Our first fundraiser—a launch party in collaboration with the Bagavagabonds—was in July and brought in over 300 guests. To read more about this awesome event, click here.

Many thought it was a gutsy move to plan a gala so early but we just took it as a challenge. With the lovely ladies of Linen, Lace and Love (gala event mavens), we were off to plan an experience that would hopefully inspire our guests to join the mission of Two Wings. The theme would be DREAMER. With careful detail, we designed the event encouraging guests to remember back to their childhood when they were able to dream freely. Table assignments had names instead of numbers with whimsical signs leading the way throughout the space. Fountains were transformed into wishing wells and guests that visited the Sweet Dreams dessert table were able to experience the true sweetness of their own dreams.

For our first event in a city outside of our comfort zone, we knew we would find ourselves up against several barriers. Probably the most difficult, we would have to overcome the challenge of people in San Diego who had never heard of us or our work—it’s hard to secure vendors and sponsors in a new city. Our incredible Community Outreach Coordinator, Brooke (as well as Jennifer from Linen, Lace and Love) was determined to secure the city’s best vendors. With their persistence, Stone Brewery graciously committed to donating delicious beer for the night. With Stone on our side, we continued to pursue more sponsors and in the end, had over 20 silent auction items with close to 30 participating vendors donating their products or services.

I’m happy to say that our first gala was a huge success. Through ticket sales, the silent and Raise the Paddle auctions, we were able to raise close to $15,000 for Two Wings. With all the lessons we learned for putting on such an ambitious fundraiser, we wanted to pass along these words of wisdom if you and your organization ever find yourselves in a similar position:

  • Plan a theme that will be received well by your audience and does not dictate the type of venue you select. The Crosby National Golf Course was so generous in donating one of their ballrooms and provided an incredible rate for their dinner menu. With the space donated, we had to ensure our theme would translate well within the venue and represent the overall interests of our invited guests.
  • Contact medium-sized vendors. Small businesses might not have the operating budget to donate a product or services, whereas larger companies might have already fulfilled their quota for donations for the year. You’ll have the most luck with middle-sized operations. Definitely try, though! Our vendors included: Stone Brewery, Kuba Creations, Classic Party Rentals, and Gen 7 Wines among others.
  • Reach out to your existing resources. Thanks to Linen, Lace and Love, we were able to use many existing décor elements that they already use for other events. With the THEME DREAMER being cold, we were able to get creative with existing décor by spray-painting pieces gold or using gold glitter to cover the surfaces.
  • Create multiple opportunities for guests to give and get involved. Many organizations focus on one or two giving opportunities. We wanted to create a variety of giving options! In addition to the silent and Raise the Paddle auctions, we provided guests with a fun smaller donation opportunity by converting the venue’s fountain into a wishing well. Guests were able to donate money, receive a gold coin to make a wish and then toss it into the fountain. We also had sponsorship cards at the table that had three specific programs guests could sponsor if they didn’t have a chance to participate in Raise the Paddle auction. Guests also left the event with a flyer and giving card in their swag bags. Not only were they asked to give, but we wanted to create opportunities for them to volunteer their time. They were even able to share their business cards and contact information on our giant dream catcher if they were interested in becoming career mentors.

And, of course… make sure you have enough volunteers so that key members of your organization are able to interact and connect with guests instead of running around behind the scenes.