Between producing galas and planning annual fundraisers, Bert and Casey Kaulen, owners of Chicago Casino Suppliers, are involved with hundreds of events in the Chicagoland area each year. With over a decade of experience creating the most realistic casino gaming nights by building over 100 authentic tables, including Roulette, Craps, Blackjack and Poker, they’ve now designed and integrated innovative décor options with options for every type of party. They boast a proven track record of year-over-year growth in raising funds for a wide variety of causes.
When it comes to fundraising galas, they’ve learned what works – and what doesn’t. Here, they’re sharing their best tips on increasing funds raised via ticket sales, sponsorships, and auctions.
A great start to planning your event is finding which venue can best meet your needs. “Choose a venue that has a positive reputation with experience in working with groups of your size,” says Kaulen. “A great venue can set the tone for an elegant affair, encourage higher attendance and send a clear message that you want to treat your guests in appreciation of their contributions.”
When it comes to choosing décor, Kaulen says not to skimp. The idea is to provide a memorable experience, not just another event. Give detailed attention to a creative theme and make sure to add lighting when needed. “Elevated décor and new themes bring guests back year after year in excitement to see what’s new. Plus it’s more engaging and will most often lead to a lively and interactive crowd.”
Lastly, don’t forget to secure a talented photographer. Top-notch photography serves a number of purposes. Quality images can be used in future marketing materials for promotion as event images will demonstrate to potential donors the opportunity to contribute. For attendees, great pictures will remind them of the good time they had while piquing interest in those that may be first time guests next year.
While ticket sales are not the only part of raising money for your event, setting an appropriate ticket price will allow guests to enjoy their experience once they have arrived. “Setting a low ticket price just to fill a room will actually increase your food and beverage cost while not raising any additional funds.” The price of tickets and sponsorship opportunities don’t have to be excluding, but they should be an excellent base to cover a majority of your fundraising goal.
Sponsorships will likely be an organization’s most significant opportunity to raise funds. You can structure sponsorships by tiers to include donations at all levels. Kaulen suggests 4-6 tiers which will allow multiple contributors. “There are so many ways for a sponsor to get involved – don’t exclude any by setting all levels at a premium price.”
Sponsors want valid recognition. Show them value for their donation by sharing detailed information about the event and showing detailed branding opportunities when requesting funds. For representation at a major gala, Kaulen says a small name plate isn’t good enough anymore as guests simply walk by without any guarantee that they view a logo or know what it is for. “For example, give Title Sponsors a 20-foot logo illuminated on the wall behind a stage or their logo built into an innovative décor piece,” suggests Kaulen. For casino themed events, CCS offers branding options for every single table — custom Player’s cards and even custom felts that guests can take home — registration options, and has created amazing themed signs for logo placement that’s sure to be seen.
Providing positive representation and an open line of communication to your sponsors will ensure that an ongoing relationship is beneficial to both parties. Kaulen recommends securing future pledges from sponsors during an event. When guests are having a good time and the opportunities are visible, they’re more likely to be inspired to commit. You don’t have to give details, keep it light with simple affirming questions, like “Can we count on you next year?”
Follow up with sponsors in a personal way – thank them with a phone call and a handwritten note. When event images are ready, share them and make sure to include pics of branded items that exhibit their sponsorship. Also, be as specific as possible about how their funds will help the organization and contribute to its future success. Sending photos of tangible items or programs that their money has contributed to will have one of the strongest impacts in continuing their participation.
Let them know that you’re grateful for their past and current commitment to your cause. Kaulen says, “Three to six weeks after the gala, give sponsors details about future events so they can start getting excited about any new ideas. Don’t wait eight months to call them right before planning the actual event.” Work to incrementally increase each sponsor’s funding. Kaulen suggests aiming for a 15-20% growth and allowing companies about nine months to work this into their annual budget.
Instead of creating gift baskets out of small items that guests are used to seeing, aim to collect new and exciting experiences to auction off. “Experiences that people can’t readily buy are going to be the most exciting and most profitable,” says Kaulen. Examples include being principal for the day for schools or a ride to school on a firetruck, a private evening of wine on a yacht or at an exclusive country club, groupings of dinners at upscale restaurants with hotel reservations or unique trips.
When holding an open-auction paddle raise include a wishlist that ties the amount of funds requested to specific items which benefit those being served by the organization. “For example, in a school fundraiser ask for $145 for a football helmet or the exact price of a printer, a number to outfit one classroom with iPads,” says Kaulen.
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