How to throw a charity Masquerade Ball

About 10 years ago, my best friend joked to me that she would love to attend a Masquerade Ball in the local barn. We discussed the dresses people attending would be wearing, the decorations on the tables and generally what a lovely event it would be. Since that day, I’ve always been waiting for an event that would justify the stress of throwing a Masquerade Ball.

A few years after the Olympics were announced to be held in London it occurred to me that in 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics in the same year would be just the excuse needed! It was 2008 at this point and booking a caterer or venue might have been a little odd, so I waited patiently until 2010 to start booking. The Masquerade Ball was going to be run as a fund raiser, but also needed to be relatively posh so we set a budget of £50 per head and tried to work out what that could (and couldn’t) afford.

Decide on a date first. If you don’t have a date you can’t start booking people/places.

Next, book the big items:

  • The Venue! (Unless you have a big enough house)

How do you choose a venue?

Consider how many people will be attending and keep in mind your budget. This is particularly important as you might need to bargain if you find a dream venue. My venue was an easy choice as there’s a barn down the road where we’ve held Balls before.

  • The Caterer

How do you choose a caterer?

Well, I never did work it out… The first caterer I chose stood me up at a smaller event I’d booked for the caterer to attend 4 months before the Ball. I thought I’d got it all worked out until that! In the end I booked a company from Bedford (Doreen Lambert Catering Services) who were absolutely fantastic and I’d recommend them in a heart beat.

  • Band(s)

How do you choose a band?

Ask friends and relatives for recommendations. There had been a couple of events at the venue in recent years featuring the band I booked (Maxwell Hammer & Smith) which had great reviews. And the trio (Style it out) that played were from the secondary school I used to attend, so we knew they were good.

Once you’ve booked the big items, the rest is relatively straight forward, but takes longer. I booked the venue, the main band and the caterer in 2010, two years before the event!  If you’re organising a fund raiser, two years before hand is also a good time to start thinking of ways to generate extra income on the night (or before hand).  You’ll be surprised how little £50 to create a posh do can go.  (Make sure you keep full account of all bills and keep all receipts! You never know if you might be asked by someone to view them)

Fund raising options on the night:

  • Auction – relies on donations of items/services and can price less well off people out
  • Raffle – relies on donations of items/services.  More inclusive than auction, but does not generate the same revenue as a raffle
  • Guess the number of corks in the glass vase – Very popular at the Ball I raised.  A good friend donated the prize and equipment to stage the competition.
  • Bar – Always a winner.  Make it known on your ticket that you’ll be running a fully licensed bar (and buy a licence!).  Run the bar yourself, hiring help where needed to make the maximum profit.  As a rough rule of thumb, a bottle bought from a supermarket can be sold at a 100% mark-up and on “sale or return” you can take back the left overs.
  • Best dressed Man and Woman – this will cost and doesn’t generate any income, but makes people go to town on their attire.

When you get to about a year to go, you need to start looking at the smaller items.


Decide on decorations.  You’re unlikely to be able to get away with no decorations.  My best friend had suggested we look at creating trees to go in the corners of the barn, so I worked on the idea, but it took most of 6 months to get the trees ready.  She also created some fabulous masks (about 60cm by 60cm) to hang from the beams.  Since it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, I bought 2500 acrylic diamonds off of ebay and acrylic hanging decorations to go on the trees.

Where is your cutlery and crockery coming from, do you need to hire tables + clothes and glasses?  I hired the local Village Hall for 2 days and used all of their chairs and a few glasses.  The rest of the glasses (over 500) were hired from Sainsbury’s (note that for a very posh do, this wouldn’t work as the glasses were all different shapes and sizes…).  I hired a few tables and linen from an events company (Millhouse Marquees) and the rest of the linen from the local pub.

Think about transport.   If you have a bar, the more your guests drink the more profit (up to a point… you don’t want them throwing up).  I organised a bus to pick up guests and drop them off at the end of the evening.

Think about a photographer – not one you have to pay for necessarily – ask a friend?

With 2 weeks to go, if you’re running a bar, go out and purchase the bar.  Buy a float from the bank, but make it easier on yourself by only selling round numbered items, e.g. £1 for a glass of coke, £3 for a can of beer and £10 for a bottle of wine.

The day before hand you really want to set up your venue, if the venue owner will permit early entry.  Lay out the tables and decorate the place.  Don’t leave your bar at the venue as it’s likely to be the most expensive item there.

On the day, take the bar to the venue and don’t leave it on it’s own for a long period of time.  Take the float when you actually go to the event.

And now, most importantly – enjoy the event!  If everything organised well, there shouldn’t be much to do, until the events finished.

After the event bank all the money as soon as possible and return the glasses, hired equipment and unsold bar items.  It should be possible to work out how much money the event has made accurately and precisely within 5 days.   Most of the expenses will have been paid for before the event and the remaining ones will be payable soon afterwards (with a fixed cost).

Congratulations! You’ve just thrown a charity Masquerade Ball and hopefully raised a lot of money for charity!  My event raised £1860, but fell short of my desired target of £2000.  Not bad for my first go 😉