insights bar

Another Op’nin’, Another Show1: Do’s and Don’ts of Galas

Photo credit: camema / Envato Market

My wife and I attend a lot of galas, as a way to spend time with friends and colleagues in our community and to support a variety of great organizations and causes. To be successful raising money from a gala while also burnishing an arts and culture organization’s reputation, these events must be run with the same high level of planning and execution as any high-quality artistic program. Since some of the events we’ve attended have been more successful than others in meeting this standard, I thought it might be useful to share notes on suggested “do’s and don’ts” of well-executed arts galas:

  • The Cocktail Hour: Keep it to that hour, giving people time to mingle but without making the evening too long. Try to have enough hors d’oeuvres, so people are not drinking on an empty stomach, and enough bartenders, so lines are not too long.
  • Photo credit: vvoennyy / Envato Market

    The Dinner: Preset the first course and bread on the table. Offer poured wine as people sit down and during the main course, but — to save costs and preserve our livers — do not automatically fill glasses all night. Choose a dinner location where noise won’t interfere with conversation. And, if there’s a dance band, ask them to play softly while the meal is served.

  • The Speeches: Keep the number small and the length short. If many people desire a chance to express appreciation of an honoree, create a short video tribute. Find an honoree who is committed to your mission. And avoid having multiple honorees, which requires many introductory and acceptance speeches and may make your organization appear desperate to attract attendees.
  • The Purpose: It is to raise awareness as well as money for your organization. So, don’t just talk about your mission; include a short video or live demonstration that showcases what you do. If attendees have paid a lot to attend, thank them for their support rather than begging for more. If you do a live auction during dinner, limit the number of items. Though it is now becoming fashionable to do live paddle fundraising challenges, balance the need for money with consideration for the feelings of those in the room who may not have the resources to participate, as doing otherwise may counteract the communal goodwill that galas should engender.
  • The Time: Start cocktails by 6 PM, sit down to dinner by 7 PM, and end the formal program by 9 PM. Those who want to stay later for more dancing, drinking, or dessert can do so. The rest of us want to go home, even on a weekend, to get ready for the next day.

A gala serves many organizational goals, but to achieve them, follow Cole Porter’s advice and make sure “It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.”2



1From “Kiss Me, Kate,” Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
2From “It’s De-Lovely,” Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
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