By TE Cunningham

It’s the hallmark of the year for most charitable organizations – their annual gala. It is also typically a significant financial contributor to the cause, and as such, vitally important to the organization.

When you hear the word gala, it brings to mind tuxedos and long gowns, dinner, music and such. While those aspects have their place, don’t be afraid to think creatively when planning your next company annual celebration. The real trick is to make your gala is so memorable and entertaining that guests want to come back year after year – and contribute to the cause.

A well-done gala can boost your brand image and encourage giving, but it can also make your soiree the “must-attend” event in your city.

Here are some tips to consider to help create an exceptional event:

  • Create a committee of diverse, talented people who are emotionally invested in your cause to help you plan
  • Think about having the beneficiaries of your efforts be a part of the event so they can speak to the result of giving to the organization
  • If the budget allows, think about a take-home gift that will be used and keep your cause top-of-mind with the attendee through the year
  • Create a compelling theme and make sure there are fun activities for those who attend, not just a constant “money grab”

So let’s dive deeper into some ideas for themes. Remember when developing the event theme, you want to weave it through all aspects of the event: sound & lighting, the menu, photo opportunities, table settings & décor, the speaker, the entertainment and more.


  • Supporting Your Local Art Scene. This one is great if you are on a budget because the artists display their art, which serves as a healthy part of your décor and design. Art may be purchased as part of the event, and a significant amount of the proceeds benefit the charity. A quick note on this one – it is better to run the money through the charity and pay the artists their commissions than to create the headache of collections with so many vendors. Another variance on this if your event is held outside during season-friendly months is a street art theme, although the sale of art is not a component of fundraising.


  • Pet Gala. Okay, so you can’t go anywhere without tripping over someone’s dog, whether it’s the grocery store, restaurant, shopping or on the plane. So why not bring a pet theme to your gala? Auction off a couple of “rare” breeds of animals, have a text to screen where guests can text their favorite pet photos, and have them rotate in a display, or have the meal served in “doggie bags” with a “doggie treat” desert. Guests could enter to the strains of “Who Let the Dogs Out.”


  • Wine & Whiskey. Center your theme around the firelike colors of red wine and whiskey, incorporate a tasting throughout dinner, have displays of the process of making these items, auction off rare bottles or incorporate the theme into the music and guest speaker.


  • Super Heroes. Centered around the idea that everyone who gives to the charity and is a part of it is a Super Hero, guests will be encouraged to dress as their favorite SuperHero, whether it’s Batman or Deadpool. The endless supply of movies will provide great sound and lighting for the event on a myriad of screens. Menus and drinks can be themed after popular Super Heroes. Music can include blockbuster songs from the soundtracks.


  • There are always the avenues of using time or location – an era such as the Roaring ’20s, the ’60s or ’70s to create a fun theme or utilize a location – whether it is a specific continent such as Africa, or a more generic location theme like the beach, under the sea, the jungle, the desert and such.


  • Finally, if the timing works for your annual event, other major special events that are celebrated widely can provide a great theme: the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Kentucky Derby, Fourth of July, Halloween, Mardi Gras, Christmas and more.