How nonprofits can execute a successful and profitable live virtual gala.

1. What do I need to successfully execute a live virtual gala?

It’s simple really: Find a benefit specialist who will brainstorm and lead you through everything you need, study the data, introduce you to vendor solutions, share best practices, etc. Some things you’ll need:

  • Online mobile event software
  • Tech team
  • A place to broadcast from – literally anywhere!
  • The option of pre-recording your event speaker(s)
  • Succinct run-of-show
  • Engaging script
  • Vital visuals
  • A strong emcee
  • A fundraising professional
  • Production assistants posting real-time responses
  • Innovative fundraising strategies
  • Spectacular donor development strategies

2.  Does a VG’s run-of-show differ from a traditional in-person ROS?

Absolutely! Almost everything is different. Most notably, virtual galas are MUCH shorter. Select only content that is one of the Big Five things: 1. Educational 2. Emotionally compelling 3. Impactful 4. Money-making or 5. Entertaining. If it isn’t, it doesn’t belong in your virtual program.

3. How does broadcast technology work? Can you really be somewhere else in the country?

Yes! This is the beauty of VGs and one of the main benefits – you are no longer limited by geography. You can choose to work with any number of professional personalities and broadcast them from anywhere in the world – to anywhere in the world – thus widening the net you cast, and the group of donors you entice to view your programming and support your mission.

Some mobile bidding platforms allow folks to log in to both see the show and bid from within in one place. There is a major disadvantage, in that you have little to no control over technical production and how folks see and experience the show. The upside? Less latency and lag time between when bidders bid and when the hosts receive bid advances.

With some other VGs you view the show from one device (your smart TV, lap/desktop, or tablet) and bid from another (typically a phone or tablet). The downside? Increased latency and longer lag times between when bids are placed and when virtual hosts receive them. This can get awkward very quickly, especially if you’re not using a pro. The benefit? A much more visually appealing and professionally produced end-product that you can tailor and customize as you wish!

Both styles employ similar technology, with video being streamed live to any number of backend platforms (YouTube, Facebook live, Instagram live, Vimeo, Twitch, bidding platforms, etc.) allowing viewers to engage.

4. How does mobile bidding software work?

Have you been to a traditional gala where silent auction bidding was happening from your mobile phone, or by volunteers circulating with tablets helping bidders place bids? This is mobile bidding in action! The good news is that most savvy donors have been to at least one event where mobile bidding was occurring, so it’s not a completely foreign concept. It’s easy, fun and effective.

If you already utilize professional event software for your org, simply ask your vendor if their platform offers mobile bidding functionality. If it does, it’s likely you can continue using your favorite software for VGs, along with any traditional in-person events you host each year. If it doesn’t, it may be high time for a systems upgrade. Nearly all online methods of giving will require it. And frankly, all event experiences are better with the right software.

Mobile bidding generally requires two things – 1. Solid internet capabilities and 2. Donors to register by providing some basic personal identification and contact information, as well as a credit card number. Then, once your donor places a bid, they’ll receive a text or email when they’ve been outbid. This works to entice them to continue bidding and advancing their bid increments. It’s slick, simple and quite fun!

5. How should I set up my silent auction in a virtual fundraising environment?

The short answer? The same way you would for an in-person event. Photograph silent auction items attractively, write catchy, pithy item descriptions detailing what is for sale, assign each package an item number within your mobile bidding platform and let the bidding begin! Of course, you’ll also need some great marketing strategies to bring in the donors and lead them to your wares. But the basic premise is the same.

Find a fundraising professional in your area.

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