Planning a Virtual Gala, Part Two:
Creating an Unforgettable Connection and Fellowship.
By Tiffany Parnes, Director of Capital Campaigns & Special Events
Last week, we shared some fundraising tips for a virtual gala. This week, we are covering the second important focus area for a successful virtual gala: creating an unforgettable connection and fellowship.
The best events “pop” when you’re in a room full of people who share your passion for a cause. You will need to recreate this powerful feeling by finding ways to foster connection. This goal should be top of mind with every decision you make for your virtual gala. Hosting a highly interactive and creative experience is key.
Here are some more tips to optimize engagement and attendance for your virtual gala.
Create visually appealing content.
You won’t be decorating a room or picking out centerpieces, but you will want to create an exciting event look and theme. Hire a graphic designer and consider pushing the envelope when it comes to design. We are exposed to so much online content these days, try to stand out and make your materials interesting. Remember to remain true to your brand and ensure your look is cohesive.
Pro-tip: When thinking about your theme for the dinner, don’t forget about the dress code. Do you want to embrace the “stay-at-home and lounge” vibe or do you want to give your attendees an excuse to dress up? Can they be in costume to match your theme? Can you send them a paper mask in the mail to decorate for a masquerade ball? Will you have a DJ and a dance party that cuts to each attendee during a song to see their dance moves?
While you can’t be together in-person, you can still have a physical presence in their home.
To engage your past and potential supporters think about sending them an item in the mail. The item should be relevant to your organization’s mission and ideally something interactive. Can you create an adult coloring book – a 10-sheet book with images that represent your organization (remember to send color pencils!)? Consider creating a custom puzzle they can put together – and pull in someone else in to join the fun. Designing your own Rubik’s cube (with a tutorial insert) or a thoughtful crossword puzzle might also resonate with your constituents.
Encourage your donors to finish their activity before the gala and share their creations on social media! Depending on the activity, you can choose to showcase some of your attendees’ creations during the gala program.
Pro tip: Think about the vendors for your token gift. Manufacturers can give you a great price if you order items in bulk. You may also find it meaningful to commission small businesses that
might be struggling and could use the work. The vendor could be local to the area that is supported through the organization.
Consider household evening schedules when setting a time for your event.
The time of your event will also be an important decision. During the “usual” time for a traditional gala, around 5-7pm, your attendees will likely be recovering from the work day, preparing dinner, settling their kids for bed, etc. Think about the demographic of your attendees and what would be most convenient for them. You want to optimize attendance after all!
Note: On the other hand, don’t be rigid about your timing. Depending on your organization and theme, you might want to have children involved or want all attendees to eat together, especially if this is an event that focuses on food. The decision should fit into the personality of your non-profit.
Plan an enticing evening program.
Most of your constituents are at home and are looking for entertainment. Many wonderful performers are looking for work and would love to take the virtual stage. Consider hiring an inspirational speaker, a field expert, a singer who can deliver a ballad meaningful to your cause, a comedian for some much-needed laughs, etc. Because you are virtual, you aren’t geographically bound when scouting talent, nor do you have to cover any additional expenses.
Remember those grantee recipients you were trying to fly over to the US or those expert panelists whom you were trying to catch on film for your gala video – now they can join you live! Anyone can drop by for 5 minutes – including those exclusive, hard-to-get public figures and they are very willing to make a brief cameo, from what we’ve witnessed so far.
Pro-tip: Choose a very dynamic emcee to keep everyone wanting more and can handle the unpredictable (especially since a virtual event can be present higher potential for technical glitches).
Keep the program short and smooth.
The attention span behind screens is much shorter than a live in-person event – and people can leave a virtual event much easier! This means your program needs to be shorter than your average gala program. Try to keep it to under an hour.
The program must also transition well. Make sure to have a dry run through with everyone essential to your program.
Guarantee attendance the night of your gala by sending out an activity that culminates during the evening’s program.
Brainstorm an activity that will make your attendees feel like a part of something. An activity that needs them to be present and makes them feel missed if they’re not!
For example: Tell everyone who submits an RSVP that they will receive special instructions a few days before the event to help with the program the night of your event. Find a quote or inspirational message that resonates with your organization’s mission. Send out one word to each attendee, prompting them to create a small sign showcasing that word, decorating the sign however they like. The night of the event, you’ll call on each attendee to hold up their sign to reveal a special message. You’ll have the group excited to see what you’re spelling out and keeps them engaged, looking forward to this portion of the program. Don’t forget to tell everyone to hold up their sign and smile for a picture! Share the picture post-event in all forms of communication as a fond memory of this team effort.
If a large coordinated group effort seems too much to take on, consider engaging each table captain in an element of the program. Perhaps, ask each captain to prepare a question for your speaker and have them ask the question live on camera.
If you need additional support as you plan your next event, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to chat with you and figure out how we can help.