Galas are a time-tested way for nonprofits to bring their supporters together, inspire a love for their cause and raise the funds that will help them meet their mission all year long. When COVID-19 shut down in-person events, many organizations wondered if they could find a way to create a virtual fundraising gala that would be simple to run, engaging for donors, and effective at raising money. While the past year has provided many opportunities for organizations to learn about online fundraising, many were pleasantly surprised to find that creating, running, and raising money via a virtual gala was more accessible than they thought. If your organization is thinking about running a virtual gala, this article will walk you through what you need to do to be successful every step of the way!
1. Think about what you’ve done before
One of the first steps to planning an effective and engaging virtual gala fundraiser is considering what you’ve done in the past and determining what you want to incorporate in your virtual experience and what you want to leave behind. Think about what your typical program has looked like, what parts might translate well to a virtual environment, and which parts resonate as donor favorites. Perhaps you’ve always decorated your space with art made by the children your organizing serves, hired special entertainment, or given awards or door prizes; just because you’re not hosting an in-person gala does not mean that you can’t do what’s helped your gala feel so special in the past. Create a loose plan for what you want your 2021 virtual gala to include and how these elements might work well in a virtual environment.
2. Create an event page for your virtual gala
Early in the process of planning your virtual gala 2021, you’ll want to create an event page. This page should be a central place where donors can interact with every element of your virtual gala fundraiser. You can create an event page in minutes by following the simple step-by-step guide at RallyUp.com. First, you’ll create an account so that you’ll be able to save your progress and share just a little bit of information about your organization to make distributing the funds you raise easy. After that, you’ll create an event page by following the on-screen prompts. You’ll want to be sure that you customize your virtual gala fundraising page to ensure it looks polished and professional. You can add your own colors, fonts, logos, images, and text throughout the event page.
3. Add lots of opportunities for donors to give
After you create your fundraising gala page, you’ll want to incorporate as many ways to give as possible. With RallyUp, it’s easy to combine multiple fundraising experiences on one page so that donors can give and participate in whatever way feels best to them. You can add a raffle or an auction, sell merchandise or branded items, and so much more. You’ll also want to be sure that you enable the livestreaming option so that you can communicate with your donors and participants in real-time and offer livestreaming programming during your virtual gala time.
4. Determine a program for your virtual gala
Once you’ve created a framework with many giving options for donors, you’ll need to determine a program. During your stated virtual gala times, the program should take place and offer endless ways for donors to engage and give. Here’s a virtual gala example program:
- 6:00-6:20 pm- Speech: Board chair welcomes all donors and shares what the organization has been up to, and thanks all donors for being present.
- 6:20-6:45 pm- Entertainment: Organization livestreams a magic show for all participants to enjoy.
- 6:45- 7:15 pm- Awards: Organization announces outstanding volunteer of the year awards.
- 7:15-7:30pm- Break.
- 7:30-7:40 pm- Raffle drawings.
- 7:45pm- Auction closing.
- 7:45 pm-8:00 pm- Final words of thanks.
Other virtual gala ideas for entertainment include:
- Virtual children’s choir concert
- Band or symphony recital
- Keynote speaker
- Dance performance
- Talent show
5. Collect prizes
Having a program of how your event will flow can help you determine what prizes you’ll need to acquire to ensure any sort of sweepstakes, raffle, or auction is a success. You can start to identify prizes by asking board members and other insiders to reach out to their personal connections. Often, new local businesses are excited to donate prizes or gift certificates to nonprofits that serve their community.
6. Engage sponsors with an attractive sponsor package
While sponsors may not have access to an in-person booth at this year’s events, there are plenty of ways to ensure they can get the exposure they desire from sponsorship. Organizations can consider offering the following to sponsors who provide financial support:
- Information and logo shared in announcement communications
- Information and logo placed on all invitation materials
- Logo featured on the Event page
- Opportunity to address attendees during the event
- Opportunity to give awards at the event
- Information and logo shared in an event follow up email
- Opportunity to include discounts or swag in a virtual goodie bag
7. Spread the word about your virtual gala
Spreading the word is an essential aspect of any fundraiser, especially a virtual gala. You’ll want as many people to participate as possible so consider all the ways you usually spread the word about events and new ways that might reach individuals who enjoy being in an online space. Because your gala will be virtual, you won’t have to limit your invitations to local residents and can spread the word much further than you may have been able to in the past.
First, reach out to anyone on your regular communications list via email. You’ll want to have an attractive invitation that encourages people to feel excited about connecting with your organization. Be sure to include all the information your donors will need to purchase tickets and plan for a fun and entertaining event.
After engaging your regular contacts, use social media to spread the word even further. Create engaging posts with attractive graphics and frequently share from your social media accounts and ask others in your circle or who value your mission to share from their accounts as well. You may want to consider posting paid ads on social media if your gala will involve entertainment that those not affiliated with the organization may want to see or if you have prizes that nonaffiliated individuals might be interested in winning.
Finally, it can be helpful to get others’ attention about your event through the news media. Share a press release announcing your gala and sharing information about your organization, or consider utilizing public relations strategies to drum up excitement and awareness.
8. Consider reaching donors in real life
While your fundraising gala may be all virtual, no rule says donors can’t receive items to help them prepare and get excited before the big day. Consider sending donors goodie bags or gala materials once they purchase tickets.
Items in a virtual goodie bag might include swag from sponsors, coupons from sponsors, donated items, or small branded items like pens, coasters, or tote bags.
You can also choose to send donors things that will help boost excitement and get them in the mood for the virtual fundraiser. These items might include a hat, sunglasses, or other apparel items that they’re instructed to wear to the gala. A special treat or drink mix that is designed to be consumed during the gala or any sort of items like handmade artwork, medals, trophies, passes, or tickets that provide something special to hold that will remind them of why they give to your organization and how much good their giving can do.
9. Prep your technology and do a run-through (or two)
While there are always bound to be last-minute hiccups (just like when you do in-person galas!), preparation and practice can go a long way towards ensuring that your virtual gala goes off without a hitch! With RallyUp, you won’t have to worry about any platform challenges; the donor’s experience is guaranteed to be smooth and to look and feel high quality, but you may want to check your own technology to ensure that the live portions of the program don’t have any issues. Usually, simple things like ensuring your device is plugged in, your internet strength is good, and your microphone is enabled are all you’ll need to do to avoid any potential issues.
You will want to practice giving your welcome speech as well as any other parts of the program you’ll be leading live as virtual stage fright is a real thing! Practice giving your speech to friends and family in person as well as over a video call or other virtual medium to ensure it feels comfortable and well-practiced before the big day. Remember, all the same, public speaking best practices you follow in-person will be just as important virtually.
10. Say thanks!
All experienced fundraisers know that the event isn’t over when the last donor leaves. Saying thanks is one of the most important parts of running any gala experience, whether you’re in-person or all virtual. With RallyUp, thank-you emails can be automated so that you won’t need to reach out individually to all donors; they’ll simply receive a thank you email when they donate or purchase something. You can also create automated emails to be sent to all participants after an event to ensure that they all know how much you appreciate their support. If you want to go above and beyond with large donors, it’s simple to export their information and create a list of those individuals you’d like to reach out to via a hand-written thank you note or personalized phone call.
11. Access your funds
Once the party’s over, you’ll want to access your funds ASAP. It’s simple to pull your funds into your organization’s accounts after your event; all you need to do is follow the simple instructions provided when you signed up.
12. Analyze how it all went
While you might be tempted to crawl into bed and crash once your big event and all the post-event work finally ends, it’s valuable to sit down with your team soon after an event is over to analyze what went well and what might need to be changed or updated in the coming years. As the world begins to open back up, many organizations are finding that they do not have a need or desire to return to entirely in-person galas and that they may wish to keep the virtual gala format going forward.
A simple format for assessing how your event is to ask yourself and your team the following questions:
- What were the strengths or highlights of the virtual gala?
- What parts did donors love or enjoy the most?
- What was the biggest challenge before the virtual gala?
- What was the biggest challenge during the virtual gala?
- What was the biggest challenge after the virtual gala?
- What would you change for next year’s virtual gala?
If you have questions about how to make sure your organization is prepared to throw the best virtual gala possible, don’t hesitate to reach out to the RallyUp team!