The most successful galas boast beautiful decor, a stunning location, delicious food, a terrific silent auction and, most importantly, a cause that truly inspires passion in the guests. Though Chicago has hundreds of galas every year, a few special events truly stand out from the crowd. Herewith, our of list of the Top Annual Galas in Chicago—the 17 parties that Chicagoans look forward to all year long.
BEARS CARE GALA
Held each year at Soldier Field’s United Club, the Bears Care Gala runs the offense on cancer research during this special evening. The festive night always features dinner, live and silent auction filled with Bears-themed memorabilia and experiences, and dancing to live music. It’s a night to rub elbows with some of the greats, as Chicago Bears coaches, current players, and alumni are always present to support the cause.
BLU AT THE SHEDD
Every year, more than 1,000 young philanthropists attend BLU, the Shedd Aquarium’s annual fundraising gala. The fête, annually hosted by the approximately 80-member Auxiliary Board, takes place throughout the popular Chicago destination; guests go behind the scenes to see the animals and tour the exhibits. In all, the event has raised millions of dollars in support of the Shedd’s animals and conservation efforts.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Chicago Academy of Sciences team up to celebrate nature and science during this showstopper each spring. The Butterfly Ball has helped raise $26 million over the past 17 years. Typically hosting over 700 guests, the night captivates with whimsical décor, all set to the backdrop of the tranquil Nature Museum.
Consistently held in the early fall and under the recognizable dome, the Women’s Board of the Adler Planetarium hosts an unforgettable fundraising night. Monies raised go toward exhibitions, shows and programs that engage the community in science, inspiring young people looking to go down a STEM career path. The sky is figuratively the limit when it comes to creativity for this event’s theme and décor, as science takes center stage.
The Children’s Research Fund (CRF) hosts its annual signature black-tie event at the Hilton Chicago each holiday season. Supporters of the CRF, an affiliated organization of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute, celebrate the millions raised year after year at the Children’s Ball. The board always chooses the festive theme, and the gowns and décor never disappoint.
The name is all in the title for this inspiring fête, which brings together hundreds from the design industry and beyond for a high-energy night to benefit Designs for Dignity (D4D). The remarkable organization enlists design industry volunteers to work pro bono and with donated materials in order to breathe new life into existing non-profit spaces, serving marginalized populations with more functional, nurturing environments. Inspirational design, floral, and people are everywhere.
Since 2005, the American Cancer Society’s Chicago Discovery Ball has proved to be a hugely successful fundraising effort, begun by Lee Kite. More than $25 million has been raised through the years to sustain cutting-edge research, provide free services for those facing a diagnosis and to offer community-based preventative education programs. Guests like Katie Couric, Bobby Flay, Keith Urban and Natalie Cole have all headlined.
Typically previewing the newest exhibit to guests, the Field Museum’s annual gala hosted by the Women’s Board held in the fall raises millions for the Museum’s scientific and educational missions. A delectable dinner is always served in Stanley Field Hall, beneath its stately columns and resident Tyrannosaurs Sue.
FRIENDS OF PRENTICE GALA
Positively impacting women’s health in Chicago and beyond, the Friends of Prentice gala benefits the research, education initiatives and patient care at Prentice Women’s Hospital. Nearly 800 people gather each year to support the members of Friends, which work in partnership with Northwest Memorial Hospital. Since it’s beginning in 1986, the event has raised nearly $19 million in support of women’s health and wellness.
Pets are Worth Saving (PAWS) hosts this black-tie affair for both pet lovers and their four-legged friends. Arguably the most important evening of the year for Chicago’s homeless pets, the night raises funds for PAWS Chicago’s lifesaving operations. Watch the fur fly as the dogs and cats come dressed in their finest gowns and tuxedos, all while raising money for Chicago’s largest no-kill animal shelter.
The early fall grounds of the Chicago Botanic Garden steal the show during the annual Harvest Ball, held each year in September. The black-tie affair consistently includes cocktails in the garden, then dinner and dancing under a magnificent white tent in the Esplanade. The floral selections for the evening are always a sight to behold. Funds raised go on to different selected initiatives at the beloved Garden.
Always met with great anticipation in the fall, the Benefit Art Auction held at the Museum of Contemporary is high on style and industry-leading art. The event offers up contemporary pieces by some of the most influential and internationally recognized artists working today. The works speaks for itself, set to the minimalistic backdrop of the MCA.
Hosted by the Women’s Board, supporters of the Lyric Opera walk the red carpet outside the Civic Opera House every September for the season’s first performance, kicking-off the Lyric’s musical calendar. Guests are transported to the Hilton Chicago for the Opera Ball, where a night of cocktails, dinner and dancing awaits.
Each July marks the Women’s Board Annual Gala Evening, a night of fanciful gowns, delectable food, and world-class music under the stars. With attendance typically around 700, the evening raises money for Ravinia and its REACH*TEACH*PLAY education programs, touching the lives of 75,000 people each year.
SERVICE CLUB GALA
A perennial black-tie affair not to be missed, the Service Club of Chicago hosts their annual gala, with proceeds going toward their mission to help meet the civic, educational, and welfare needs of Chicago. A unique theme, accompanied by buzz worthy décor, always awaits.
Hosted by the Women’s Board of the Brookfield Zoo and Board of Trustees of the Chicago Zoological Society, the annual The Whirl gala is always welcomed in the late spring on the grounds of the Brookfield Zoo. Funds raised during this whimsical evening consistently top over the million mark, going on to support the animals at Brookfield Zoo, as well as conservation and educational programs. Residents of the zoo have been known to show up for cocktail hour, as guests sip drinks surrounded by animals like wallabies, sloths, porcupines, lemurs or penguins.