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Step by step guide: grand ball

A glitzy evening will make parents and guests feel like royalty for a night. Create a buzz of excitement by adding a grand ball to your events calendar!

With black ties, a sit-down dinner and flowing Champagne, it's a spectacular way to raise a considerable profit. Success for this type of event is all about good planning, so allow several months to get everything in place, and appoint a sub-committee with clear roles. Not sure if it would work for your school? Survey parents to gauge interest.

 Step-by-step

Six months before: Book the venue and any entertainment, especially if it's a busy hotel, and pay a deposit. Send out a 'save the date' to parents. 

Three months before: Start advertising the event and selling tickets through an online platform or in person, possibly offering an early bird discount. Approach local companies via letter, email or in person to ask for donations for auction and raffle prizes. These could be a product, service or experience. Contact local press to come and take photographs at the event.

Two months before:   Continue promoting the event. Confirm all prizes for auctions and the raffle. Begin designing the programme, and approach companies and businesses if you're selling advertising space. 

Three weeks before: Decide how you're going to utilise your auction prizes - consider increasing the interest in lower-value items by creating auction 'packages', where you group various prizes together. You might also split prizes between a raffle, a main auction - where a compère shouts out each lot and whips up excitement - and a silent auction - where guests write down their bids against each prize.

Two weeks before: Finish the ball programme and get it printed. Put a table plan together, taking guests' requests into consideration. This will probably need adapting a few times.

Organise a team of helpers for on the night. Have different people in charge of each element of the ball (raffle, auction, casino, games, entertainment, etc.).

Invite parents who cannot attend on the night to submit sealed bids for the auction. 

One week before:   Liaise with the hotel to finalise arrangements, including confirming guest numbers and any dietary requirements.

On the day: Earlier in the day, take all the prizes to the venue and check the layout of the room. Set up and decorate the venue. Meet with the DJ and Event Manager to confirm the order of events. Check if the venue's safe can be used to store cash, with a view to collecting it the next day.

After the event: Gather feedback on what went well and what could be improved for next time, making detailed notes for future reference. Thank your volunteers, guests, auction donors and any event/programme sponsors and give them details about how much the event raised and how this money will be spent. 

Tips and advice

  • Timing: Allow around six months to plan your ball, avoiding major sporting fixtures and local events.
  • Tickets: The right ticket price is vital to ensuring a profit without deterring your audience. Once you've estimated your costs, you will be able to make an informed decision on ticket price. Remember that this isn't the limit of your fundraising. Number your tickets and offer a discount on a table of eight or ten to encourage bulk sales - challenge year reps to sell a table each. If the ball is for a specific project, mention this on the tickets.
  • Boost profits: Auctions or raffles are ideal for a ball as they create excitement and a focal point for your guests. Reach out to parents, teachers and the local community for support, whether it's for auction prizes or sponsorship. This will increase your profit margin considerably. Simple party games can also be popular - see pta.co.uk/boost-profits for ideas. 
  • Venue: The venue is of huge importance for a ball. Research local hotels or golf clubs and see if you can negotiate a charity discount. You could hire a marquee and hold the event on school grounds, but this may not make the cut for a £30 price tag! External venues mean that food, drinks, music and service are taken care of, enabling PTA volunteers to enjoy the evening. It also removes the need for TEN and music licences.  When researching venues, consider the dance floor, capacity, how far guests will have to travel, space for the band and whether you can bring alcohol to the venue.
  • Entertainment: Music is a sure-fire way to get everyone in the celebrating spirit, so source a live band to add some glamour to the night. In addition, how about booking a magician or a comedian?
  • Publicity: Design and print tickets, programmes and posters to create a buzz. This will add a professional touch that will reflect the ticket price.

Success stories 

Liz Hamilton, Chair, Barton St Lawrence PTFA, Preston (160 pupils): 'Our local hotel has been host to the annual Barton Ball since 2001. Last year, we booked the venue five months in advance, receiving a discount thanks to our charity status and the relationship we've built up over the years. We also hired the resident DJ, who provided entertainment and officiated our auction.

We started selling tickets 12 weeks before the event, offering an early bird price of £30 until the end of January, at which point the price rose to £32. The ticket included a four-course dinner.

To boost earnings, we organised an auction - with prizes from local companies. All businesses that donated were promoted on our Facebook page, as well as in the event programme. 

We created auction packages by grouping prizes together. For example, a foodie package including four different restaurant vouchers, and a beauty package containing hair straighteners, vouchers for a hair salon and a nail treatment. Eight to ten packages were created, with the rest of the prizes going into a raffle, which was held before dinner and included a main prize of bed and breakfast at a country hotel. To break up the dinner, we played Irish bingo, as well as a 'roll a £1' game. 

On the night, we divided the jobs between lots of different people so that everyone was able to enjoy themselves.

There is always a great atmosphere, we have a lot of fun and last year we made a total profit of £3,800.'

 

Ruth Weddell, Friends of Cranmere, Cranmere Primary, Esher (502 pupils): 'We hold our ball every two years, and it gets more successful each time!

We begin promoting the ball in January, with tickets going on sale around Easter. We used to have an early booking offer, but tickets sell out so quickly we don't need to do this!

Our 2017 ball was held in May at Hampton Court Palace Golf Club. We agreed a cost for a two-course meal, including a complimentary drink on arrival, charging £45 per head.

The evening lasted for five hours and,  as well as reception drinks and a sit- down meal, included a grand auction, a silent auction, a raffle, a casino and dancing. We had a live band, and as one of the dads is a member, they gave us a discount. We introduced the casino last year. Each guest was given some fun money to start off with, and after that guests could pay £5-£15 for more. 

Our PTA's raffle coordinator organised the prizes, which included two centre court tickets at Wimbledon with full hospitality, and a cut, style and advice session with the Queen's hairdresser! As all of our prizes were donated, and design and printing was done free-of-charge, we didn't incur any costs.

Last year's ball raised a fantastic £9,000, with the majority of the profit coming from the auction (£3,000) and the silent auction (£2,700).

On the whole, organising a school ball is a mammoth task that requires a lot of dedication and commitment! Having said that, it's also a lot of fun, and the satisfaction and achievement of raising so much money for your school definitely outweighs the hard work!'


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