‘Tis the season for galas, end-of-year award ceremonies, and fundraising events! But this year, many nonprofit and membership groups are facing the challenge of organizing an annual gala event virtually for the first time. Here are five best practices we’ve seen with previous successful virtual galas and nonprofit events.

1. Bring on the entertainment.

One best practice for nonprofits and membership organizations is creating a unique experience for guests. The ILEA (International Live Events Association) Gala achieved this by incorporating silk performers, a live jazz band, cooking demos, a cocktail class, and a magic show at their virtual gala.

The Hollywood-themed, two-hour event, chaired by Madeline Raithel of Entire Productions, who has organized over 60 virtual events in the last six months, went virtual for the first time and had a 90% attendee turnout rate, achieving their goals of both fundraising and presenting chapter awards.

For your entertainment segments, you no longer have to pay for a venue or worry about barriers such as guest parking. So virtual gala event planners shift focus to high-quality audio and video. Leveraging platforms like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) delivers high quality streaming for live and pre-recorded content.

And while event planners have experienced their own virtual pivot, so have A/V companies. Working with a production studio can bring that next level of creativity to your event. For entertainers, virtual events offer a huge draw since they can walk away with high-quality marketing videos after the event.

2. Incorporate a "Fund-A-Need."

Another best practice for gala events is incorporating a fund-a-need, where you make “the ask” for attendees to make a live donation at the event. Make sure to include an inspirational mission moment (video, short speaker or testimonial) that reminds attendees why they are there and what they are supporting. We’ve seen nonprofits do this really well virtually by sharing their donation progress graphic (usually a thermometer or donor board) on their Hopin Stage using either the built-in Hopin Studio, or via RTMP streaming.

Here’s a shortlist of best practices when making “the ask” virtually to drive the best results.

  • Set and share a fundraising goal with your attendees. This step is mission-critical to act as a motivation tool to help the organization garner as much funding as possible.
  • Make it extremely clear how to give. For organizers using a platform like GiveSmart, giving is as easy as texting the keyword to a designated contact number. Emphasize where to donate verbally and visually so attendees know where to donate, and pin a message with those details in the Hopin chat so it’s always top-of-mind and accessible.
  • Thank your donors! Have your MC call out specific donor names to thank them, and also take the time to thank donors again via the chat. Potlatch Fund had their drag entertainer MC calling out donors with a physical donation meter on their stage. Various team members engaged in the chat thanking the large donations coming in which helped them reach (and surpass) their fundraising goal of $70,000. This is a great way to engage and recognize individuals at the event! We also love how the buildOn Gala (below) had a scrolling screen that featured donor names while entertainer Andy Grammar performed.
  • Set clear donor levels for guests to choose from. Sharing at least five recommended donation levels to cater to both small and large donors: $10k - $5k - $1k - $500 - $250 - $100 - $50. Otherwise, it’s likely donors will give smaller amounts because there isn’t a clear expectation or ask.
  • Show the impact. Tie suggested donation amounts to how those amounts will be used (i.e., $2,500 funds a service project). This encourages donors to give specifically and motivates them to give at higher levels rather than just asking for general donations.

3. Create space to engage!

A virtual venue allows for more than enough opportunities for your attendees to interact and engage with one another. Make sure to leverage engagement tools such as the chat function, initiating polls, incorporating live audience Q&A, and networking. Don’t limit your event to just transitioning directly from one speaker to the next, open up opportunities throughout the programming for your attendees to engage with regular breaks and creative ways to “gamify” the event experience.

One nonprofit that builds schools in developing countries, buildOn, leverages their Sessions in Hopin to host small group discussions between donors and Student Ambassadors. Topics for the group discussions include themes like what leadership should look like as we work to build a more just and inclusive society. This works well for buildOn because it demonstrates first-hand the awesome work their Student Ambassadors are doing directly with the folks who are contributing towards their projects!

4. Approach your virtual gala as an opportunity for a wider reach.

Speakers you once couldn't afford (because you had to pay for their travel and lodging) might be within budget for the first time. And you’re no longer limited by your attendee’s location. Think about how much more revenue you can gain with a global audience.

5. Seek feedback!

Pay close attention to the chat to see who is engaging and what they like. Also make sure to send a post-event survey to collect feedback and learn what you might want to tweak for the next event.

Event planners know how much goes into producing an event, and virtual events are no different. With virtual and hybrid events you have the opportunity to share your mission and achieve fundraising impact via a worldwide audience. Many event professionals and production teams have been able to not just survive, but thrive in the new digital sphere of events thanks to the opportunities that open up when you have global reach.

Check out how Hopin can help with your next virtual event, and let us know about the creative ideas you have!