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Live Virtual Galas: Lessons Learned from Hosting 250 Virtual Galas

Hosting a virtual gala gives your nonprofit or charity many fundraising options that you may not be familiar with. While each of these virtual events tools can help raise a lot of money, it’s important to look at the needs of your audience to determine which options offer them the best experience.

Tailoring your fundraiser to your audience needs helps attract more supporters to your cause. You’ll also be able to encourage your attendees to participate and donate more. By taking advantage of the tools available to you, your nonprofit’s virtual events will continue to improve and bring in larger audiences capable of keeping your organization well-funded.

After hosting over 250 virtual galas for clients ranging from the Salvation Army to the Oakland Zoo, PayBee knows how to host memorable and fun virtual fundraising events for churches, schools, charities, and many other nonprofit institutions.

Our online fundraising platforms have helped raise over $15 million in donations and have supported 30,000 attendees, enabling us to learn the best practices for holding a virtual gala.  

In this article, we’ll offer the most important lessons we’ve learned for hosting virtual events—with suggestions for how you can apply these practices to your own fundraisers.  

Format Your Virtual Event to Fit Your Audience’s Needs

Successful virtual galas generally last 45 minutes to an hour. This gives your nonprofit group or charity sufficient time to educate attendees about your mission, offer entertainment, and collect donations.

To make sure your audience has a good experience, keep their interests in mind. If you’ve hosted virtual events for the same group of supporters, you’ll know the type of activities that encourage the most generous donations. If you’re dealing with a new audience, popular virtual fundraising ideas include:

  • Live performances: Celebrity performers or livestreaming bands offer great entertainment options.
  • Live or silent virtual auctions: We recommend opening a silent auction at least one week before your actual event to encourage more bids
  • Pledge drives: We’ve found the majority of all donations come from pledge drives, so it’s a good idea to offer pledge drives throughout your virtual event.
  • Live video presentation: This is an excellent way to educate your audience about your cause and can be presented as a webinar or a Q&A session for greater audience participation.
  • Online games: PayBee’s platform supports a popular Last Hero Donation Game that lets attendees donate to win a prize, with each donation going toward your fundraising efforts.    

Knowing your audience also affects the way you need to schedule your virtual gala. If your audience consists of regular donors familiar with your virtual fundraisers, offer straightforward programming. Provide your main entertainment in a single segment since you know your guests will be ready to participate.  

On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a new audience that isn’t familiar with your virtual galas, you may have to deal with more fickle attendance. In this case, you’ll want to plan your prime programming for when attendance is high.

You might also consider splitting some of your auction events and pledge drives into several different segments. This way, both your on-time attendees and latecomers will be able to participate in your activities, ensuring everyone has a good time—which encourages more donations.

Above all, be flexible. Donors with busy schedules appreciate virtual events since they can simply drop in, donate, and then leave. We recommend keeping a donate button live on your virtual gala interface throughout the entire event. This way, all attendees can contribute to your cause without waiting for your auction event or pledge drive.

Consider the Benefits of Live-Streaming and Pre-Recorded Video

Virtual events give you the option of having your on-camera presentations be performed live or via pre-recorded video. PayBee has seen benefits with using both formats.

Live-streaming offers many advantages, including:

  • More human interaction: Donors appreciate being able to interact with live-streaming presenters through Q&As, games, and general socialization.
  • Better audience participation: We’ve found using a live auctioneer during online auctions helps raise participation among attendees.
  • Lower cost: While exceptions exist, live video generally costs less than pre-recorded video since the focus is on the presenter and not any special production values in the video.

However, pre-recorded video also comes with its own benefits, such as:

  • Fewer technical difficulties: By pre-recording a video, you avoid any glitches or performance issues that may arise in a live presentation.  
  • Greater production value: Depending on your budget, you can produce a pre-recorded video with animation, music, sound effects and other features.
  • Memorable production: Certain audiences respond very favorably to a well-produced video explaining your mission—and will be motivated to donate more to your cause.

The good news is that you don’t have to choose between using only live-streaming or pre-recorded video. With virtual galas, you can mix and match the two until you find the right blend for your budget and audience.

Keep Your Audience Engaged Throughout the Entire Virtual Gala

Keeping your virtual fundraiser between 45 minutes and an hour helps keep your audience engaged throughout the gala. You should also take advantage of the online tools provided by your fundraising platform to make sure your audience is focused on your activities.

PayBee offers an event controller that provides a live account of how many attendees are currently in your virtual event. This gives you the option of making game time decisions during the gala. If you find some segments of your virtual event are causing audience members to leave prematurely, you can cut these events short and move on to more stimulating entertainment or activities.

Our platform also gives you the option of using a full screen video mode that allows you to fill your audience’s entire computer screen with a single video. This is useful if you need to focus on an important message or entertainment, but we’ve found that overusing this feature can cause attendees to drop out of your virtual event.

For this reason, be sure to use the full screen video mode sparingly, especially during the following activities:

  • Online auctions
  • Pledge drives
  • Last hero donation game

Remember, virtual events work best when all the elements of a platform are working together, so don’t just make your audience focus on full-screen video content.

Send Follow-Up Emails to Attendees with Outstanding Donations

A secure virtual conference platform like PayBee allows your supporters to donate quickly and conveniently using their credit cards, Google Pay, Apple Pay, or even bank accounts.

However, as convenient as donating online is, sometimes your supporters will log out of your virtual fundraiser without completing their checkout process. This means you’ll have some donors with outstanding pledges or fees that need collecting.

We’ve found the best way to collect these donations is to send follow-up emails complete with links that helps donors easily complete their pledges and pay for auction items. Depending on the type of online platform you choose to use, this can be a very simple process.

PayBee Post Event Reporting offers detailed reports of your events, showing how much money was donated and how much is still pending. Since this list includes your donors’ emails, you can instantly send email reminders to all attendees with outstanding pledges.

Keep in mind that some of your donors will still be more comfortable donating or paying for auctioned items by cash or check. PayBee offers a way to select those donation methods as well, making it convenient for all of your supporters to participate in your fundraiser the way they want to.

Hosting a Successful Virtual Fundraiser

Thanks to advances in technology, hosting a virtual gala that keeps your nonprofit or charity well-funded is not only possible but also easier than ever.

However, any nonprofit organization that’s hosted an in-person fundraiser knows that it pays (literally) to employ the services of a fundraising consultant. Some lessons can only be learned by experience, and having someone who knows how to navigate the challenges of planning and coordinating a fundraising event can make all the difference in your event’s success.

Virtual fundraising events are no different. While most people are still getting used to the possibilities offered by virtual gala technology, online platform providers like PayBee already have a wealth of virtual fundraising tactics earned from hosting literally hundreds of virtual events.

Please make sure to plan your events to fit your audience’s needs. Schedule your activities and offer entertainment in a way that will keep your supporters interested. Be prepared to make on-the-spot decisions to keep your audience engaged and make sure to follow up with attendees to ensure you collect all your pledges and donations.      

And if you need more help, know that PayBee is ready and able to provide you with virtual event solutions and guide you through every step of your virtual fundraising event. We’re committed to making your next fundraising event as user-friendly as possible—for both you and your audience.

Ready to learn more? Then sign up for a free live demo of one of our virtual events. You’ll be able to experience exactly what your audience sees and hears during our online galas. And you can participate in a live Q&A session where you can learn more of the best practices to employ during a virtual fundraising event!

Michael Jung

Michael-Jung