Saving the Day with a Successful Non-Profit Gala Event

WAM Gala

Photo credit: Maia Rae Photography

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s a non-profit event! Sure, “non-profit event” doesn’t have quite the same impact as “Superman,” but the truth is one event can truly make a difference for any organization. Events help raise awareness and build a community of supporters to further spread the word. From early fall through last Saturday, Bellmont Partners had the opportunity to combine our event know-how with superhero fun by spreading the word for Minnesota-based non-profit Wishes & More’s 11th annual Winter Ball, which benefits the organization’s programs.

Wishes & More not only grants heart-felt, individualized wishes to local children with terminal and life-threatening conditions, but also provides each wish recipient with an educational $1,000 Scholarship of Hope®. If a child should pass away without having the opportunity to experience a wish or receive the scholarship, the charity has a third program which provides a memorial financial gift to the family to be used at their discretion.

On Feb. 27, Wishes & More transformed the Marriott City Center in downtown Minneapolis into a “Gathering of Superheroes” – and it was a rousing success! For the first time ever, the event sold out with 700 people (not including volunteers) filling the venue. Supporters from near and far experienced a walk through the legendary bat cave, mingled by Spiderman’s web and picked up their very own super powers. Guests were encouraged to dress the part in their favorite superhero costumes or attend in a Bruce Wayne, black-tie gala style.

For Wishes & More the Winter Ball is a significant fundraiser for several reasons. It is vital to its annual budget by providing approximately 40 percent of its annual revenue and is a highly anticipated gathering of supporters and volunteers. Hundreds of guests return year after year and consider it to be one of their favorite social activities.

As we reflect on what worked well and look ahead to a busy event season, we’d like to share our top three strategies to raise awareness for your next event:

1. Think about the experience through the lens of a theme.

In the initial planning days of an event, one common question usually comes up: What will the theme be? Themes can give your event the wings to expand beyond the scope of the organization – and inspire more people to get involved. In this case, the superhero theme attracted people from all regions of Minnesota (and beyond!). Once a theme is chosen, run with it.

From there, the theme should be intertwined with key messages, inspire the activities at the event and be reflected in the additional marketing tools (pamphlets, invitations, social media copy, etc.). Wishes & More did an excellent job incorporating the idea through its multiple fundraising opportunities with superhero-themed activities.

2. Use the theme to creatively spread the word.

Promotion before, during and even after the event is key to spreading the word to existing supporters and new audiences. With your theme in place, a media relations campaign can help push people to learn about the organization, the big event or even get inspired to give back in any way they can. Through raising awareness, media coverage can also increase ticket sales, volunteer sign-ups and donations.

We love sharing stories of the individuals affected by the organization. We had the privilege to work with the volunteer president, Karla Blomberg, and Owen, one of the kids the organization serves, to secure mentions on multiple Minnesota media outlets, including WCCO, Coffee with KARE and more. One of our highlights was when Owen, who happens to be one of the cutest kids on the planet, used his super power on FOX 9’s The Jason Show and flew into the hearts of many. Check out his “Flying Hug” skills!

3. Engage with people at the event and at home.

Social media channels are essential tools. Whether you are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or SnapChat (just to name a few), your guests want to share what they are doing and how their own community circles can get involved. Supporters at the event (and at home) can join the conversations by commenting on photos and status updates, sharing real-time updates on their own pages and including the event hashtag in anything they post. Social media allows for organizations to really connect with volunteers and supporters, and grow the community behind the purpose.

With the Winter Ball selling out and the waiting list growing by the hour, we implemented a superhero costume contest for people to spread the word online by clicking “like” or “favorite” on a selected superhero guest photo. The posts had great engagement and grew each of the Wishes & More social media channels.

We can’t wait to see where the Winter Ball will grow from here and are excited to work on several more high-profile events for our clients in the coming months. Up, up and away!

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