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What your Virtual Gala really needs…5 Elements for an Epic Fundraising Event!

Flash back to last spring; lockdown and the reality that you had to make a crucial decision to either reschedule your gala or pivot to a new style, a virtual event!  No one really knew how to do them but many seem to quickly attempt to become experts. There was a proverbial firehose of love in webinars, white papers, videos and media posts. In a short amount of time solutions flooded with so much information, so many good intentions, a lot of groundbreaking trends, styles and techniques.

Everyone knew something had to be done and everyone was figuring out how to try something new, and more importantly try something that would result in dire needed success. We too found ourselves in that unique position.  We were thrown into so many new platforms, layouts and attempts. 

It’s been almost a year and we spent all that time conducting, consulting, raising millions and observing what feels like several hundred Virtual Events.  We’ve identified things that must be present in these events to be successful and things that should be missed.  We wanted to share with you our 4 ok 5 Elements of an Epic Virtual Fundraising Gala:

Tip #1 Cohesion

– It is easy to get lost in the jump from one talking point to another but just as when you put your in-person gala together a theme can really help.  We don’t mean a “mardi gras theme” we mean a “sea life theme” or “children theme” or a specific program you have rolled out or are focused on, one project to keep all points in the same direction.  This will help all your pre recorded footage to have a purpose.  All thank you speeches or infomercials will be about the targeted goal of gaining engaged donors and making the financial goals you laid out.  Some events have a theme of information about programs and that is ok because their goal is to share information.  If your goal and your theme are in sync it will help the viewers stay focused and understand your needs.  Many views are looking for your guidance.  They seem to say “ok we believe in this cause, we are here because you asked so now what do you need next.”  Our society is looking for direction if you keep your entire event focused on your goal you can make happen.  Events that are disjointed leave guests feeling disheartened and unsure about your fate as an organization.  Be strong in your decisions and proud to choose a realistic goal for your event.  Then make sure you have a team to support that.

This leads to #2

Event professionalism-  Your event is a way to establish your presence in the current environment.  It’s a way to say “we are here! And we are doing the work!”  Showing that to your viewers can be monumental.  Yet if the quality of your event is weak then your guests will look to you as not as strong.  In galas Erin always tells our clients “the higher the heels the higher the donations.”  Think of a school gala in a gymnasium versus in a fancy banquet hall.  Dressed up and eloquent guests feel more confident in the items they are purchasing and the organization they are supporting.  This opportunity for fancy may not be the same in virtual so you as the event must bring it! If a virtual gala doesn’t have a professional team running it, that will reflect on the organization.  Good quality lighting, sound, technology, a professional host/emcee/auctioneer/ambassador, an interactive component with quick speed and upbeat, quick tight programing with smooth video progression, rehearsals REHEARSALS REHEARSALS!!!! Did I mention rehearsals? Work out the kinks before your guests are in front of you.  We know not everyone has big budgets for major platforms or hiring celebrities but there are many ways to make these crucial investments to really elevate your organization.  Please don’t end up as a blooper reel on tiktok. Your organization may never recover from an ill experienced shortcut. 

Tip #3

Make the goal easy! Today everything is easy… Please hold, my foodstore order is being delivered as I write this… Just kidding, but seriously it is that easy!   Everything is easy.  Yet for some reason it has taken rocket scientists to create platforms for easy giving at events, or easy sharing of a gala, or ease of chatting.   Find a platform that is clean, professional, will give you YOUR desired results (not the ones they tell you that you want) and will make it easy to get your guests to perform how you want.  I want to be clear that not ALL events are about fundraising some are friendraising or awareness or social.  You need to find what is right for you and find the platform that creates that experience.  If you are creating an event for funds than please PLEASE make giving stupid simple! Buying a couch on Wayfair should NOT be easier than donating at your virtual gala and if it is then figure it out before you invite the world.  Please will not work hard to give money, and you don’t want to make them. Every extra click costs you money.  

Our advice is to make the donation portion live, have a professional asker (auctioneer/emcee) that is used to asking for donations on a stage for a living and put a donate button right there! As they are talking people are donating and chatting and engaging.  That is when the magic moments have happened. (bonus points for hiring a pro that can read the chats, work with your development team, read scrip, respond to comments and engage simultaneously! It’s a skill that takes many screens and practice to master!!! *from experience)

Tip #4

EVERYONE you can find should be a cheerleader to make this event successful.  Fine, in the board meeting (zoomed in) you all argued and debated on the pros and cons but once you have a decision then, EVERYONE needs to be on board! This can be a fantastic opportunity we may not get again!  You can get sponsors to pay for the privilege to gain awesome name recognition during the event. You can share the event around the world. Families of your board, committees and employees can have an opportunity to see why you are so passionate about this organization.  This is an opportunity to spread your message FAR and wide! Having board support you in matching gifts, chat cheerleaders, social media sharers, guest inviting, and introducing your organization to a wide net that you might never have met.  Now is the opportunity to beg your board to step up! Get them to spread the message every single way that new support is needed because its 2021 and we need more humans to care about the changing world! SO now is an opportunity to show that support. 

Get the viewers, entertain and educate the viewers, entice your viewers and have someone turn them into donors that may become legacy donors.  You never know who will tune in and this is an opportunity to dazzle them.

Surprise tip #5 

When you make the decision to go Virtual then do it wholeheartedly because events can only be what you dream them to be.  If you want to hold off another year and have resources to do that, then wait! Don’t force a square peg in a round hole.  They are a lot of work and in all our experience have been worth it for the clients that want it.  Ok, so we have a lot more tips and will be putting together some blogs with more tips or click here to learn some more.  Hopefully we gave you some information to get you going and our gala lessons can lead to your successes.

Please don’t hesitate if you have a question or to reach out to have a conversation about virtual event fundraising.

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