships further down the line.



Clear communication is key to organising a gala event. Like any project manager you’ll be dealing with multiple internal and external stakeholders. You’ll be the hub in a giant wheel that connects everyone and keeps the project moving. Have an understanding of what each person needs as everyone will want to achieve different things depending on their role. It’s your job to help make this happen while ensuring that it fits with the overall theme of the event.

You need to pay attention to detail. Check, check and check again. Make sure everyone involved has been briefed properly and know what they are supposed to do. Be sure to delegate – as project manager you cannot do everything or be everywhere but you can be at the centre, delegating big tasks on the night.


High profile

Gala events are a good opportunity to work with your celebrity supporters and gain some new ones. Remember this is a great opportunity to raise your charity’s profile. Ask early, you may not receive answers straight away but don’t be disheartened. The key is getting the date in diaries and making people aware that the event is happening. Depending on the event you may ask people to perform but getting others to attend the event will be just as important.


Get help

Remember you can’t do everything. You may need to work with external companies who are experts in their field and have experience in managing large events. Also remember that gala events are ‘one off’ and ‘special’. They are a chance for suppliers you’ve worked with for years to get involved and also give something back so it’s always worth asking for their help and support. Start with your corporate partners.


Keep calm and carry on

I won’t lie to you, even the calmest and most organised project manager will feel some level of stress at various points in the process, but it will pass. As the saying goes ‘everything will be alright on the night’. It may seem like a crazy idea at times and keeping everything on track can feel daunting but there is nothing more satisfying that bringing everyone together and putting on an amazing event. Watching the reaction from your audience as the show begins will make it all worthwhile.


Alex Talcer is national event programme manager at Macmillan Cancer Support


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 11, November 2011

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