Planning a virtual gala, Part One:
What you don’t want to miss!
By Tiffany Parnes, Director of Capital Campaigns & Special Events at Perry Davis Associates
Is your annual gala crucial for your bottom line? For many organizations, galas are the primary source of unrestricted income. There’s no need to cancel – or even postpone – your highest grossing fundraising event.
The virtual gala is a great substitute for your annual in-person gala and an option that many organizations are now considering. While some may fear that gross receipts will be down, with the right planning, net income should be stable – maybe even up.
The good news is that the two main goals for every event remain constant:
- Raising significant funds for the organization
- A feeling of enjoyment and positivity that have your attendees coming back year after year
This week, we will be speaking to the first goal of an event: How do you continue to maximize income with a virtual event? Next week we will be introducing ways to foster connection and enjoyment amongst your constituents, both before and during your virtual event.
The model for a virtual gala still follows the same basic formula of a traditional gala. Both the virtual and in-person gala models require you to:
- Recruit an honoree(s) and chair(s)
- Form a small gala steering committee
- Set a fundraising goal and budget
- Send out save the dates and invitations
- Set a gala date and time
- Plan an evening program
So, what makes a virtual gala different?
Because you’re not paying for a venue, food and beverage, photography, centerpieces, and other standard costly items, your gala budget will look friendlier. With these advanced savings in mind, you will have the flexibility to invest in items that will enrich the virtual experience such as event software, coveted entertainment, special speakers, mailed gifts, etc.
Once you lay out a budget, spend time setting your fundraising goal with your leadership. Keep your fundraising goals consistent with previous dinners. Ultimately, people are buying tickets and table sponsorships to support the cause and that hasn’t changed.
With that goal in mind, you will start planning your outreach. Below you will find some tips to consider as you map out your fundraising plan.
If you have more questions as you find the right fit for your next event, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss how we can be of help to your organization.
Create subcommittees to keep your constituents engaged.
Once your gala leadership has agreed on fundraising goals, budget and other high-level details, consider creating more volunteer opportunities surrounding the gala. Having special tasks will make your donors and supporters feel more involved and invested in the gala’s success.
Possible subcommittees for a virtual gala are:
- Tech committee – test out some new platforms for the virtual program, fundraising pages, etc. (Finding the right tech solutions is very important and worth the investment.)
- Program committee – recruit talent, entertainment and design the evening’s run of show
- Activity committee – engagement ideas for your supporters
We’ll discuss the last two topics – program and activities – next week, in part two of this newsletter.
Set up an effective peer-to-peer fundraising initiative.
To raise significant funds, securing major gifts is still key. You will still want to create tiered sponsorship levels to serve as a guide for donors.
Use the novelty of an online event to introduce new fundraising opportunities – your key supporters can now engage their peers and community online. Instead of encouraging lay leaders to invite friends to sit at their tables and make donations at the event, ask them to be table captains and solicit funds from their networks through a personal fundraising page.
Set up a page for each of your lay leaders and have individual conversations to discuss individual fundraising goals. You want to be sure that soliciting more funds from others does not serve as a substitute for their own donations. A page for each leader promotes accountability as well – everyone sees what others have raised and will push them to keep going. A little competition never hurt anybody!
This approach could also open you up to new audiences – people who wouldn’t have otherwise been asked to attend or participate in the event. With a personal fundraising page, your table captain has a great tool to send around and distribute to their community. The table captain will find it easier to reach out to those they had been reluctant to solicit in the past. Sharing a link is a great talking point and support tool for an ask.
Important note: Be sure to stress to your lay leaders that sending around this link should not replace making phone calls. This is merely a tool to support their asks. Personal outreach, especially via phone, is still key to raising significant funds.
- Give your lay leadership the ability to design their own fundraising pages, and even upload a video message for every page visitor to enjoy.
- Tell your lay leaders to approach two or three friends who can make a significant donation first, so when their page goes live, they already have a head start on their fundraising thermometer.
- Highlight those that are doing well in their fundraising efforts in communication leading up to the gala (social media, newsletters, etc.)
- To set up personal pages, make sure there is someone on your staff who will be available to make the process easy and assist as needed– send out a personal email and phone number with directions.
Be sure to recognize those that are giving meaningfully to your organization.
List your donors on your gala website page and update the list daily.
For corporate gifts of a certain level, offer to place the company’s logo on the gala page. Because the focus is purely online, corporate sponsors will receive even more exposure than they normally would.
For donors of a certain level, consider having a thoughtful blurb about the them displayed.
Secure a matching gift to encourage giving before your gala.
To further incentivize gifts, consider setting up a matching initiative in association with the gala. Ideally, you would introduce the initiative within 30-60 days of the gala to drive urgency and see a boost in donations.
Don’t forget about other traditional gala mechanisms that can be easily translated online.
Gala videos to showcase your work, raffles, silent auctions and e-journals are all still ways to raise money and enrich your gala experience.
If you need additional support as you plan your next event, contact us for a conversation.