Marketing, alternative revenue streams and the future of fundraising.

1. Marketing & Communications – How do we spread the word about our pivot to a virtual gala?

Marketing and communications will likely determine just how successful your pivot to virtual will be. Remember, this IS your donors’ first rodeo, in a live virtual giving environment. They don’t know what to expect or how to participate until you educate them. And do so in a way that shows them how fun and easy it can be to go virtual while highlighting your important mission and the impact you have on your community and the people you serve.

When crafting strategies, there are a number of things to mindfully consider. First, announcing your pivot from traditional to a virtual gala and communicating the details (date, time, links to register and watch). Next, messaging: What do you need to convey to your sponsors, major donors, ticket holding attendees and table hosts? Also, how will you market your live and silent auction items? What other revenue streams will you utilize? How will you communicate your mission while showing folks your resourceful, innovative and nimble spirit?! Your words and their tone make a huge impact in all things, but especially here in the virtual world. So get creative, over communicate and have fun!

2. What other revenue streams can we pair with our VG?

This all depends on your state and local laws. Start there or seek expert advice from your professional fundraisers. Some states will allow for raffles, drawings, wine activities, games and more. Many traditional revenue streams can be adapted for virtual, so get creative and see what you come up with.

Many successful pivots to virtual have also included simultaneous online auctions (both live and silent offerings that can run for several days before and/or after the virtual event), as well as extended giving time (1-3 days) via the virtual paddle raise or special appeal.

3. Where will the future of fundraising events lead?

We’d love for everything to go back to the way it was pre-global pandemic. But it won’t. Fundraising events are forever changed. Donors and orgs are too savvy and frankly, do you want to sit in a crowd of 500 people right now? Now that supporters are familiar with online and virtual giving, and NPOs and organizations understand that they can generate commensurate revenue without incurring the expense of a traditional gala – why would they rely on what once was?

Another new innovation on the horizon is hybrid fundraising events. These will marry the best of both virtual and in-person events – blending what we love about each into a fusion experience for all guests – the homebodies and the social butterflies alike!

Picture this: A premiere sponsor and/or major donor gala, filled with perhaps 50-150 of your top-giving and honored benefactors. Imagine a VIP affair, top-dollar ticket prices reflecting top-notch guest experience. Perhaps their meals are chef-prepared, organic, multi-course extravaganzas with superbly-paired wine, speciality desserts crafted by the very best bakeries; entertainment is curated and perfectly suited to their preferences. Onsite or valet parking. A venue decorated to the nines with magnificent lighting, sound and visuals. And because there are so many fewer people in attendance, the cost to host this event is much less than you’re used to paying for larger crowds.

Meanwhile, the folks who prefer not to pay hefty ticket prices, get dolled up, leave their homes or socialize en masse, can, from the comfort of their own homes, kick back and show the love for you by joining your program virtually.

In a hybrid event scenario, major donors, sponsors, competitive bidders and philanthropic-type personalities will all be satisfied. One event – completely different experiences for guests. The pros are many – fewer expenses are incurred due to the limited number of people you are creating a curated in-person experience for (smaller venue, less spent on catering, AV, decor and fewer volunteers needed). Talk about equity – everyone can choose their preferred method of interacting with and supporting you and your org.

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Misty Marquam, BAS, founder, principal and auctioneer for Marquam Auction Agency contributed to this article.