Running a successful ball
A grand ball could potentially be your association's biggest fundraising event of the year as well as a social highlight
for the whole community. The rewards for organising such a large scale, high profile event are high but the time and
effort involved should not be under estimated. Many PTA-UK member associations have run successful balls. We have
been told us that whilst there is a lot of hard work involved, without exception the ball has proved to be a very
lucrative event. In addition guests always want to know when the next one will be which often results in the event
becoming an annual or biennial one. In addition, many secondary school PTAs are now involved in the organisation of
the school's sixth form leavers' ball or prom.
Before embarking on a ball, you should gauge interest from your school and local community. Make sure that the
event is something that parents, their families and their friends will support and ascertain what they think is a
reasonable price to charge for tickets.
Due to the amount of work involved and so as not to detract support from other events you may have planned, you
should set up a sub-committee with the specific responsibility of organising the ball. (The sub-committee should be
formed in line with the provisions of your association's constitution. The PTA-UK model constitution requires every
sub-committee to have at least one elected committee member as part of its make-up).
The full PTA committee should agree a list of objectives; progress against which should be reported back to the full
committee on a regular basis. The objectives could include the following:
raising as much money as possible
raising your PTA's profile
giving the guests a fabulous evening to remember
putting on an event that offers value for money
engaging with local businesses
making the event open to the local community
Once the sub-committee is in place and the objectives agreed then the planning can begin.
A large scale event like a ball requires a great deal of careful organisation and financial management so you should
allow at least 6 months planning time. Pinpoint a date when most of your target audience is available. Avoid major
sporting fixtures, other local events and school holidays.
Decide early on if you want your event to be a formal black tie affair with a sit down meal or a more relaxed informal
evening, with a buffet as this will influence your choice of venue, your budget, ticket prices, music and the overall look
and feel of the event. Choose a theme that you think will appeal to your target audience. A broad theme will increase
the likelihood that more people attend. Popular themes include masked balls, fancy dress, colour themes such as black
and white or just a simple black tie/lounge suit or cocktail dress dinner dance.
Choose your venue carefully as it is vital to the success of your ball. Be realistic, look at who your target audience is
likely to be and plan accordingly. There is no point in booking a high-end exclusive venue if your audience can't afford
the tickets. Conversely a ball is usually a more glamorous sophisticated affair than a disco so people will expect a
higher standard especially for a higher ticket price.
Your ball could be held in a local golf club, hotel or banqueting suite where the food, drinks, music, and service is
included in the package price. Alternatives include hiring a marquee or using the school hall or local community centre.
Whilst this is probably the cheaper option, your PTA will then need to arrange its own caterers, music, entertainment,
toilets (in the case of a marquee), and a PA system. Whatever your preference for the venue consider the following
is the location easy to find and accessible, with adequate car parking and public transport links?
check the maximum capacity of the room - a room comfortably accommodating 100 people will have a better
atmosphere than the same number in a huge function room, but you don't want the room to feel cramped.
If you're not having a sit down meal you may not need as much space
if possible ask to see the room set up for a function so you can get a feel for the space available and the
if you are responsible for booking the entertainment (band, disco, musicians and so forth) ensure there is
ample space for them to set up
make sure there is a dance floor and that it is big enough
if you are using the services of a photographer, ensure he has space to set up a small studio, to take formal
pictures of guests and he also has enough room to take informal shots
agree when you can get access to the room, particularly important if you are decorating the room
yourselves. Can you get in the day before the ball or earlier on the day of the ball?
is there a separate space for a pre-dinner drinks reception?
is there a cloakroom for coats and will it be staffed throughout the duration of the ball
are there sufficient toilets?
are there restrictions on stiletto heels due to wooden floors?
Your budget should be agreed early in the planning process and will be primarily based on the cost of the venue, food,
entertainment and anticipated numbers. Once you know what your costs are likely to be you can then decide on the
ticket price which either covers your costs or makes a profit. If you are planning additional fundraising activities at the
ball such as an auction or raffle you may choose to add only a small per head profit to the ticket price. Be realistic
about ticket prices- you don't want to put people off. Although guests will expect to spend money on drink, raffle
tickets and taxis, it is important that they feel they are getting value for money. When working out your budget check
if the costs include VAT and remember to think about the following:
venue hire and associated costs such as cloakroom attendant
food: decide if you're offering a buffet, sit down dinner or just canapés
decide if the ticket price will include a drink on arrival and / or wine at the table
music and entertainment such as a band, disco, a magician and a photographer
ticket design and print
menu/programme design and print
a Master of Ceremonies
Other budgetary considerations:
get all quotes in writing before committing; get a variety of quotes too so you can compare and contrast the
service offered against the price
if you are hiring a venue and paying a per-head rate, make sure you know what's included in the price e.g.
food, security, waiting staff, cloakroom attendant. Verify if there could be any additional venue hire costs not
if there is a venue fee in addition to the per-head rate ask if this can be waived if enough people are
attending or because you are a voluntary/charitable organisation (you could then add the venue as one of
the ball sponsors)
find out what deposit is required and by when and if this is refundable should you have to cancel the event or
numbers are not as high as expected. You may have to pay an additional deposit for anticipated breakages.
ascertain when the final invoice will need settling
it may be possible for guests to bring their own wine; this needs to be discussed and agreed with the venue,
which may then levy a corkage charge so you need to find out in advance what this is. If you are holding the
event on school premises, and guests bring their own drink, your PTA can levy a corkage charge too.
If you are not using the school, check the venue's cancellation policy and find out whether there are financial penalties
if you don't sell as many tickets as you'd planned. Your PTA-UK subscription linked insurance does not provide cover
for events that run at a loss so it is important that you understand all the financial implications should your ticket sales
not reach the number expected.
Good delegation and the appropriate allocation of key roles and responsibilities are essential for an event of this scale
and should be done early in the planning process. Make sure that each sub-committee group member is clear about
what aspect of the event they are responsible for and that it is noted in the minutes to avoid confusion and omissions.
Areas of responsibility include:
publicising the event, working with the local media (see Publicity below)
designing and printing tickets, menus, programmes, posters and flyers
sourcing prizes for the raffle and promises/lots for the auction
obtaining sponsors for the event
identifying a charismatic auctioneer if you intend to include an auction to increase your fundraising potential
appointing a Master of Ceremonies (MC) who will call the guests to dinner, announce the raffle etc. The
venue may include this service in the hire fee. (You can also use the MC as your auctioneer if including an
checking that all required equipment is available such as a microphone/PA system
if your PTA is undertaking the catering appoint someone to take overall responsibility for this key area (see
food and drink below)
arranging the table plan
selling tickets - you could encourage parents to purchase a "table" offering them a slight discount on the
individual ticket price as an incentive (see tickets below)
mechanism for recording the number of tickets/tables sold and to whom
appointing a DJ, band and other entertainers
sourcing decorations for room and tables
liaising with the events manager at the venue
health and safety (see Health and safety below)
Food and drink
Select a menu option that has wide appeal and make sure that all special dietary requirements can be catered for and
are confirmed in advance. Decide if you will have a drinks reception - you may be able to get a local wine merchant to
sponsor this (or the venue) but remember to check if corkage costs apply. Always make sure there are plenty of non
alcoholic drinks available and confirm the bar opening and closing times well in advance.
Publicising your ball is another key aspect of planning as without good publicity tickets will not sell easily. Eye catching
posters and flyers are a good idea especially if you can get them designed and printed free of charge, by obtaining
sponsorship from a local business. Make sure the publicity material includes information on how and where to buy
tickets and the cost. The most effective way of promoting your event is by word of mouth so generate interest and
enthusiasm by getting people talking about what a great event it's going to be. Promote the event at school by
persuading your ticket sellers to dress up in ball gowns/tuxedos and have music playing to attract attention. For free
publicity send media releases to local press and radio and make use of social networking sites.
If possible try and get tickets printed free of charge or have the cost sponsored by a local business. Ticket information
should include the date, venue, start and end time, dress code, and a brief description of the event, including the
entertainment that is included. If the ball is to raise money for a specific project mention this on the ticket. To keep
track of sales it is useful if the tickets are numbered.
Get as many people as possible to sell tickets to cover a wide social network. Make sure ticket sellers know exactly
what information they need from guests (special dietary requirements, name and contact number) and that they have
the required paperwork for recording ticket sales. Ask for a weekly update from sellers so you can monitor sales. Also
think about giving them tips on what to say if people think the tickets are too expensive. Most importantly make sure
that tickets are paid for before being given out.
To encourage parents to buy enough tickets for a table of say eight or ten, offer a small discount on the ticket price
and build this into your budget.
You should also agree a ticket cancellation/refund policy e.g.
up to three months before the event: full refund (as you should have time to re-sell the ticket(s)
three - one month: 50% of the ticket price (100% if the ticket is re-sold)
less than one month: no refund (unless the ticket is re-sold)
The above is just a guide - your policy should be determined by the sub-committee and agreed by the full committee
and made clear to everyone purchasing the tickets. It should give you enough time to re-sell the ticket, but not be so
generous that a late cancellation means you have spare seats and a potential to lose income.
Once all your tickets have been sold, start a waiting list and advise parents that should any tickets be returned, they
will be allocated on a first come - first served basis.
The primary purpose of a ball is to have fun so your choice of entertainment is very important. Music is a key
component of the evening and depending on your budget and theme you may choose to have a DJ and/or a live band
with possibly a string quartet to welcome guests on arrival. Make sure you agree costs and timings in writing well in
advance as you don't want the DJ packing up at 11pm if your event runs until 1am.
To make your event really memorable you could consider having a magician entertaining guests at their tables or even
a comedian or guest speaker if budget allows. Other popular attractions include ice sculptures, a chocolate fountain or
candy floss machine for later in the evening. A professional photographer capturing the guests arriving or mingling is
also a good idea especially if they can print and sell the photos on the spot. Don't forget to ask the photographer for
commission on sales.
Depending on your budget, decorations can range from balloons to coloured lighting and lavish table decorations. If
your ball has a theme the decoration should match this. Keep any reusable decorations for the next ball. Decorating
the room is a time consuming task so enlist as many helpers as possible. When decorating the room remember to take
extra care and to include this activity as part of the event's overall risk assessment.
Securing sponsorship from local businesses to cover some of your costs will increase your profit margin considerably,
but don't rely on it when working out your budget in case the desired level is not realised. Identify someone from the
sub-committee to make a personal approach to local businesses asking for their support for your event, in return for
advertising their business to your parent community. You should be looking for local businesses to support the
production of the tickets, menus, programmes, posters
decorations for the hall
prizes for the raffle
lots for the auction
Cash donations are always welcome, so this is an option for businesses that feel they don't have something tangible to
offer. Always remember to tell them what they will be getting in return for their support such as a mention in the
event programme, PTA newsletter and so on.
Tap into the talent and expertise of your parents and utilise any contacts they may have. There may be someone who
is a florist and can supply flowers/table decorations at cost, or someone who is a keen amateur (or if you are lucky a
professional) photographer that is willing to donate their time free of charge. If you are thinking of using a string
quartet to welcome your guests, primary school PTAs could talk to the local secondary school/college to see if they
have any talented young musicians that could provide classical music as guests arrive - secondary school PTAs may
have ready-access to such talent.
Maximising your fundraising
A successful ball should be a big earner; there are lots of additional ways to increase your fundraising potential, which
will also add to the entertainment value of the evening. You should always include a raffle and you should consider
an auction. Both require a number of high quality prizes so a considerable amount of time and effort needs to be made
to secure donations and gifts from supporters and local businesses. Consider some of the following:
Auction: secure some key prizes and a good auctioneer for this to work effectively. A maximum of nine items is
recommended as people will lose interest after that. Auctions can be the traditional type with an auctioneer or "silent."
Bonus ball: people pay an agreed sum for a ball numbered between 1 and 49. After the Lotto numbers are
announced the person with the bonus ball number wins a percentage of the takings with the remainder going to the
PTA (assuming the ball is held on a Saturday night of course).
Raffle: source up to ten good prizes from businesses, individuals and local attractions. An eye-catching alternative to
a raffle is to acquire as many quality prizes as possible and attach details of the prize to a helium balloon. Guests can
then purchase a balloon and win a prize at random. If your table decorations have been donated by a local florist you
could include these as balloon prizes.
Music: if guests ask the DJ/band to play a specific record/song, charge them a nominal fee, say 50p or a £1 for the
Heads and tails: this is a great icebreaker before the meal. Guests pay a small fee (e.g. £1) and then decide whether
to place their hands on their head or their bottom. The Master of Ceremonies spins a coin and if it lands on tails all the
people with their hands on their heads are out and must sit down, all the guests with their hands on their "tails", go
through to the next round to select "heads" or "tails" again. The game continues until there are two people left, one
chooses heads, the other tails - the winner, after the MC has spun the coin for the final time, wins a prize or a
percentage of the takings.
The programme: think about producing a souvenir ball programme, to include information about the PTA, its current
fundraising projects, recent successes and forthcoming events. Also include a welcome from the PTA chair, the
evening's timings, a note of thanks to all the event's supporters and volunteers and advertisements from local
businesses that have assisted.
Fiver draw: ask guests to donate a note (£5 or £10), which they sign. These are then entered into a prize draw. The
winner receives a prize or a percentage of the takings.
Important insurance considerations
PTAs have a duty of care to ensure they have adequate public liability cover in place before embarking on any
fundraising event. PTA-UK members automatically receive subscription linked insurance cover as part of their annual
membership fee. The cover includes £10 million public liability regardless of where the event is held; for full details
please refer to the latest PTA-UK Insurance summary.
If you are hiring a venue (whether this is charged for or not) it must also have its own public liability insurance in
place. If you are using the services of a commercial company (known as a third party service provider) such as a
disco, band, magician, photographer they must also have their own public liability cover and you should ask to see
proof of this before confirming any bookings. If the commercial company is providing a service free of charge they
must still have their own public liability cover in place.
Additionally, if the DJ, band, photographer etc. is, at anytime, leaving their equipment in your sole care, you should
consider purchasing additional insurance cover to protect your Association against a claim for accidental damage or
theft of their equipment. (Your subscription linked insurance provides up to £2,000 worth of cover for negligent
damage; you are not covered for accidental damage or theft). To discuss your requirements please contact the PTA-
UK Advice Line on 0845 850 5460. Remember to allow a maximum of five working days to receive a quote.
If the equipment you are using is borrowed from a parent (marquees and PA systems are the most common) then you
must establish why they have this equipment. If they own it for commercial reasons or they regularly loan it to other
organisations (whether there is a charge or not), then the parent will be classed as a third party service provider and
so must have their own public liability insurance in place as their liability cannot be covered by your PTA-UK policy.
Again, you may wish to invest in additional insurance cover to protect your Association against a claim for accidental
damage or theft of the equipment.
If the equipment you are borrowing is from a parent who has it for their private use only then you can use it and they
will be covered by the PTA-UK's subscription linked public liability insurance; details of what you are borrowing, from
whom and for how long must be recorded in the minutes of a planning meeting, prior to the event for cover to apply.
Early in the event planning you must investigate and understand what licences will be required. If you are hiring a
venue, check what licences they have in place to cover the sale / provision of alcohol, regulated entertainment e.g.
your disco/band and the serving of late night refreshments (for the supply of hot food or hot drink to the public, for
consumption on or off the premises, between 11pm and 5am). Read the PTA-UK's Information sheet Licences -
events and discuss your plans with your local authority event licencing officer. If you are planning to include a raffle,
with ticket being sold in advance, then you will need a lottery licence too.
Health and safety
Health and safety must be taken into account both at the planning stage and at the event itself. A risk
assessment should be undertaken which should form part of your planning and preparation. Your venue, whether this
is the local hotel, golf club or the school, will have risk assessments in place for the areas you are using. Make sure
you have access to these and that you are aware of the findings and recommendations such as the capacity of the
room. You should also make sure that the event organisers and volunteers on the evening are aware of the venue's
fire/evacuation procedure and that at the beginning of the event, all guests understand where the nearest emergency
exits are and where the meeting point is.
Before the event
One week before the event you should complete the table plan, confirm last minute arrangements and timings with
the venue and entertainers and devise a timetable for the evening. You should also reconfirm who is responsible for
doing what in the final week before the event and agree times for volunteers to meet on the day (or before if access is
available) to decorate/set up the room.
On the night
arrive early - give yourself as much time as possible, at least one hour before the start time
if paying the entertainers on the night make sure you have their cheques prepared in advance
take money bags with you and if hiring a venue see if you can store money in the safe during the event
(likewise if you are holding the event at the school - see if you can have access to the school safe). See
Handling and storing money below.
check the room is set up to your liking and everything is in place such as the display of raffle prizes and
Handling and storing money
appoint two/three people to be responsible for the counting and safe storage of cash, during the event
ensure the two/three volunteers responsible for the money have a safe to deposit money in
during the event, any money collected should be counted before being stored. In addition to the security
aspect, this will also give you an indication of how much is being raised throughout the night, which the MC
might like to announce
at the end of the event, two/three people should undertake a final count before storing the money
make arrangements to securely store the money overnight and to bank it as quickly as possible after the
For more information about overnight storage of money and transporting cash, please refer to the PTA-UK Insurance
summary document, Section 4 - money, or call the PTA-UK Advice Line 0845 850 5460. Limits and conditions apply so
please ensure you are fully aware of the requirements as failure to do so will invalidate your subscription linked
After the event
make sure all outstanding invoices are paid and arrangements are in place for the return of any deposits
bank the takings promptly
chase any outstanding monies owed (for auction lots for example)
feedback the total amount raised as quickly as possible and thank everyone for their help and support
write thank you notes to key contributors and helpers; you could award PTA-UK Thank You certificates
have a post event evaluation meeting with the full PTA committee to discuss what went well and what you
would do differently next time. Make sure the findings are noted in the minutes as this will prove invaluable
when planning the next ball. For an event of this size and nature, the sub-committee should keep a detailed
event planning folder containing all the information pertaining to the planning of the event - this can then be
the starting point for your next grand ball
reiterate thanks to everyone involved as you'll be looking for their support again next time
This information sheet aims to provide clear advice for PTAs and should be considered as a general guide.
PTA-UK is committed to providing members with up-to-date and accurate information at all times so the
content contained within this guidance was correct at time of print. PTA-UK cannot be held responsible for
any decisions or actions taken by the PTA, based on the guidance given. For more specific advice please
contact the PTA-UK Advice Line on 0845 850 5460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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