2020 was an upending year for everyone. Fundraising and event planning
are entirely different for the foreseeable future. Since May 2020 Galas at Home has produced 15 events and have studied countless others. We have compiled a short report on our learning and what you should consider for your 2021 fundraising plans. Here are some lessons learned, case studies and advice for the upcoming fundraising season.
Key Lessons Learned:
- Reach new donors
- Hybrid events are happening when permitted
- Draw in attendees with creative interaction
- Utilize easy-to-use platforms
- Role of event planners & auctioneers
Reach New Donor Bases
Most traditional, in-person galas are paid events. The way they are
structured makes it exclusive to those who have disposable income and can
easily get away for an evening. Such as retirees.
One of the major benefits we have seen are being able to include new
donors who traditionally wouldn’t come to a traditional gala. For example,
young families who find it harder to get away for an evening, or
children/teens who wouldn’t come but who could attend for an online event.
Case Study - Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National seashore offers education and volunteers to park related activities. Traditionally, they have an in person fundraiser dinner, cocktail hour and light hikes around the park. For 2020, we worked with them to create an interactive night. While they normally have 350 people attend their fundraiser, this year they had over 1000 watch the live stream and 118 people join their interactive after-party educational seminar. They were able to reach a whole new donor base they traditionally were unable to.
Check out their live stream here
We saw a shift with a number of clients asking for attendees to donate the
same amount that they would have purchased for the ticket.
Hybrid Events are happening when allowed
One of the primary reasons people attend galas are to network with people
locally and catch up with people they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to
As of November 2020, COVID cases in the US are still on the rise and have
yet to stabilize. However, some counties are allowed to have smaller
gatherings under certain conditions.
Being strategic in who you bring to your house parties or to a centralized
location can bring back a much needed sense of connectedness to one
Case Study- Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School
SJND is a private high school in Alameda, CA and normally host a very well attended in
person cocktail and dinner at a local country club. In 2020, they set up mini-house parties and the MC “checked in” on 4 different parties, had them on the screen and had some trivia questions for them. The virtual guests watching loved to see people from their community on the screen and were able to engage with them using the YouTube Live chat.
Finding Creative Interaction
Finding creative interaction is a key draw for attendees after months of people working from home with Zoom meetings for hours a day, people are experiencing “Zoom fatigue”. This term came about after people found that Zoom meetings are more exhausting than in-person ones.
For you as an advancement professional, people receiving your event
invitation may be looking at your event as “just another Zoom meeting, but
in the EVENING”. Not the most exciting prospect for most.
Finding ways to make events more engaging and exciting are really
important to entice people to attend your event. One element we have found
to work is by including interactive elements into your event.
While technically less complex, pre recorded events were way less fun than
a live event. Fully-pre recorded events can feel stale leave the attendee
wondering “why did I show up to this event at this time? If it’s all
prerecorded, why couldn’t I watch it anytime?”
Case Study- Opera Saratoga
Opera Saratoga was looking for a fun way to engage their donor base and knew people wanted to connect with each other. We worked together to create a beautiful treasure hunt, costume contest interspersed with live performances.
The Opera Saratoga Virtual Gala was only magical in the sense that is was unexpected fun. The gala was a well-paced, entertaining evening that took potentially dry segments like speeches, recognition of honorees, and the like, and made them into sincere tributes. … and it made more money than they thought they would…it was magical for Opera Saratoga who raised more than $60,000. According to the Artistic and General Director Lawrence Edelson that was more than their hoped-for goal. Opera Saratoga virtual event was featured in Northeast Public Radio
Easy to use donation/auction software is important
While every organization has fans that will donate to the organization no
matter what, you want to remove any and all barriers to making this
There are plenty of giving platforms out there and you want to find one that
makes it dead simple for even the most non-technical people.
The Role of Event Planners & Auctioneers
Once pretty every in-person event was canceled from March 2020 on, event
producers had to find their place in this new world. Thankfully, event planners are experts in high-pressure problem solving and connecting complex puzzle pieces together. This skill set translates very well to virtual events.
While the technologies and the pieces required for virtual events are
different than in-person ones, the skills required to manage these are still
valuable. We have worked with many clients who are event planners who
have successfully transitioned to a virtual context.
We are so impressed with the skills event planners bring to the table, we brought some of the best and brightest to work with us in house for our clients.
There are around 150 certified Benefit Auctioneers who specialize in
hosting galas and who have specific tactics to maximize ROI for the client.
In a virtual context where people can watch a host of great shows on Netflix
or Hulu, the stakes are higher to keep people engaged.
We have done events with both professional auctioneers, and MCs from the
community. The energy difference between the professionals and non-
professional hosts is often night and day. It’s impossible to scientifically
determine if auctioneers are worth the extra cost but it stands to reason
that if giving goes up when people are having a good time, the auctioneers
will give you a solid return on that ROI.
Planning for 2021
As you’re planning your virtual gala or fundraiser for 2021, what are the
key things you need to consider? Even if Covid cases start decreasing
(hopefully!!) the governments will open things up slowly and cautiously.
Until things are “back to normal” and people are back to being in person
again, here is our top list for things to consider based on our experience.
Get the right people to your event. The events that we have seen raise or exceed their goal have had great viewership and have had major donors contribute towards their goal. We have noticed, since we are able to do much of the heavy lifting for the
virtual event, the clients can spend the majority of their time working on
connecting with their donor base and getting them excited to come to their
event. Those who didn’t make their goals didn’t have many people viewing their
event at all.
Tell your COVID story. COVID-19 has changed how almost every non-profit has change their programming. Even for those very familiar with your organization, hearing how you have adapted your programming during COVID and the impact that has made in your community is going to be a particularly exciting part of your story that everyone can relate to.
Create live interactive experiences The traditional in-person format
- Improvisational Piano Comedian
- Costume contests
- Dance party where you can show the attendees on the screen
- Global Fam Jam Yoga and Dance Party
Reach new donors. As listed above, if your event normally caters to a particular type of demographic, virtual events can be far more inclusive as the barriers of
entry can be far lower (no ticket requirement, no babysitter required and is
shorter than a typical in-person event).
Some helpful questions:
What new demographic could be interested in our story?
Are their people from our community who moved away who can now
attend our event?
Galas At Home is entirely a service business so we aren’t tied to one platform and we are constantly on the hunt to find the best platforms based on our client’s vision of their event. We have found many clients are very focused on the actual technology platform instead of the run of show and getting people to your event. In our opinion, keep the platform very simple to maximize inclusion. There are many fancy new platforms that will likely not actually help your bottom line.
Streamyard or OBS pushing out to Facebook Live and YouTube Live right now are the best for general consumption.
- Very inclusive. Watching a YouTube video/stream is a very familiar experience.
- No app to download
- Chat is a great way to interact with your guests. People can connect with your hosts directly and with Streamyard, you can show the best comments on the screen.
- Free or very low cost
- Streamyard is easy to use while OBS is more complex and powerful
- No analytics to know the exact name of each attendee
- No ability for your guests to see each other.
Surprisingly, Zoom meeting (not Zoom Webinar) is common for our events
where seeing and interacting with each other is important. Common use
cases for this would be cocktail parties, educational seminars or table
captains hosting their friends.
- Really interactive, your host can unmute people if they want them to talk
- While still requiring an App download, many people are familiar with Zoom and have the app
- Zoombombing is a risk if the link is publicly accessible
- If not set up correctly, people unmuting themselves can be really disruptive
- Distracting if guests are browsing other attendees instead of focusing on your message
- Need to monitor each person’s video regularly for appropriateness
- The audio/video quality is degraded especially when playing videos
- External app which adds complexity
- Zoom requesting camera/mic might be shocking if your guests aren’t expecting to be on the screen.
DIY or Using a Professional
Want to do it yourself? Want more information on why we chose these platforms, here is an entire webinar playback “Livestreaming your non-profit’s fundraiser”
Partner with an experienced team. Advancement professionals are experts at managing in-person events, getting sponsors, getting people to the events and finding major donors to give. Virtual Fundraisers need a new set of expertise that advancement teams may not have already in house. Things like:
- Creating a high energy, 45 minute run of show that tells your story
- Making donations easy online
- Managing the flow for dry run
- What to show on the screen at the right time
- Learning and managing live streaming software
- Picking the appropriate live streaming solution for your vision of an event
Special thanks to Jevin Maltais from Galas At Home for sharing his expert advice. For a complete catalog of virtual event playbacks and case studies please visit Galas At Home. (Connect by email: firstname.lastname@example.org)