The MasqRed Ball was a fundraiser for a local nonprofit specializing in servicing people with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses. The name “MasqRed” was a play on the words “masquerade” – a party where everyone wears masks – and “red” – the color most frequently used in supporting causes around the education and outreach on HIV/AIDS.

I was very lucky to be the decorating lead on the volunteer committee organizing the event for the nonprofit. The other volunteers carried the brunt of the work finding the venue; publicizing the event; soliciting sponsors for food, drinks, and music; etc. My task was to decorate the venue on a small budget in the theme colors of red and black.

The biggest challenge decorating for a fundraiser is actually one of the biggest challenges decorating for any personal party: the small budget. Happily the same tips apply here that they would for any other party:

  • Look around your house at your own inventory. Do you have any decorating supplies that you could use for this event to offset the cost of buying new supplies? This could be anything from artificial flowers, candles, vases, figurines, coasters, pictures, tablecloths, blankets, etc. You would be amazed at what you can re-use if you think outside of the box! At this ball, I was able to gather together enough vases for the centerpieces from my own cabinets and friends’ cabinets (see next tip) to cover all the tables. Because all the vases were clear glass, the lighting would be dim, and I planned on wrapping the vases in ribbon, it didn’t matter that they were different shapes and styles.
  • Check your friends’ closets (with their approval, of course). In addition to the glass vases I got on loan, I also had a friend who had some glass votives with tea candles to spare. These were perfect for lining up  the tables in between centerpieces.
  • Gussy up the plain stuff. The votives were a little boring on their own, but no problem! I wrapped ribbon around the votives with double-sided tape. Boom, fancy votive. This also helped coordinate with the vases, which were wrapped in the same ribbon. I added some long, thin feathers to the flowers as well to give them a little textural interest.
  • Hit up the sales bins and clearance racks at your local home decor and crafts stores. This is especially helpful if you have a lot of advance warning, because you can get seasonal items on clearance right after that holiday. For instance, I was able to buy red flowers right after Valentine’s Day for very cheap and use them at this event in the fall.
  • If there is no way around it and you have to rent, comparison shop and ask for any nonprofit discounts with the approval of the nonprofit. I had too many tables and chairs to decorate cheaply with the budget provided, but I still called all of the local vendors, got prices, asked for discounts, and took it to the committee. A generous volunteer offered to pay for the rental costs as long as I would do the leg work (pick up, set up, and returning) to save the cost of delivery. I was happy to do so! And on that “approval of the nonprofit” part, that is extremely important. You usually have to have a tax ID letter from the nonprofit to show the vendor to get the discount. Please act responsibly here.
  • Whenever you’re decorating for fundraisers, find ways to work in the nonprofit’s logo into the decorations. We weren’t able to do so with this event, but we did make sure to put the nonprofit’s brochures on the admission table, the mask merchandise table (they sold masks as an additional source of fundraising), and on the bar. Looking back, if I could do things differently I would have tried to put the logo on picks to add to the centerpieces as small decorative signs. Live and learn!
  • Recruit volunteers to help decorate and take it all down later. Nonprofits generally have a volunteer pool that you can use, but have a few friends as backup in case they don’t. It’s cheaper to call in favors than to hire help, and it saves you the stress of doing it all by yourself. Really. Don’t try to do it all by yourself.

Everything turned out wonderfully! See below for the final decor before the front doors opened for admission: