5 Ways to Elevate Your Nonprofit Gala’s Program
When working with organizations to produce annual galas, the greatest accomplishment usually leads to the most sizable challenge: How do we make next year’s event even better?! This directive can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but the most common is usually through the stage program.
For nonprofits, the program is an opportunity to communicate mission, recognize award recipients and, oftentimes, raise money — a crucial trifecta. Executing a successful program with a multitude of priorities and stakeholders can be challenging, so here are five tips to help keep your nonprofit on the right track.
1. Watch the Clock
Simply put, there’s nothing worse than a program that drags. It leads to guests being disengaged and frustrated, and, oftentimes, making an early exit. Providing your audience with an understanding of mission is important, as is giving award recipients their due. Accomplish your objectives, however, with an eye on time.
Communicate timing expectations in advance through speaker remarks and always request copies of scripts ahead of time. If you have the budget, consider engaging a professional script writer or utilizing a teleprompter.
At the very least, place a small countdown clock downstage to make speakers more conscious of their remaining time. Most importantly, make sure those who are speaking truly have a purpose on stage and are not just satisfying organizational hierarchy.
Speaking of organizational hierarchy...
2. Don’t Default to Seniority
When selecting individuals to represent your organization on stage, don’t automatically default to the most senior staff or board members. Instead, look to the people connected to your organization who are dynamic orators, compelling narrators or both!
Sometimes these qualities come from the organization’s higher-ups, but not always. Especially in the case of a fundraising moment, such as a donation appeal, a captivating speaker who can truly bring to light the mission of the organization will always have the greatest chance of opening wallets.
3. Rehearsal Makes Perfect
Rehearsal is a critical component to any event’s success and should be prioritized accordingly. For those more comfortable speaking in front of a large audience, at the very least, have them conduct a sound check and familiarize themselves with the stage. For those who may be less at ease, make the rehearsal more extensive.
The more comfortable your speakers are with the stage, sound and lighting conditions, the better the results will be. Another effective practice is to create custom cards to distribute to each speaker as they check in. Ideally, these can slide into the back of a name tag and reinforce key times and directions needed for the evening, so everyone is clear headed into the event.
4. No Emcee? No Problem.
Just as the right emcee can have a significant impact on your event, the wrong selection can have a similarly negative effect. A strong emcee is comfortable on stage (a necessity!), has a connection to the mission and, ideally, has name recognition, too.
If you have someone who fits the bill, that’s fantastic. If not though, don't force it. There are plenty of creative workarounds for a program without an emcee, and the last thing you want is to have someone who’s supposed to be the prominent face of your program not resonate with your guests.
5. Embrace Change
Don’t be afraid to make changes to your program and experiment with new ideas. If your program takes place during a seated dinner, consider a reception and theater-style ceremony instead. Consider a new set design or refreshed multimedia, or possibly a satellite stage to pique interest. Look to restructure the run of show each year subtly, so the experience feels fresh for repeat guests.
Been at the same venue for three years? It might be time to shake up the location. Whatever changes you put into place, ask for feedback. Post-event surveys are a great way to solicit thoughts from those who attended and see which ideas clicked and which did not.
Make new ideas the norm, and, at the very least, guests will come to appreciate your creativity and innovation with a desire to return year after year.
Adam Sloyer is the CEO of Sequence, an award-winning events agency specializing in production, strategic planning and design. Sequence is headquartered in New York and produces events globally for clients such as the American Red Cross, Two Ten Footwear Foundation, Foot Locker Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners.