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The Ultimate List of Gala Themes: Make Your Next Fundraising Event a Success with this Ultimate List of Gala Theme Ideas

The Ultimate List of Gala Themes: Make Your Next Fundraising Event a Success with this Ultimate List of Gala Theme Ideas

Hosting a successful gala fundraiser means more than just renting an event hall and serving your guests refreshments. These days, philanthropists and benefactors get invited to dozens of nonprofit and charity fundraisers -- so if you want their support, you're going to have to make your fundraiser stand out.

One of the best ways to do this is to select a unique theme for your fundraiser that's memorable and appeals to your target audience. Depending on the type of supporters you're hoping to attract, this might mean hosting anything from a high-end auction to a costume party to an outdoor family carnival. There's really no limit to the ways you can theme your fundraising gala -- but to help narrow down your choices, we're providing this ultimate list of gala theme ideas to make your next gala a memorable one.  

Beyond simply giving you some awesome party ideas, we'll cover how you can choose the right decor for your gala, select the proper entertainment to keep your guests happy (and donating), and explore how a dress code can add to the fun. We'll also take a close look at some highly successful galas thrown by popular nonprofits to see what lessons we can learn and show how an online fundraising platform like PayBee can make your next gala easier to host.

A Listing of the Best Gala Themes (And Why They're So Popular)

While the philanthropists and benefactors in your support network may have a variety of interests, some fundraisers keep being centered around the same themes. There's a reasons for this -- each theme in this listing sets a tone for elegance, excitement, and fun that's been prove to be regularly appealing. Consider centering your next gala around:

Masquerade Ball Theme

Guests love to dress up at fundraisers, so why not make your next gala a charity ball complete with costume contests, dancing, and live music? You can center your masquerade around a more specific theme (like Moulin Rogue, Broadway musicals, or Mardi Gras).

You can also relate your masquerade theme to the cause(s) your nonprofit is championing to remind guests why they're attending. For instance, if your nonprofit is raising funds to protect animals, you might ask your guests to dress up as endangered species or their favorite animal. Not only is this fun, it'll also put guests in a more giving mood if they constantly see the wildlife your group is helping to save. 

Casino Royale Theme

Is there anything better than being able to gamble for a good cause? Casino themed events allow your guests to make a set donation in exchange for casino chips they can use at any one of your game tables. You can set up a roulette table, craps game, blackjack, poker, and any number of other popular games that let your guests test their luck with playing cards. 

Guests can then exchange their chips for prizes which you can display around your gala. You can also arrange to have a competition among guests (like a poker showdown), where players compete to win all the chips (and bragging rights). Be sure to have a nice prize package waiting for the victor too!  

Carnival Gala

A carnival night can be an elegant affair, but most nonprofits make this event a more casual party full of games, prizes, and photo booths. Food can be fair-themed (popcorn, corn dogs, funnel cakes), creating a fun, low-key atmosphere. You can set up your event outside with tents to create a festive look and even rent rides like carousels to attract other community members. If you time this event around the summer, fall, or holiday season when people are in the mood to get out, have some fun, and support good causes, you can make this a very successful gala fundraising event!

Black Tie Gala

Here's a classic fundraiser that's made for professionals and philanthropists. Black tie galas are held at nice event venues like hotels, museums, planetariums, and botanical gardens. Serve high-end food like hor d'oeuvres and caviar (if it's in your budget), and prepare a selection of popular wines for guests who appreciate a nice drink. These events are also good places to hold high-end live and silent auctions and can be combined with other fundraising activities such as a fancy fundraising dinner. The overall tone should be elegant and high-class. 

Raise a Drink to Offbeat Gala Theme Ideas

Not all fundraisers need to be fancy dinner parties and major events. Some of the best fundraisers are more offbeat and unique. This makes them not only more affordable and easier to produce for your event staff but also makes them stand out from the more standard gala fundraisers. Consider building your next gala around these ideas: 

Superhero-Themed Gala 

A variation on the always-popular costume party, a superhero-themed fundraiser invites guests to come to the party dressed as their favorite comic book, movie, TV, or literary superhero. This not only automatically makes your event a more colorful affair, but also encourages guests to "save the day" by donating to your nonprofit.

Make your decorations reflect this theme. If you're leaning into the pop art aspect of heroes, design your event venue to look like the panels of a comic book. You can also place life-size cut-outs of famous movie superheroes to give your guests some fun photo opportunities, or place cityscape silhouettes on the walls to let your guests pose dramatically in their costumes. It also goes without saying that this party is perfect for costume contests!

Secret Garden

Let your guests return to nature by hosting your next gala at a local botanical garden. Arrange for a private event that allows donors to explore the gardens on their own and appreciate the flowers and plant life on display. This is a particularly good theme to use if your nonprofit supports environmental programs and is raising money to plant trees or protect the local wildlife. Being surrounded by the beauty of nature will easily put donors in a giving mood.

Night Under the Stars

If you have a nice planetarium in your local community, consider hosting your next gala there. Guests will be able to mingle beneath the stars and appreciate the city from an entirely different perspective. Again, you can theme this event to reflect the causes you support -- education-based nonprofit might remind donors the importance of supporting science programs while environmental-centered nonprofits can use this as an opportunity to remind people to help take care of the planet.

Jazz Party

Send your guests to the "Big Easy" by hosting a jazz-themed party! Invite a jazz performer or band to offer live music and serve classic New Orleans food like gumbo, jambalaya, and beignets! Activities can include an auction (with opportunities to bid on a vacation to the real New Orleans), raffles, dance competitions and more! 

Make it a Night to Remember: Decorating Your Gala Events

Decorating your event venue is very important, especially during themed galas. Not only will the gala decoration ideas you choose communicate your fundraising theme, they'll also provide visual cues that will help guests donate. For instance, making QR codes that lead to your donation pages an organic part of your decorations will make it easier for guests to contribute throughout your event.

Make sure the decor you choose matches the tone you want to set. For example, if you're looking to host a classy affair, gold, silver, and copper accents are good hues to include in your color scheme. An elegant dinner party should have nice tablecloths and linens, along with name tags to aid in guest placement. Alternatively, a more laid-back affair could benefit from warm lighting and comfortable seating arrangements.  

Incorporate professional and personal touches. Find ways to display your nonprofit's logo (and the logos of your sponsors) in the decor. PayBee's guest management software makes it easy to collect useful information from guests that will help them feel more welcome at your party. For instance, you could ask for their favorite colors and any dietary restrictions and then print their name tags in those colors while preparing a meal plan that's to their liking. 

From Impact Auctions to Dance Balls: The Best Activities for Your Event

Entertainment and activities are a big part of any fundraiser. For a themed event, however, you'll want to make sure the games and productions you choose align with your gala's motif.

Parties that have guests dress up might offer a costume contest, sketch artist, or photographer who can create memorable photos and video recordings for guests (and your marketing team to post on social media). Masquerade balls could offer face painting or even an opportunity to design fancy face masks if your guests are into arts and crafts.

Auctions and raffles tend to be staples in fundraising events, but you can also theme these around your gala's motif too. If your event is themed around a particular place like Hawaii or Europe, you can probably attract more bids for your auctions if you offer vacation packages and tickets to an island getaway or European tour. A botanical tour might provide a raffle where guests can win exotic plants. Museum galas can offer memberships in giveaway packages.  

Dress to Impress: How a Dress Code Can Liven Up A Fundraising Gala

While galas can be casual affairs where guests wear their everyday clothes, most donors expect to dress up a little at galas. By communicating an expected dress code in your party invitations, you can add to the overall ambiance of your event.

For instance, if you're hosting a black-tie event, men are expected to wear tuxedos or dark suits. Women usually wear formal evening wear (which often translates to long dresses -- no short skirts or cocktail dresses). 

Alternatively, if you're hosting a costume event, be sure to communicate your gala's theme clearly in your invitations. Offer suggestions for the types of costumes you're expecting (superhero suits, Mardi Gras-style masks etc.) so your guests have some idea of what to put together.

Your invitation can also reflect your gala's theme. You might consider posting photos or images of the types of costumes/evening wear you expect your guests to wear at your event. You could also design your invites to set the tone for your event -- offering intricate, embossed designs for formal events or festive, low-key images for a more casual get-together.

Case Studies

Offering a mix of proven popular activities and innovative gala themes is often key to hosting a successful fundraiser. That's definitely the case with the successful gala case studies below:

Rainbow Trust Children's Charity

Dedicated to providing families of critically ill children with a Family Support Worker to provide practical and emotional support, Rainbow Trust Children's Charity has experienced challenges raising funds as the cost of living increases.

To attract donors to its events, this charity hosted a Race Night in June 2023 at the popular Royal Windsor Racecourse where guests could participate in a summer's evening of racing. This unique venue attracted supporters who were able to donate money through some proven fundraising activities -- pledges, online contributions, and silent/live auctions. The silent auctions allowed the charity to raise money well before the fundraising event began while the live auction collected additional donations during the actual event. Meanwhile, online donation opportunities enabled supporters who couldn't attend to donate to the cause.

All this resulted in Rainbow Trust Children's Charity raising a total of £249,000 (roughly $317,488.70 US). £29,300 came from the silent auction while an additional £7,855 came from pledges. The gala also offered a "Buy It Now" feature on the auction, enabling bidders to simply purchase auction items for a set price, which raised £8,540.

WeSeeHope

Realizing many of its target supporters were fans of classic cars, WeSeeHope -- a charity that provides children in Southern and Eastern Africa with access to education, child rights, and economic empowerment programs -- held its 2023 fundraising dinner at a classic car meet-up. This helped attract supporters who could then contribute through silent auctions and pledges. In-person guests were also given a tablet to make donations and bidding easier.

The final result ended up raising £21,440 from the silent auction and £31,390 from pledges, for a grand total of £52,830 (roughly $67,373.83 US).     

FAQs

What are the different kinds of galas?

Galas run a wide gamut of themes from casino nights to costume parties to carnivals. There's really no limit to the types of galas you can host, and you can adapt virtually any gala theme to your nonprofit's budget and resources.

How do you make a gala interesting?

Offering engaging entertainment and activities attracts guests and keeps them at your gala (increasing the odds that they'll donate generously to your programs). You could offer (and promote) live music, high-energy auctions, dancing, contests, carnival games, and enticing raffle prizes that will bring a big audience to your fundraiser.

What makes a gala fun?

Connecting with your guests is the ultimate key to making any gala fun. This means knowing your target audience's biggest interests so you can select a theme that resonates with most of your donors and supporters. This also means selecting a good support staff who can attend to your guests' needs and keep them happy. PayBee's partners include everyone from professional auctioneers to experienced tech staff who know how to keep your guests energized and make your event run smoothly. 

Moving Forward: Finding Inspiration for Your Next Fundraiser

Successful event planning hinges on constructing a fundraiser that reflects your guests' interests. While any of the fundraising event themes described above will generate interest, only you know your target audience's needs well enough to choose which thematic entertainment and activities are right for your guests. 

To help in this process, PayBee's software provides a way to easily construct fundraising campaigns, creative gala invitations, and guest lists that can work with any gala theme. You'll be able to create personalized invites and decor for any event venue. You'll also be able to easily put together live and silent auctions that offer the type of themed prizes that will add to the overall ambiance of your gala.

Want to see first hand what PayBee can do for you? Sign up for a free demo of our online fundraising platform and see how easily our digital tools adapt to your needs. You'll discover how PayBee can help you plan, market, and host a winning in-person, virtual, or hybrid gala. You'll be able to ask all your technical questions to our team of experts and even participate in a mock auction with all the excitement and hype associated with the real thing. There's no better way of learning how PayBee can enhance your event planning, so sign up for a free demo today!  

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Michael Jung

Michael-Jung

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