One of the most talked about topics of pivoting to a virtual gala is the fear of putting on a show that no one will want to watch. If you have spent time watching a few virtual galas over the past year, you know what I am talking about! From watching boring pre-recorded programs, witnessing horrid sound and video challenges that negatively impact the brand, to watching on a show that simply just has uninspiring content, have left many organizations hesitant to pull the trigger on this year’s event. Is it worth the investment?

There are solid reasons to go low budget for your virtual gala, and just zoom your way to checking that box that you put on your gala for the year. It can work. Ultimately, it all comes down to the connection to your donor base, and how committed they are to attending your event. If you can’t get people to attend your event, the quality of your gala production is hardly relevant.

But, as the title of this article implies, The Show MUST Go On! Because we still need to stay connected with our donors, and frankly, we still need to find ways to fundraise to sustain our missions. Below are some thoughts on what it will take for you to put on a virtual gala you can be proud of. We will leave the “How To” for another post, but what can you and your team do to make your gala worth watching?

Before we start, we can look to shows like America’s Got Talent, and the Bachelor/Bachelorette, and The Voice for inspiration; what is it about these shows that are compelling for audiences to tune in? In gala terms, these are the areas to consider:

Promotion: It is essential that you have a strong promotion effort in place. This means more than just an email invitation to register for the event. You need to pull all stops and showcase your event as if it is the best thing to do on that evening. Be bold, and use all channels to get the word out, including word of mouth.

Teasers: I like to call this the “great reveal.” Shows like, The Voice, will often play on intrigue teasing a new twist for this week’s program. Planning a big announcement, the night of will catch people’s attention. This could be a winner of a raffle or an award announcement, or something exciting about the organization to announce (new director, new campaign, new logo, etc.). Tease this announcement leading up to your event date. Create intrigue!

Entertainment: Make sure you have someone on your team stepping back and affirming that the run of show has entertainment value. It is easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the event planning, and not realize the show needs some pep. Will it hold people’s attention, are they looking forward to it? Is there something they will see on your program that they likely will NOT see anywhere else? Local humor, authenticity are nice plays here to differentiate your event from other options.

Storytelling: Shows like The Voice do a good job of letting the audience get to know the performers and their back story, which then hooks the attendees into pulling for (supporting) certain people they can relate to. Having a story or stories intertwined into your program is a good way to keep your audience engaged and connected, and willing to support.

Engagement: Having multiple ways for the guests to engage is a way to keep your event top of mind, including the weeks prior to your event. Opening your silent auction, a week or more before, as well as having some sort of friendly contest that will reveal the winner the night of is a great way to created that social buzz you are looking for. Voting, trivia, and chatting are good tools to consider. For some sponsors or key donors, let them be part of the show as a live feed!

Gamification: Just like The Voice and others, people LOVE to vote and be able to influence the outcome of the show! What if you started a Text2Give event weeks in advance to engage your guests over time? For example, a Humane Society might have a contest deciding if their community is a “Cat Town” or a “Dog Town” … people will engage by voting with their donations. As donations grow, your audience gets updates on the contest. Donors can send a selfie of the pet along with their donation, and it posts to the giving site, making their pet famous! Of course, they want to find out what is the answer to our debate!

Feel free to reach out to hear more suggestions on making your event worth watching!


Dan Campbell