Fundraising through a virtual gala has proven to be an effective way to connect with donors and get them excited about your mission.
With new ideas and tweaks to the activities that would typically be included at in-person events, virtual galas can keep fundraising goals on track and even add to more than expected to the annual goal. The key is to create a program that will energize the attendees and encourage a sense of community along with a desire to contribute funding.
Below are twelve ideas you can incorporate into your next virtual fundraiser to create an unforgettable experience for your donors.
1. Get the conversation started in an event chatroom
Most event planners are familiar with chatrooms and see the value in making them a part of their virtual gala, but why not take it a step further and let the conversation begin even before the start of the event?
Set up a chatroom on your website or through a “messenger” feature on your most active social networks for your community to be able to connect with each other. Post an image, video, or graphic to get the conversation started and assign the same person to monitor it who will be working the chatroom during the event. They should have an enthusiastic, welcoming online presence and the appropriate level of professionalism to represent a trustworthy nonprofit.
2. Start early with a pre event challenge
People have been getting on board the virtual challenge craze ever since the ALS.org Ice Bucket Challenge swept the internet. It was a wild success that can easily become a part of a virtual funding drive.
Create a challenge that will be an exciting lead up to the virtual gala, such as a virtual walk or fun run, a meditation challenge, or a themed challenge that would benefit your nonprofit’s mission, such as a day-long beach cleaning challenge.
3. Gift boxes at your guests front doors
Everyone loves getting a surprise package delivered on their doorstep. Give your virtual attendees a surprise a few days before the event by delivering a goodie bag to their house. Gather your team together to create a boxed gift that will go out to your VIP guests, sponsors, or maybe all your attendees!
If you plan on mailing the package, check with your post office to find out the shipping details. Include items from sponsors, tchotchkes, and your nonprofit’s marketing and donation envelopes. It will bring awareness to your gala and give your sponsors a chance to introduce themselves to your attendees right at their own front doors.
4. Interactive features for your guests
Let’s face it; getting a virtual audience is challenging. Your program is viewed through a small computer screen and must compete with the many distractions that are all around them in their homes.
Invite your guests into the program through interactive features they can use to participate in real-time, back and forth interactions with your team and the other attendees. Chatrooms are one example, but you can add polls, have them post photos or videos (that your team will approve before publishing), or join in on group activities they can perform in their own living room. Including at least one interactive activity early in the program will create the feeling of joining in with a community.
5. Immersive environments to create atmosphere at home
Web conferencing apps like Zoom act as gateways into virtual galas, so it’s important to involve as many sensory experiences as possible throughout the program. Add a background that represents the theme of the night and play background music that will get people moving or singing along. Send out gift boxes to attendees early so they are prepared for the event with items they can wear, recipes for themed cocktails, and other related things that will bring the spirit of the gala into their homes.
6. Speed networking for fun and donations
Themed breakout sessions that bring people with a common interest can be an avenue to great discussions and new friendships between like-minded donors. Bring people together to learn more about specific aspects of your nonprofit’s work and to learn more about what is being done. Have a host lead the conversation and consider bringing in a specialist on a subject to ensure the time stays focused on the mission.
7. Shine a light on star talent
One of the most anticipated activities at a gala is the amazing talent that shows up on behalf of the nonprofit. From local performers, to A-list advocates for your work; these extra special VIPs play a huge role in setting the tone for your gala’s theme.
Place performances at the end of the program to provide plenty of time to lead up to it with your nonprofit’s information. It will also give your emcee plenty of time to hype the performance or keynote speaker, with multiple requests for funding along the way.
There are more options when scheduling a VIP advocate to deliver a message. Place them early in the program to get your attendees excited, in the middle to introduce an activity, such as a silent auction or presentation. Or you can schedule them toward the end of the event to get your attendees excited for the “big moment” when they get to see the star of the event.
8. Bring back the cocktail hour!
Kick of your fundraiser with a virtual cocktail hour! Post simple recipes for cocktails (rename them to fit the theme for more fun) and share a music playlist you’ve created for the event with your attendees. Encourage them to dress up for the occasion or wear a costume for more fun.
Send out an invite that includes the date, time, and time zone and ask your attendees to share photos on their social media networks with your chosen hashtag. Keep a virtual tip jar available on the website for guests to leave a donation when it’s over.
9. Raise the temperature with an online donation thermometer
Reaching a goal takes motivation. Adding an online donation thermometer to the front page of your gala’s website will provide real-time insight into fundraiser’s success and encourage them to strive for that final number. Your emcee can point to the thermometer often to encourage reaching small goals that lead to your proposed final goal.
10. Encouraging connections on social networks
Connect with your attendees through your social media networks. Thank individual donors, ask open-ended questions that can start conversations, and get them excited about participating in the gala.
Get your attendees involved by sharing the special moments they experience during the gala. Provide a hashtag they can attach to their posted image so they are easy to find and add a comment that name checks them as a thank you for joining in on the fun. They’ll be excited about the acknowledgement and will be more likely to continue sharing your gala’s information across their social networks.
11. Fun and games
Make giving a game!
There are many in-person event games that can successfully be translated into a fun and exciting virtual activity. Build your virtual gala around a game that can played by family teams at home or online teams of supporters. Have prizes for the winning teams that can easily be sent out via email, such as gift certificates to give them real-time excitement when they win. A few great alternatives to choose from are trivia challenges, charades, murder mysteries, and video games.
12. Silent auctions moved online
Silent auctions are a staple of traditional in-person galas, and they can be successfully transformed to a virtual gala’s program with only a few adjustments.
Review the items you would typically include in your in-person auction and look for those that can be a part of a virtual auction. Consider the current state of travel and personal care services that are allowed at the time.
Set your starting bids appropriately. Experts recommend 35% of the item’s proposed value, with a goal to get between 80% and 100% of their market value, with 12 to 16 bids per item.
Define clear rules around the auction so that fair play is always in process. For example, how long bidding will be allowed and if they are going to be coming through email, text, chatrooms, etc.
Use “buy now” and “max bidding” options to give donors the opportunity claim a prize without bidding. Just by pressing an online button, they can claim the auction item without having to work through a “highest-bid” process.
Multi-day auctions can get the donations rolling in days before the virtual gala even begins. Promote it on social media networks with hashtags that connect it with the virtual gala and add links that will take visitors to the website where they can find the auction items.
Keep your bidders tuned into the auction by staggering the closing times on several items. This will make it easier to deliver information about the auction item and keep the donors from feeling to pushed to get their bid in virtually.
Take the fun of a virtual gala into your donors’ home with activities and features that engage your audience and create a sense of community even though they are miles apart. This will create connections that go beyond the borders of walls and screens to ones that will continue to grow long after its conclusion.