Let's talk about hosting a virtual gala. If you were lucky to hold your annual fundraiser before COVID-19, congratulations. If not, you are probably scrambling to reschedule your gala virtually. As you prepare to launch your event virtually, here are a few things to consider:
Why should someone give to your virtual gala?
There are many reasons people attend fundraising galas. It may be a passion for your mission or cause. It could be because someone asked them to attend. Or it may be because of the speaker or honoree. Please don't assume that people will automatically attend your virtual event. In fact, you can plan on at least 10-15% of your registered guests not attending.
A powerful way to get someone to attend your event is by being asked by someone else. In typical galas, non-profits ask table hosts to fill a table. Consider asking your volunteer fundraisers to help fill a virtual table before the event. You could also ask them to help secure a specific amount of money or number of gifts.
Structuring your virtual gala:
When hosting a virtual gala, pay careful attention to the structure of your event. Typical galas have plenty of entertainment to keep your audience engaged. Examples include, bands, silent auction items, photo booths, etc. Most of these entertainments do not exist virtually. So, how do you plan on engaging your audience at your event?
When hosting a virtual gala is it important to realize that you are competing for attendee's funds, time, and attention.
Timing your virtual gala:
Hosting a virtual gala requires managing every minute of your event. Attendees will not be blocking off their evening to attend. You are probably only going to get one hour of their time, at best. But, only if you can keep their attention that long. I suggest breaking down your program into 5-7 minute sections. Consider sharing short videos. Rather than having live speakers, share pre-recorded messages. Don't overdo power-point slides.
How do you plan to keep your attendees engaged during your event?
Raising funds at your virtual gala:
What value or benefit can you offer your sponsors to encourage them to renew their support for a virtual gala?
The benefits of attending your virtual gala may not be the same as a face-to-face event.
When creating your sponsorship packet and benefits, think outside of the box. Be creative. The benefit of sponsorship can be more than getting a logo on your marketing and program materials.
Listen to your sponsor's needs. Make it tangible. Show true impact and benefit to your sponsor. Customize your sponsorship levels to meet the needs of your sponsors.
Let's discuss when money will be raised for your gala. How will the money be raised before, during, or after your event? I would encourage you to set fundraising goals to determine where and how you plan to raise money for your event. This means breaking down exactly how much you expect to raise. Finally, you must create an action plan to reach your goals.
On the day of your event, what will your ask look like? Are you charging a set amount to attend? Will there be a virtual ask? What will you do to keep the momentum needed to reach your goal? How will you collect virtual donations? How will you follow up with guests who did not attend? Will you hold an auction?
Hosting a virtual gala requires new technology:
An important part of hosting a virtual gala is making sure that you have the technology you need. This includes registration, online payments, online-auction items, peer-to-peer fundraising, and live-streaming of your event.
Fundraising technology is only beneficial if it meets your needs, is easy to use, and functions properly on the day of your event.
Make sure to test your technology multiple times with multiple audiences. Then create a backup plan just in case something doesn't work at your virtual gala.
If done properly, hosting a virtual gala can decrease your event costs, decrease manpower needed, and increase your net revenue to your event.