A Five Ingredient Recipe for a Successful Fundraising Dinner

From fun, family affairs with sweet treats and fried food on a stick, to sophisticated galas, with cocktails and finger foods, there is always one special “recipe” for every event menu.

But what goes into planning a meal that perfectly compliments your event and helps get you a few steps closer to meeting your fundraising goal? Make sure you cook up an exceptional and profitable fundraising dinner with these five event planning “ingredients.”

Each fundraiser has its own unique flavor.

1. The Theme

Give your entire fundraiser a unified look by choosing a theme you can weave into every part of the program; including the menu. Options abound when it comes to choosing a theme, but it must be able to connect strongly with your guests’ expectations. Pick a broad theme that can be presented in different ways throughout your event, but make sure the connection to your mission is obvious.

For instance, non-profits who support the arts could host an event that draws from what is found in an artist’s studio. This theme is broad enough to offer many different aspects to incorporate into the event and presents a strong statement about your organization’s mission.

Questions to ask when picking a theme:

  • What is the non-profit’s mission?
  • What comes to the mind of a donor when they think of your organization?
  • What are the demographics of a typical guest list?
  • Where will your event be held?
  • What time of day or year will your event be held?

2. The Budget

Keeping close watch over your budget is imperative and deciding early on where you want to spend your money will guide decisions along the way, but don’t get discouraged if you find the money you would like to have for your meal is lacking. Turn to alternative styles of dinners to cut down on the expenses and create a unique setting for your guests.

Turn an expensive luncheon with a variety of sandwiches, sides, and desserts into a pared down breakfast with pastries, quiche, and fruit, or rather than hiring wait staff, ask your team to contribute to a pot luck style dinner. Is a buffet a better option than a plated meal?

3. The Menu


Get creative with your team and dream up inventive ways to connect the menu with your theme. Begin by asking a few questions; How many people will be attending? Do they require special food options to accommodate individual preferences? What is your venue’s capabilities?

In our “artist studio” example from above, a buffet-style meal could be presented on a giant artist’s palette with a centerpiece featuring paintbrushes. Signs placed on mini easels could display the name of the dish and a description of ingredients.

4. The Team

Choosing the people whose talents you’ll depend on is no small task. Create a network of dependable people you can turn to again and again. Can your own team contribute to a pot-luck style meal, or are servers and professional chefs needed for a more formal dinner.

If you hire a well-known chef to prepare your banquet consider adding his name to your invitation as an extra incentive for your guests to attend. Carve out a few minutes in the program to introduce the chef and allow them to speak about the meal.

Questions to Ask Your Caterer

  • Are you licensed and insured?
  • How long have they been in business? (3-5 years is preferred)
  • Do they have references from other well-established vendors?
  • Are they a “Full Service” caterer?
  • Do they partner with rental companies to get the best value?
  • Do they offer tastings, and is there a charge?
  • Are the service charges and tax included in the price?
  • What is the payment schedule, a cancellation policy, and is it non-refundable?

5. The Program

If your program includes a presentation during the meal there are a few things you’ll need to be considered. What will happen during you’re the presentation? How much time do you need to schedule for the meal? Will people be dining during the presentation and, if so, will the venue require audio visual equipment.

At our imaginary event, an auction featuring the work of local artists could be conducted during dinner to raise funds and introduce new artists to the guests. If any artists are in attendance they could be introduced to the crowd, providing them a chance to connect directly with the entire room.

Find your flavor

Make your meal a highlight of your next event with a strong theme, dependable staff, an appropriate program, and a great menu—you’ll provide your guests with a night they won’t soon forget, and one that encourages repeat engagement with your organization!

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