Successful fundraisers lead to greater donations for your organization. While many factors determine a gala’s successfulness, an engaging gala theme is at the top of the list. Party themes determine the look and feel of your celebration. They also create a cohesive production roadmap — thus, ensuring that everything from the silent auction design to the catering display tie together.
We’ve reached out to some of the top event planners and vendors to learn the secret behind a great fundraising theme. Keep reading to discover some of our favorite gala theme ideas — and hear the inside scoop on how these themes were brought to life. A great fundraiser will inspire donors. Let these ideas inspire your design.
- Inspirational Themes
- Nature Themes
- Monochromatic Themes
- Cultural Themes
- Activity Themes
- Location Themes
- Science & Tech Themes
1. Inspirational Gala Themes
Some of the most creative gala themes relate to the fundraising goal itself.
Whether you aim to “lift people up,” help people “every step of the way,” or shine a light on how your organization works, you’ll find that inspiring goals offer limitless inspiration.
Lifting People Up
The Chicago Innovation’s UN-Gala truly “lifted people up” with their inspiring theme.served delectable appetizers with balloon-suspended trays, while beautiful tablescapes featured floral centerpieces crowned with golden hot air balloons.
Every Step of the Way
New York, NY
Bryan Rafanelli, President and CEO of Rafanelli Events, shares, “Children’s Aid’s mission is to aid the children and families of New York City and stand by them ‘Every Step of the Way.’
“Each year, we like to create immersive experiences where guests feel like a child once again. This particular year, we hung swings from the ceiling at various heights, creating steps to honor their mission.”
Night of Illusions
Jennifer Charles, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Something Fabulous, tells us, “A Night Of Illusions gala was designed to entertain and inspire industry professionals from the Metro D.C. Chapter of the National Association of Catering & Events.
“The awards reception provided the area’s best creatives an opportunity to showcase their work and collaborate with one another in the spirit of the hospitality community. The theme was chosen as a play on the idea that we, as event professionals, bring illusions and dreams to life for our clients.”
Jodi Wolf, CEO of Paulette Wolf Events, shares, “This non-traditional gala model is an immersive journey into the brand of the foundation, filled with interactive elements and messaging at every turn. We formulated a new fundraising model – a model that engages your senses, surprises you throughout the evening, excites you to interact with hands-on activities, and takes down barriers so guests feel comfortable to network with everyone at the event while donating to your cause.”
We’ll give you a hint: Trees on stilts and a mirrored projected ceiling immersed guests into the heart of the Nature Conservancy.
2. Nature Gala Themes
Look to the abundance of nature for a creative theme with stunning photo ops. Seasons, elements, and even something as specific as a flower type can serve as a beautiful framework for your celebration.
Celestial Bright Night
Danielle Zenk-Tills, Co-Founder & Creative Director/Designer of Push Play, shares, “Bright Night is a gathering of 350 notable leaders in business and philanthropy to celebrate and fundraise for incredible organizations that have a demonstrable impact on ending poverty.
“Inspired by the spectacular colorful display of light seen in the night sky, the ‘Bright Night’ theme was brought to life through use of lighting, table décor, and scenic elements to represent the northern lights.”
New York, NY
Marc Wilson, CEO and Creative Director of The Style Marc, shares, “We sourced over a 100 live pine trees of Fraser fir, Colorado blue spruce, and balsam fir (in heights from 4 feet to 12 feet). Some were flocked in white snow while others were natural. We also utilized over 75-plus cut birch logs for décor throughout the space, all from local upstate New York tree farms.
“Our WOW moments included the winter forest entrance with falling snow, the upside down 10-foot flocked evergreen trees with twinkle lights and hanging icicles, and the snow-covered tables of white amaryllis bulbs. Winter greenery was featured among pine cone accents as well as the custom-made birch wood table numbers.”
Fire & Ice
New York, NY
TINSEL Experiential transformed the Ziegfeld Ballroom into a contrasting world of ice and fire for the 55th Annual Gold Medal Gala. Décor included a tunnel structure crafted from of skis, a custom-built ski-lift photo booth, and oversized metallic chandeliers that captured both warm and cool-toned lighting shifts throughout the celebration.
A Fabulous Feast of Birth and Renewal
Mara Brown, Graphic Designer and Marketing Associate at Catering by Design, tells us, “We took the themes of the 60s and 70s, with flower child vibes, and interwove the colors and the four signs of the zodiac: water, fire, air, and earth. We then created food stations and hors d’oeuvres for the cocktail hour that centered around those themes. They were also completely new items, as it was a priority that the guests at this event hadn’t experienced these presentations in the past.
“We sourced seasonal ingredients that tied together color themes from the overall event, including pops of orange, green, yellow and red — and truly brought to life ‘A Fabulous Feast of Rebirth and Renewal.’”
3. Monochromatic Gala Themes
Channel the power of a single color with monochromatic party themes. Monochromatic color makes a big statement while setting the mood for your celebration. We especially love how a color palette can be utilized throughout décor, catering, and lighting to achieve a cohesive theme.
KeAira Gamble, Owner and Creative Director of KeAira Chantell Events, shares, “This Freedom Ball was held to celebrate June 19, 1865 — better known as ‘Juneteenth,’ which commemorates the end of slavery in America.
“I went with a black monochromatic design because I wanted it to symbolize the power, elegance, and sophistication that both the color black and Black people exude.”
We love how this gala’s hue was inspired by sunflowers. Jennifer Kraft, Owner and President of Kraft Events, shares, “We love to use design elements in unexpected ways! We are always looking for ways to add the element of surprise for our client’s guests in every event that Kraft Events produces.
“Ed Libby Events and his team created these fantastic cocktail tables made out of sunflower heads for this end of summer fundraising dinner at our client’s private home in the Hamptons.”
4. Cultural Themes
Use music and storytelling to bring an emotional touch to your gala theme. Our favorite movies, novels, and music capture the human spirit at its best — just like a fundraising mission. Plus, guests will love posing with their favorite “characters” or “rockstars.”
Brett Galley, Owner & Director of Special Events of Hollywood POP Gallery, tells us, “We love producing and designing worthwhile charity events. We start with the overall organization mission and align it with the donors & demographics. We then add a giant dose of fun and thought provoking personalization, and we’re on our way to an epic experience.
“This particular Gatsby theme was designed at a generous donor’s private estate, so we had a wonderful pallet and backdrop to work with. We re-familiarized ourselves with the top characters and the meaning behind the novel. We created an immersive experience that included Roaring Twenties décor and authentic prohibition characters that jumped off the page.”
The team at AE Events shares, “The original inspiration for this design came from an image of a cluster of disco balls strafed with blue light (brought to us by graphic designer Maribel Sandoski).
“Working with production and lighting designer Dan Jentzen and the team at High Output, we turned that inspirational image inside out. By using dozens of disco balls of all sizes, wrapping the space in a rain curtain, and featuring the curved vertical truss structures, we placed our guests INSIDE the disco ball.”
Los Angeles, CA
This superhero-themed gala for The Orthopedic Institute for Children Foundation, as captured by Gabor Ekecs Photography, featured colorful comic strip backdrops and immersive projection lighting. Guests even had the opportunity to pose with their favorite comic characters for a memorable keepsake.
Alice in Wonderland
Jessica Cohen, Director of Private Events at Houston Botanic Garden, tells us, “Botanic Garden’s lush atmosphere was perfect for the Bayou Preservation Association’s 22nd annual fundraiser to celebrate, protect, and restore the natural richness of bayous and streams.
“The spin on Alice in Wonderland theme was flawlessly executed with whimsical florals, bright lighting, and characters keeping the guests entertained all night long.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Chris Weinberg, Lead Wedding and Event Producer of Chris Weinberg Events, shares, “This ‘House of Rock’ synagogue fundraiser had a 70s-style rock ‘n’ roll concert theme. Some of the highlights and experiences offered to guests included an interactive cocktail reception with a themed ‘pin bar’ where guests could take and wear custom-printed pins in different sizes and shapes as well as a wine and spirit pull (with wine and spirits donated by the host committee and sold to guests to raise money).
“Other elements included a fun silent auction, a social justice table to raise awareness of local causes, a vintage tee shirt ‘merch’ store where guests could purchase items to raise money, two amazing rock bands, and more.”
5. Activity Gala Themes
Engaging activities make for — you guessed it — engaging themes. Activity-based themes create a wonderful opportunity for immersive activities that supplement more traditional entertainment acts.
Use PartySlate’s curated entertainment directory to find everything from magicians to performance acts that will bring your gala theme to life.
The Kentucky Derby
Marina Luri-Clark, President of Marina Luri Events, shares, “The focus of this event was to raise funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The committee had chosen the theme to coincide with the Kentucky Derby. Instead of going with the typical Derby colors, we were inspired by a high-end garden party and gave it a twist.
“We used gerbera daisies on grass-lined trays to display auction items, and we created a fun photo backdrop wall with the same elements. In the VIP lounge, we combined boxwood and mid-century modern furniture — whereas in the main dining room, we kept it a little more traditional with green striped linens, tall gold vases, and Derby-themed printed materials.”
The World is a Circus
Ann Marie Arzt, President of EventScape, Inc., shares the idea behind “Le Monde est un Cirque!” — The World is a Circus: “Over 500 guests witnessed the thrill of high-flying acrobatics while being inspired by wonder and whimsical delight at the Alzheimer’s Association Chicago Rita Hayworth Gala held at The Fairmont Chicago.
“The Imperial Ballroom was transformed by colorful lifted arrangements with brightly colored feathers and florals by Kehoe Designs. Bags of blue and pink cotton candy were placed at each setting. Purple, pink, and amber lighting filled the room which featured a center stage dance floor with aerial rigging and four separate performance stages.”
Casey Plasch, Co-Owner of 1440 Event Design, shares, “We were able to make this annual Gala for the Chicago Association of Realtors a hit by playing with color inside the clean modern space at Venue SIX10. We focused on bringing a luxury Casino night to life, while featuring their key sponsors, by using creative décor with high visibility.”
Chicago Casino Suppliers was also on hand to entertain guests all night long.
Ty Kuppig, Founder and Creative Director of TYGER Productions, tells us, “For Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s 2022 gala, we worked with the theme of ‘Homecoming’ as we welcomed guests back to this 600+ guest annual event (in person for the first time in several years).
“We took a decidedly contemporary approach using a bold color palette in the décor, strong visual messaging, and thoughtful details such as pennant-shaped menus with collegiate-inspired typeface. The overall effect was a modern, elevated environment that felt remarkably warm and inviting.”
6. Location Gala Themes
A great gala planner and design team can transport your guests to any location in the world. Capture the sights, cuisine, and entertainment of your favorite locale for a theme that immerses guests into a whole new experience.
Lauren LePine, Event Director at Urban Allure Events, shares, “Wish Upon a Wedding’s gala this past November was such a labor of love among the amazing vendor community of Chicago. The theme this past year was Moulin Rouge, and it really started with our showgirl silhouette that was the inspiration for our marketing and collateral pieces.
“The showgirl was the jumping off point for everything creative, and our vendors really embraced that — incorporating her feathers into floral designs, her vibe and energy into custom performances peppered throughout the night, and even the attendees really came through with attire! A great theme is the way to infuse so much energy into a non-for-profit event, and our team is looking forward to bringing 2023’s gala to life this fall.”
Los Angeles, CA
Alayna Koop, Social Media Manager at Good Gracious! Events, reminds us that catering is just as important when it comes to theme rollout (including this Cambodia-themed California Science Center Discovery Ball).
“From cocktails all the way through dessert,” Koop shares, “our culinary team leaned into flavors of Cambodian cuisine by using exotic tropical fruits, leafy greens, fermented sauces, and herbs like kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil, and lemongrass.”
New Orleans, LA
Kelley Troia, Chief Astonishment Officer at Clandestine Events and Experiences, shares, “We leveraged a Mardi Gras masquerade ball concept filled with surprise elements such as a pop-up Hurricane bar, a second line parade with a local brass band and private police escort through downtown, aerialists, feather dancers, a drum line, and a secret speakeasy that featured tarot readers along with a swing band.
“The event was so successful, the client insisted we extend the celebration an extra hour, and we were happy to oblige.”
7. Science & Tech Gala Themes
Look to science and technology for cutting-edge ideas that transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. This type of theme promises to bring an aura of magic to your gala — whether it’s through transformative lighting or immersive activities.
New York, NY
Ryan Hill, Principal at Apotheosis Events, shares, “The World Science Festival Gala is always a creative tour de force, and the inspiration has come from a different place each time that we have planned this event. In this case, as basic as it may seem, the entire design sprung from the tablecloth.
“In general, we worked in the cosmos for the overall theme this year, and, as it turned out, once we found that tablecloth, the entire design came to life from there. Brian Green, the head of the World Science Festival and world famous physicist, came up with the idea of dusting that formula onto the plates as an easter egg for anyone attending who was smart enough to understand. I thought that was very fun — and a few people got it.”
San Francisco, CA
Got Light created a futuristic setting for California Academy of Sciences’ annual gala. Abstract lighting structures with ever-shifting neon colors made the future look bright. An LED bar area and LED reception tables complemented the aesthetic.
Featured Charities & Organizations
Alzheimer’s Association | Bayou Preservation Association | Black Professionals Network | California Academy of Sciences | The California Science Center | Chicago Association of Realtors | Chicago Innovation Foundation | Children’s Aid | Constellation Fund | The Dimrock Center | Family Centers | International Caterers Association | Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation | National Association for Catering and Events | National Jewish Health | The Nature Conservancy | Newton-Wellesley Hospital | The Orthopedic Institute for Children Foundation | Temple Beth Sholom | US Ski & Snowboard | Westcor Land Title Insurance Company | Wish Upon a Wedding | World Science Festival
People Also Ask…
How can I honor the founder of a charity or fundraiser?
Take note from Brett Galley, Director of Special Events at Hollywood POP Gallery. Their team created a “Past, Present & Future” British theme for Save the Children’s 100th Global Anniversary Gala. This theme was chosen “to reflect Founder Eglantyne Jebb’s British beginnings.” Personalized details included a British phone box photo op as well as costumed attire.
How can PartySlate help me find a gala venue?
Use PartySlate’s curated venue directory to find a gala venue near you. Make sure to utilize the filters to narrow your search by location, amenities, guest count, and more. Don’t forget to check out a preferred venue’s PartySlate profile to see examples of real galas held in their space.
How can PartySlate help me find the best event vendors for my gala?
Head to PartySlate’s curated vendor directory to find gala vendors by city, vendor type, services, and more. Additionally, you can reach out to some top gala vendors below:
Meet the Panel
*In alphabetical order…