Choosing a Gala Venue: Ask These Questions Besides “What’s It Cost?”

Choosing the right venue for your gala can affect attendance, guest experience, and ultimately donations raised. Just because a venue is free doesn’t mean it will result in the greatest amount of money going to your cause.

Ask yourself these questions before settling on a venue:


Convenience

  • Is the location easy to find and well-known?
  • Does it have easy access for your guests
  • Does it have elevator access or loading dock for large decorations, equipment or auction items?
  • Does it have ample and accessible parking, or will you need to consider off-site parking, valet service, and shuttles?
  • What about access for guests with special needs or challenges?
  • Will the venue still work in the event of inclement weather?

Food Service

  • Will the caterer be able to comfortably handle service for the size of your audience?
  • Does the facility provide an onsite caterer, or will you have to bring in somebody from the outside?
  • Does the facility’s food service allow for a choice of meal selections for guests?
  • Do they provide waiters and waitresses or do they have a buffet setup?
  • Must you use the location’s alcoholic beverages and services, or can you provide your own wine for dinner at a discount from another source? If the answer is yes, will the facility charge a corkage fee for this option?
  • What about other potential “service” costs, such as dessert plating fee, a minimum bar tab, or minimum number guests?

Room Space

  • Is there enough room to set up your Silent Auction and still have room to enable guests to walk around and check their bids?
  • Is the Silent Auction area enclosed or configured so secure redemption of items will be easy and secure in case unclaimed items remain after all guests have left?
  • Are there areas that can conveniently be used for the other support functions like cashiering, registration, a volunteer room, or storage?
  • Do the facilities allow your guests to move freely within the space and from one area to the next?
  • Are there fire codes that will affect room setup plans?

Decorations

  • Does the venue allow for a unique ambiance for guests? While hotel ballrooms are popular choices, art museums, convention centers, country clubs, cruise ships, and converted historical landmarks can make for a memorable evening.

Sound & Lighting

  • Can the Silent Auction and Live Auction display tables be placed in will-lit areas?
  • If auxiliary lighting is required, does your venue’s policy preclude this as an option?
  • Does the facility come with the right amplification systems for a live auction? “House sound” is rarely adequate, and “band sound” is not designed for auctions.
  • Does the venue provide someone to operate the sound system once it is in place?

Availability

  • Is the venue available on the night of your event?
  • Are other events using the facility earlier in the day? How soon will you have access?

These are just a few very important considerations you will face when selecting a site for your auction. Be creative, but get all the information first. Don’t take a place simply because it’s free, and be sure to read all the fin print before signing any binding agreements and committing to your location and your date.

All that said, we under costs are important so be clear on the venue’s fees and considerations.

Fees & Considerations

  • Cleaning fees
  • Deposits (refundable or nonrefundable)
  • Room rental costs, especially if you are renting out more than one room
  • Catering minimums or overages
  • Discounts for using venue catering and/or bar services
  • Pipe and draping needs
  • Fees for carpeting, tables, chairs, linens, and so on
  • Insurance requirements
  • Restrictions on use

This post is adapted from The Big Book of Benefit Auctions by Jay R. Fiske and Corinne A Fiske.

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A nationally recognized benefit auctioneer and consultant, Jay Fiske has helped raise millions of dollars for a wide variety of organizations. Additionally, he authored The Big Book of Benefit Auctions.

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