On July 28. 2020, Reggie Rivers participated in a webinar organized by Pursuant, a Dallas-based fundraising intelligence company that uses data to drive donor engagement.
Below is a replay of the webinar, plus additional questions that we answered after the webinar was completed.
Webinar about hosting a Virtual Gala and using Pursuant's GivingDNA Platform to ensure that the right people attend your gala.
I hear you Fred! :-) When something significant happens in the world, there is always some term that gets used over and over again, because it’s so apt for the situation, but it quickly wears thin.
However, in defense of the term “pivoting” I will say this:
The point is that sometimes the status quo and/or small adjustments to the status quo are not going to help you survive.
Sometimes a dramatic "pivot" away from the previous course and toward an entirely new course is the only way to survive and thrive.
It’s as if some unseen force was holding our heads under water. The natural reaction would be to spend all of your time and energy trying to get out from under the force and raise your mouth above the surface to take a breath.
OR you could mentally "pivot" and recognize that the condition of being held under water isn't going to end soon, so you shift your focus to surviving without getting your mouth above the surface.
This lateral thinking leads you to create a makeshift snorkel, which extends above the surface and allows you to breath easily. Now you've pivoted away from the issue that's causing everyone else to thrash about in an unproductive panic, and you can spend your time and energy solving entirely different problems.
Obviously, attendance is a relative thing. Some groups will be ecstatic to get 200 people. While others would be disappointed with anything below 2,000. It's relative.
Generally speaking, the nonprofits that we've worked with thus far have been pleased with the attendance of their virtual galas. Overall, attendance has met their expectations -- whatever those expectations were.
There have been a few cases where attendance was lower than expected, but it's hard to know what that means? Did something happen that caused lower attendance? Did something NOT happen that would have produced higher attendance? Was the attendance goal set too high?
We're still very early in the virtual gala journey, so we're still learning about attendance.
One way to get some truly comparable numbers is to ask your mobile bidding company to run a report comparing the number of registered donors in your 2019 in-person event vs the registered donors during your 2020 virtual event.
One big attendance booster is Facebook Live. Below is a video in which we explain how Facebook Live took one nonprofit event to whole new heights.
In this video we compare three events that happened in the same week, but one of the three was on Facebook Live, and the attendance was astounding!
Obviously, results vary. We did a Mercy Housing event that raised nearly $700,000 in the paddle raiser. We've done some tiny nonprofit events that raised just $15,000 in the paddle raiser.
How much a virtual gala raises is hard to answer, but based on feedback from our nonprofit partners who have gone virtual, the fundraising has been comparable to their prior year's in-person event.
Two of our clients generously shared the case studies below so that other nonprofits could see their actual numbers.
If you're talking about people who have attended your in-person event in the past, we don't believe the number of virtual invitations they receive matters.
When they attended your in-person event, they prioritized your organization in a way that they did for few others. They made the appointment, arranged a babysitter, groomed themselves, got dressed up, fought traffic to get to your venue, dealt with parking, and came into your event.
The level of effort that they put into attending in person, confirms that your organization is special to them. So just reach out and ask them to support your virtual gala. Don't worry about the other invitations they may receive.
I'm not sure exactly what's involved with a Senior Class Campaign, but I have to believe that virtual fundraising can help. Here is a link to sign up for our Virtual Gala at Home Course. Use the promo code "Pursuant" to get 20% off.
Actually, in the events we've done both things are happening -- at least in the paddle raiser. Most of the groups have raised more top-line revenue than in their previous year's paddle raiser, and of course they're netting more overall, because the cost of putting on a virtual event is much lower than a live event.
We are generally not privy to all of the fundraising information for our clients (e.g. ticket sales, table sales, other sponsorship dollars). We're typically only aware of what they raise through the microphone on the night of the event. So we can't say for sure, but from the information available to us, it appears that most organizations are raising close to the same top-line revenue as in prior years.
Dan, we agree with you! Streamyard is Amazing. It's super simple, super capable and very affordable. Anyone who wants to check it out, and click here to visit their home page.
The reason that we recommend Zoom is that Zoom is an elephant in the industry. It was founded in 2011 and went public in 2019, with a market cap of $16 Billion at the end of the first day of its Initial Public Offering (IPO).
Everyone knows Zoom. Everyone is using Zoom. If something happened to cause Zoom to collapse, everyone would understand and commiserate with you.
But what if we recommend a company like StreamYard? Their software is amazing, and it's easy to use, but they're a very young company (founded in July 2018), it appears that they have fewer than 10 employees, and who knows if they're going to get their next round of funding. If we recommend StreamYard, and they go out of business or the platform fails on the night of an event, then we'll wonder, "why didn't we just recommend the elephant?"
Early on, we realized that we did not have the ability to evaluate the various tech options that were available. Was StreamYard the best? What about Webinar Ninja? What about Cisco's WebEx? What about Skype?
We can look at each of those options, and say that we like this feature or that feature, but we're really not qualified to evaluate the company and really determine how reliable their technology is, how well funded they are, how well staffed they are, how well protected from hackers they are, etc.
So rather than testing out other streaming platforms, we just decided to sit on Zoom, because it's an elephant.
One of the keys to engagement in your virtual gala is to use different types of content.
You'll have live speakers on camera, powerpoint slides, videos, and leaderboard screens (mobile bidding company has those).
Here is a list of all of the content elements you'll need.
In an in-person gala, there are the Four F's of Fundraising:
A good, in-person event does all of these things simultaneously and in the proper proportions.
You want to throw a good party, but you don't want the party to be so good that it harms your fundraising.
You want to recognize your sponsors and important donors, but not in a way that causes the rest of the audience to feel that the work is done. The money has been raised. No need for anyone else to donate a dime.
So finding the right balance is imperative.
With a virtual gala, we believe your balance should be lopsided in favor of fundraising.
It might not be the best party you've ever thrown. It might not be the best friend-raising effort you've ever put forward. It might not kiss up to your sponsors the way you have in the past.
But maybe it doesn't need to do all those things. Your virtual gala is a lifeboat -- not a cruise ship. On the cruise ship, you could get a massage. On the lifeboat, you're content to have fresh water to drink. :-)
Focus your virtual gala on effectively sharing your mission and effectively asking for support. Mission and Fundraising are the only two imperatives. Everything else can be included ONLY if it doesn't harm your two imperatives.
Music is a complicated topic, and we're not well-versed enough in copyright law to guide you.
Presumably, if the artist is performing the song, you have permission, but how does Facebook's algorithm know that it's the actual artist and he or she has given permission?
We had an event during which two high school students performed the song "Imagine" by John Lennon. One student was on piano, the other was on cello. Apparently, they did a really good job, because Facebook's algorithm heard the music, recognized it, and killed the Facebook Live broadcast.
Fortunately, we were able to reconnect in less than 2 minutes, but getting shut down is traumatic.
We can tell you that Facebook has created "Facebook Sound Collection," which is full of royalty free music owned by Facebook that you can use in your videos and broadcasts to ensure that Facebook doesn't shut you down for copyright infringement.
But beyond that, we're not qualified to offer any advice on copyrights.
It depends on what you mean by "engagement". If you mean, how can you make your virtual gala so entertaining and so enthralling that people will treat it like the finale of the show "Survivor" -- and they won't shower, feed their children or take their dog for a walk for fear that they might miss even a moment of your Virtual Gala -- well .... we wish you good luck with that grand mission.
If you mean how can you hold their attention long enough to achieve your fundraising goals, yes, that's definitely possible. Just stay focused on your mission. That's why people are there.
This sounds as if it could be a great event and a lot of fun. But I worry that in taking this approach we're not recognizing what your donors actually want from you and value about you.
Nearly all of us have a natural fear of asking for money. We've created an animated video that covers this topic. This fear leads us to undervalue our biggest asset (our mission) and overvalue lesser assets (e.g. food, drinks and entertainment).
Our thought is that if we're going to get them to attend, engage and contribute, then we have to give them food and entertainment.
We think you hold your virtual gala and simply ask your donors for support. You'll be pleasantly surprised by their response.
We're not experts on stewardship events, however I suspect that they would not be the same as a typical fundraising event.
I would guess that they would be more intimate -- maybe no more than 20 people -- and they'd be more like a regular Zoom call, during which members of the audience are encouraged to turn on their mics and cameras and speak up during the program. You typically would never do that in a regular fundraising event.
First, selling sponsorships and/or doing sponsor activations is not our expertise. We're typically not involved in the sponsor journey.
However, here are some rough ideas:
Honestly, I don't think there is any way to virtually replicate the powerful socializing and networking that happens during an in-person gala. Any attempt to create Zoom rooms, or a VIP session, etc, is likely to come off as forced and awkward.
But here are a couple of ideas:
We're not sure what would be required to keep donors engaged in a totally pre-recorded event.
In a typical event, whether it's virtual or in-person, you're making an appointment with your donors, and at the appointed time, you're engaging with them live in some form or fashion.
If it's 100% pre-recorded, then it's instantly video on demand, and you're just encouraging people to watch it when they have a moment, which is not highly engaging.
Or if you're making an appointment with them (say 7 pm on a Saturday night), and then releasing the pre-recorded video, it's almost as if you're saying, "Hey we want you to tune in at 7 pm on Saturday night, but we're not going to be there. We recorded this at 10 am on Wednesday morning, because that was more convenient than joining you on Saturday night."
Of course, every virtual gala is going to have plenty of pre-recorded content in it, but we believe that the fundraising should be conducted live, and other elements of the program should be live too.
It's hard to understand how powerful LIVE can be in our totally video-on-demand world. There's a reason that Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn all offer opportunities for their users to "Go Live". It's a much more energetic and engaging format.
To answer this question, we need to know what you mean by "video/media" budget.
If you're looking at your prior year budget and saying, " how much did we allocate for video production and media?" you're probably going to come up with a fairly low number.
But if you're an organization that hosts an annual fundraising dinner (or breakfast or lunch), then the real question is "how much did we spend last year putting on our event.
The cost of doing a virtual gala will be a fraction of that number.
Yes, videos are a vital component of the successful virtual gala. Bandwidth issues on Zoom are among the reasons that we strongly recommend that you work with a production studio to do your event.
Yes, we have seen that, and if you're a performance organization, that seems to work well. A good example of it was the Black Ensemble Theater event in Chicaco. Another good example was the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra event
Those are both performance-cased organizations, and people love them and support them because of the strength of their performances. If you are this type of organization, then I would say following that approach is good. But if performance is not your core competency, then I would recommend against doing a variety show or music. Just stayed forced on your mission and your impact.
A Zoom meeting can do that, but we wouldn't recommend hosting an event this way unless your audience is extremely small (e.g. fewer than 30 people). And event then, this will look very much like a Zoom call that everyone is on for work every day.
If you're going to use Zoom, we recommend upgrading your subscription so you have a webinar license, and do your event in Webinar mode. The only people who should be on the "stage" are your presenters. Everyone else should be in the audience with no ability to turn on their cameras or microphones. They can engage with each other and with the event via the chat.
Remember, your virtual gala is like a television broadcast -- the information is mostly going out, and you'll use information from the chat or from the mobile bidding results to bring comments and actions by your donors into the broadcast.
That's still a somewhat tough sell. I'm writing this response in mid-February 2021, and it seems clear to me that given the sheet number of people who need to be vaccinated, and the significant "last-mile" delivery challenges to get the shots into people's arms, we are unlikely to be back in hotel ballrooms until Spring 2022 -- at the earliest!
That's why, as much as we'd love to return to ballrooms, we are encouraging all of our nonprofit partners to just go virtual for 2021. Commit to it and don't look back. Once you make the commitment, then momentum starts building and you're able to move forward with your plan.
I know that many of you have boards that are straddling the divide, with one side of hoping that your event will be in-person and the other side reluctantly preparing to switch to virtual, if necessary. This is a recipe for disappointment and under-performance. The old saying is that you can't ride two horses with one behind. We recommend that you get yourself squarely seated on the virtual horse.
No, we have not done a virtual gala with a breakout room format. We're not sure how that would go, but the mere suggestion of it makes us think the following:
We think breakout rooms are probably not a good ingredient for a successful virtual gala.
This is a great question, but hard to explain in just a few words. The structure that we outline in our online course will help you avoid looking like a typical Zoom call.
But here are a couple of examples.
Those are just a couple of examples of how your Virtual Gala will look different from the typical Zoom call for work.
We won't know the answer to this question for sure until we at least get through the Fall 2020 season and the Spring 2021 season.
However, our gut tells us that as the economy starts to open up again, Virtual Galas may have a hard time competing with the restaurants, bars, movie theaters, skiing trips, camping trips, etc. that people engage in on the weekends.
Your Virtual Gala might compete better against the activities that people normally do on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday nights.
Regarding time of day, we still believe that evenings will be better than day-time events for one simple reason -- couples.
You raise more money from couples than you do from single members of a partnership. Since people are still working -- even if it's at home -- you'll have a better shot at getting both spouses to sit down for your Virtual Event if you schedule it after the workday is over.
You can learn more about the importance of couples by reading Chapter 19 of our free Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Record-Breaking Paddle Raiser.
We recommend that you take your cues from the television industry. TV shows typically come in two lengths - 30 minutes or 60 minutes.
Every once in a while there's a 2-hour grand finale, but that's only after the audience is deeply emotionally invested in the characters and the storylines.
So we recommend that you aim for a program length of 30 to 45 minutes. Obviously, some organizations can get away with longer events -- e.g. an orchestra or some other performing arts group that already has digital performance experience -- but for everyone else 30 to 45 minutes is more than enough time.
For years the key to our successful paddle raisers has always been teamwork. We recognize that a "team" of people will always accomplish more than a "group" of people, so we encourage the audience to act like a team.
In Chapter 9 of our free Step-by-Step Guide to Conducting a Record-Breaking Paddle Raiser, we explain the power of teamwork in fundraising.
Obviously, a virtual event is significantly different from the in-person gala, so the teamwork element is harder to implement.
But it can be done. Ask your mobile bidding company about their "leaderboard" capabilities. You want to have a screen that shows the running total of your paddle raiser.
As you approach key milestones, you're asking people to join the team and help get us past that milestone.
For example, "We're at 97,000 right now. If we had six more people donate at the $500 level, we could hit $100,000! Will you join the team at the $500 level? Will you help us reach this milestone?"
ANOTHER TECHNIQUE - At a certain level you may have a match. It could be a $20,000 match at the $1,000 level. So you're trying to get 20 people to donate $1,000.
You'll need someone on your team who is logged into the mobile bidding software and can see all the people who donated $1,000. You want to provide your auctioneer with numbered list of the names, so he or she can say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we have 17 people at $1,000. We just need three more people at $1,000 to earn this entire $20,000 match. Can you join us at that level? Can you get us to the match? This is your moment to step in and be the hero."
This is the way in which we can ask virtual guests to team up with other donors to achieve fundraising goals.
This is another question that probably will be an unknown until we've gone through a full cycle of Fall and Spring events in COVID.
The Spring 2020 events had the advantage of having COVID-19 "spung" on them. They had already sold all their tickets. They'd already sold all their sponsorships. They just had to pivot to virtual.
The Fall 2020 events have a different challenge. They have to decide whether they sell tickets or make it open to the public.
Our recommendation at the moment is to keep it free and open to the public. If you're using Facebook Live, you want every guest to click the "Share" button and share your virtual gala on their pages so their friends and family can see it.
In this blog post, we explain the enormous Benefit of Hosting Your Virtual Gala on Facebook Live.
Yes, we do have a sample timeline that outlines the key markers in your virtual gala.
You can download that below. If you take our Step-by-Step Virtual Gala Course, you'll be able to download our timeline spreadsheet and our script template that has the script 90% written for you.
In an ideal virtual world, you'll do a Virtual Gala in a Studio rather than a Virtual Gala at Home.
If you visit our Virtual Gala in a Studio page, you can watch a 7-minute video that explains the capabilities you gain from using a production company.
Of course, that assumes that social distancing rules will allow you to have about 10 people in a room together (still wearing masks except when speakers are actually speaking and still social distancing).
If you cannot get people together and you're going to do your Virtual Gala with everyone in their own homes, then you'll want someone on your team to take our Step-by-Step Virtual Gala course and pay special attention to the Content Manager sections that will show him or her exactly how to perform that function.
It sounds intimidating, but if the person knows how to use powerpoint, Zoom and Facebook, it's really not that hard for them to learn the Content Manager Role.
We've designed our Virtual Gala course with the assumption that the organizer has at least 6 weeks to prepare to go Virtual.
We're anticipating that most organizations that choose the virtual option are doing so only after all of their in-person hopes have been dashed, so they're not going to commit 9-12 months in advance like our in-person clients do.
They're going to be 2-3 months out when they make this decision.
Click below to download our Virtual Event Prep Schedule to get an idea of the meetings you'll hold along the
What meetings should you have and when should you have them?
This prep timeline will help you understand the rhythm of the preparation for your virtual gala.
As part of our Step-by-Step Virtual Gala Course, we include agendas and checklists for each meeting listed in the prep timeline so you know exactly what to do.
Unfortunately, we can't quote the prices of production companies. The AV Companies who provide lights, cameras, microphones, video services and streaming have been working with nonprofits in hotel ballrooms for decades.
Now they can help you with your virtual gala. Again, if you can do a Virtual Gala in a Studio, we encourage you to do so. It's the best shot at producing an event that very similar to what you're used to.
If you can't do that, then our Virtual Gala Course will help you DIY your production.
On a fundamental level, I don't believe in the concept of Zoom fatigue.
Yes, of course, we're all tired of being on Zoom, yet we keep doing it.
Because we're human beings and communicating is an imperative. Among the most cruel things you can do to a person is put him or her into solitary confinement. So yes, we may get tired of a particular method of communicating, but we'll continue to choose it because it's better than not communicating.
It's hard to know if Zoom fatigue is going to impact virtual galas. The real question is: Will people be so tired of Zoom that they won't support the causes they care about? I don't think so.
I suspect that Zoom fatigue will be something that' will only truly visible in hindsight and only if it covers a healthy swath of events about which we had a good idea how many people "should" have attended those events.
But we should put our minds at ease and accept the reality that your supporters and donors are tougher than we think they are.
They already go through a lot to get to your in-person events -- shopping for outfits, hair, nails, makeup, babysitters, traffic, and parking, and that's just to arrive at the front door of your event.
So they're making a significant effort to support you because they believe in your mission. Even if they are a little bit Zoom fatigued, their love of your mission will make them tune in to support you.
In the answers above, we've given some ideas about how to engage the audience. But this question is more about what you can do to engage people in ways that bring the physical world and the virtual world together.
I'm going to mostly pass on this question, because we are not event planners, and this is really a question for an event planner.
There are ideas such as:
But this is truly out of our lane. We are not experts at those dimensions of event planning.
It's pretty easy to send your Zoom webinar broadcast to Facebook Live. There's literally a button at the bottom of the Host's Zoom screen that says, Go Live on Facebook.
You click that, select the Facebook Page you want to broadcast onto, and submit.
Of course, you need to have the right Zoom subscription and webinar license, and you need to be an admin on the nonprofit's Facebook.
But it's not complicated. We cover all of that including a downloadable guide for your Content Manager in our Step-by-Step Virtual Gala course.
Hey Fred, don't let my mother hear you say that!! :-)
She'll hit you with her walker!! :-)
That's a fair point. I don't work for a nonprofit, but my company partners with nonprofits to help them achieve their fundraising goals.
I've had a lot of jobs in my life. I've earned a 6-figure income in 7 different industries, so I've always been able to generate revenue for myself and my family.
But no job has given me the type of satisfaction I get from The Gala Team.
My corporate motivational speaking pays significantly more than benefit auctioneering, but I do corporate events just to fill the coffers. I do nonprofit fundraising events to fill my heart.