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What NOT to do at your gala fundraisers

With the lifting of COVID restrictions, fundraising fundraisers are making a comeback as an effective way for nonprofits to raise funds, create awareness, and attract new donors. Drawing from my experience of managing fundraising events for the first half of my career, I wanted to share some tips to help nonprofits avoid common mistakes that can detract from the success of their events. In this article, we'll explore five key things to avoid when planning a fundraising dinner and provide actionable tips to help make your event more successful.


While the goal of a gala fundraising dinner is generally to raise money, it's important to remember that these events are also an opportunity to build relationships with donors. Focusing solely on the financial aspect of the event can leave donors feeling uncomfortable and less likely to donate.

Here are some tips to help balance fundraising with relationship-building:

  • Avoid overwhelming donors with too many silent auction items or an extended live auction. This can distract from the event and pressure donors to spend money.

  • Don't make too many requests for donations. Overwhelming donors with too many requests can make them uncomfortable and less likely to contribute.

Instead, create an enjoyable atmosphere that engages donors in your cause. This can be achieved by offering event activities aligning with your mission and educating attendees while entertaining them.

  • Consider inviting a guest speaker to talk about your organization’s impact.

  • Showcase short videos or photos that highlight your organization's impact. This can help donors feel more connected to your cause and motivated to give.

  • Host mission-aligned interactive activities to help donors connect with your cause on a more personal level. For example, you could have a photo booth with a backdrop that reflects your organization's mission or a game that requires players to learn about your cause.

  • Utilize signage, QR codes, and handouts to communicate your organization's mission and impact throughout the event.

By focusing on relationship-building in addition to fundraising, you can create a more engaging and effective fundraising dinner. By implementing these tips, you can leave a positive and lasting impression on donors while achieving your fundraising goals. Your fundraising dinner's success is measured not only in dollars raised, but the relationships you build with your donors.


Managing gala fundraisers can be a high-pressure and stressful experience. Still, it’s important to maintain a positive and professional attitude to ensure that the event runs smoothly and leaves a positive impression on donors.

Here are some tips to help avoid "Karen" moments and promote professionalism:

  • Encourage staff and volunteers to maintain a positive and professional attitude throughout the event. Remind them that they are the face of your organization and that their behaviour can impact how donors perceive your cause.

  • Provide adequate training for staff and volunteers to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities during the event. This can help prevent confusion and minimize the risk of mistakes.

  • Be respectful and courteous to all vendors, staff, and attendees. Avoid yelling, showing frustration, or talking adversely about anything or anyone, even if things don't go as planned. This can create a negative impression on donors and make them less likely to support your cause.

  • Foster a culture of teamwork and communication. Encourage staff and volunteers to work together to solve problems and support each other when needed. This can help create a positive and supportive environment that promotes professionalism and a sense of community.

  • Take every opportunity to express gratitude to everyone for their support. Showing appreciation can help build strong relationships and promote future support.

Promoting professionalism and a positive attitude ensures that your fundraising dinner runs smoothly and leaves a lasting impression on donors.


Tailoring your fundraising dinner to your donors' interests can make it more engaging and impactful. By considering what your donors care about and what motivates them, you can create an event that is memorable and effective in raising funds for your cause. Here are some tips to help you tailor your event to your donors' interests:

Conduct donor research: Before planning your event, conduct surveys and get feedback from your target audience. Find out what would make the event enjoyable for your attendees. Just because you might like it doesn't mean they will. Consider their preferences, interests, and age groups.

Personalized experiences: Offer personalized experiences for donors who make more significant contributions. This could include a private tour of your organization's facilities, a meet-and-greet with staff or board members, or a personalized thank-you from a beneficiary of your programs. Personalizing experiences for your donors can help make them feel more connected to your organization and motivated to give.

Guest speaker: Consider inviting a speaker who aligns with your donors' interests or the event’s theme. A relevant and engaging speaker can help make the event more exciting and memorable for attendees.

Interactive activities: Offer interactive activities or experiences that align with your donors' interests. This can help make the event more engaging and memorable for attendees. Consider offering a variety of activities to appeal to different interests and age groups.

Mission-focused décor: Use decorations that align with your organization's mission and your donors’ interests. This can help create a cohesive and memorable experience for attendees.

By tailoring your fundraising dinner to your donors' interests, you can create a more engaging and impactful event that motivates donors to give and support your cause. Remember to stay true to your organization's mission and values while also considering what your donors care about most. Donor research is key to understanding their interests and ensuring the event is enjoyable and memorable.


Hosting a successful fundraising dinner requires more than just raising money. One of the most important aspects of a successful event is showing appreciation to your donors and volunteers. These individuals are giving their time and money to support your cause, and it's important to acknowledge and thank them for their contributions.

Here are some tips to help you express gratitude to your donors and volunteers:

Designated time: Make sure to have a specified time during the event to recognize and thank your donors and volunteers. This can be a public announcement, a speech from your organization's leader, or a video presentation. By publicly acknowledging your donors and volunteers, you are showing them that their contributions are valued and appreciated.

Personalized thank-you notes: Consider sending personalized thank-you notes to donors, volunteers, vendors, the planning committee, etc., after the event. A personal touch can go a long way in making donors and volunteers feel appreciated and valued. Be specific about how their contribution made a difference and the impact it will have on your organization's mission.

Gratitude wall: Consider setting up a gratitude wall where attendees can write a message of thanks to your donors and volunteers. This can be a fun and interactive way to show appreciation and create a positive atmosphere at the event.

Showing appreciation will not only make your donors and volunteers feel valued, but it will also encourage them to continue supporting your cause in the future. By expressing appreciation through personalized thank-you notes or a public announcement during the event, you can build strong relationships with your donors and volunteers and foster a culture of gratitude within your organization.


Following up with donors after the event is critical to building long-term donor relationships. This is above and beyond the thank you. It includes sending reports, pictures, and updates. Failing to do so can limit your organization's potential for future contributions. Here are some tips to help you follow up effectively with donors:

Updates on impact: Keep donors updated on how their contributions have impacted your cause. This can be done through regular newsletters, emails, or social media posts. Share success stories and highlight the difference their donation has made in the lives of those your organization serves.

Share event pictures or videos: Nonprofits can significantly benefit from posting event pictures or videos online as a follow-up after an event. By sharing these pictures, nonprofits can provide a visual recap of the event, capturing memorable moments and allowing guests to relive the experience. This helps foster a sense of community and gratitude among attendees, as they can see their participation and the impact of their support. Posting event pictures also extends the event’s reach beyond its physical location, enabling nonprofits to showcase their mission, achievements, and the people they serve to a broader audience.

Vendor follow-up: Don't forget to follow up with vendors as well. Ask for feedback on the event and thank them for their contributions. Share photos and reports from the event with them and consider leaving them a Google review. This can help build strong relationships with vendors and encourage them to support your cause again in the future.

By following up with donors and vendors after the event, you are showing them that their contributions are valued and appreciated. Updates on the impact of their gifts can help build long-term donor relationships and increase the likelihood of future donations.

Nonprofits can create successful fundraising dinners by avoiding these common mistakes and focusing on relationship-building, expressing gratitude, paying attention to details, and catering to donors' interests. By implementing these tips, you can create a memorable and enjoyable experience for your donors while raising funds for your cause. Good luck with your next fundraising event!


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