Creating a quality guest experience is synonymous with providing a positive donor experience when hosting your fundraising gala. Regardless of size – gala or hosting charity – an event that resonates with your guests and reinforces your cause is more likely to be achieved with thoughtful planning and execution. In my blog, Who’s Coming to Dinner? Tips for Planning a Fundraising Gala I highlight planning tips for Phase One: Imagine; below are 15 helpful tips on how to produce an event.
Phase Two: Produce.
- Select the event space carefully based on a predetermined set of criteria rather than trying to make the space/room fit your plan. Knowing clearly what you want before signing a room contract can avoid unnecessary expenses or problems throughout the production phase.
- Set a plan for external access to the room including local traffic, parking, walk-up, ease of access for all guests and visual impact. The first impression your guests have as they arrive to your event is as important as during the event.
- Plan for every detail of the room layout including floor plan, stage placement, back-of-house production requirements, sight lines, traffic flow, public washroom assess, ease of bar and food service for guests and service staff. In my experience, having sat next to speakers or in poor sight lines has demonstrated the common mistakes that are made when a master plan has not been carefully thought through.
- Unless you are going for a medieval feast theme keep your theme balanced and simple so not to overshadow the purpose of your event. Themes can provide inspiration for speeches, menu, propping of the space, event visual identify and creative collateral material.
- Hire a professional production company. If this is cost prohibitive approach your local university, music association or theater company for trained volunteer assistance knowledgeable in the area of production.
- Create detail production schedules or ‘run sheets’ to identify and delegate each task. Your run sheet – timelines, team assignments, scripts and set up and tear down – should be shared with key members of your team so everyone is literally on the same page. There are a number of great software programs available on-line to help you with creating a production schedule.
- Contract quality audio-visual equipment and people. Many events falter due to poor room acoustics and sound equipment that could have been avoided with proper equipment and set up. In my experience in-house AV services are limited so secure external resources if you can (see Tip #5). Proper sound checks and rehearsals with your AV prior to the event is a must and allowing ample time and expense will help avoid problems during the event.
- Lighting can be an effective alternative to costly props and stage materials while setting a mood in the room. Creative lighting technicians know how to add visual effects using color, transitions and imaging to enhance a well-lit center stage and the dining atmosphere. A professional lighting specialist can source the latest equipment to help create that special look and feel of your event (see Tip #5).
- When propping or planning decor, I apply the rule of ‘Less is More’. If propping is required and you worry about professional contractor costs look to your local art or theater schools to help create visuals. Decor and lighting plans should be fully integrated to ensure they complement the event program, not compete with it.
- The decision to have round, square or rectangular tables is as much based on the comfort of your guests as it is the community engagement you want to create, if any space restrictions exist and if the choice will impact your room rental costs. I prefer 6 or 8 person round tables, however a theme or venue may influence your final decision and play nicely to the table dynamic you want to encourage.
- If alcohol is being served through a bar service avoid the common pitfalls of crowding and difficult access by arranging bars in areas that do not negatively impact traffic flow in the main room or create noise disruptions during the stage program/speeches. Professional venues usually mange this well, but if you are in a unique space think this through carefully.
- Music can express the DNA of your brand while setting a tone for your event. Whether you choose to use a PA system to pipe in music or support a live performance, select the music genre and play lists carefully. Plan for musician performance fees, contract rider costs and music royalties payments, if required.
- Well written scripts for each of your presenters is worth their weight in gold! Hiring a professional script writer is my preferred option however if this is cost prohibitive prepare all the scripts or speaking notes together to ensure the messaging flows properly, the key messages are made by the most appropriate person and the audience is not overburdened by long public addresses or too many ‘off-script’ remarks. A common pitfall occurs when planners attempt to cram in too much in the scripts and the speakers go overtime.
- Think through your program transitions. These are the moments when the program changes from one speaker or program element to another. These should appear seamless, not clunky, to the audience.
- A good event planner will be ready for any surprise, including any emergency response. Discuss the emergency response with venue management and review how possible scenarios while be handled and by whom.
It is my hope these tips will be helpful in producing your fundraising gala. I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas by adding your comments.
Watch for more tips in the cycle of planning a fundraising gala – Phase 3: Experience.
Author, Keith D Publicover is a Toronto based Charity Impact and NonProfit Management Consultant with more than 30 years in the Sector. He owns/operates the social enterprise – Resolute Clothing Co which raises financial resources from products sold to support vulnerable youth.