15 Must Know Tips for Throwing a Virtual Gala

Thousands of nonprofits are realizing the benefits of virtual galas. Virtual galas engage new donors, save event costs on food, staff and venue, and ultimately deliver donations that meet or exceed that of in-person events.

We’ve surveyed benefit auctioneers and consultants to put together their list of top tips for your virtual gala.

1. Invite everyone

Unlike in-person events, you are not constrained by space or cost. Hence, you needn’t be selective about who shows up. More attendees means you deliver you message to more people, and you have more auction bidders to drive up the winning bid.

2. Use “virtual table captains”

For you in-person event, table captains are responsible for filling a table with their friends and colleagues. For your virtual gala, assign table captains to get ten registrations who make a suggested donation of $100.

3. Don’t require, but encourage registrations

Registrations give you an opportunity to ask for a suggested donation as well as put an event reminder on registrants’ digital calendars. Encourage registrations by entering registrants in a prize drawing during your event.

4. Train your attendees

The virtual gala experience will be new to most of your attendees. Provide clear written instructions and a video showing how to log on, how to bid, and how to donate. Even host a training session, if necessary, for your heavy hitters who may happen to be Luddites. Put training instructions on the splash screen viewers see when they log in before your event.

5. Make a compelling case to sponsors

In many ways, a sponsors’ promotional benefit a virtual gala exceeds their benefit at your in-person gala. The video screen is small relative to an event space so the audience’s attention is more focused. Also, if you’re running an auction that spans several days, each sponsor receives a much longer promotional period than at your in-person event. Make this case to sponsors to convince them to give.

6. Keep your presentation short

Your virtual gala shouldn’t be longer than an hour. Otherwise, you will lose interest before you get to your fundraising. Impactful and entertaining content only.

7. Have multiple hosts

Having two hosts opens the door for you to have many more skits and funny dialogue. Moreover, when delivering a mission-focused message, the second host can reinforce the speaker’s point with a head nod or a comment like “That was very moving.”

8. Focus on creativity, not production quality

A creative, engaging and authentic presentation will shine regardless of whether the footage is grainy. But a highly produced presentation that is NOT creative, engaging and authentic will surely flop.

9. Pre-record if necessary

Good live presentations require exceptional emcees and A/V professionals. If your organization doesn’t have these capabilities, pre-record your presentation and edit it before airing. Be sure to add Closed Captioning so people hard-of-hearing can still enjoy.

10. Have a soundtrack

Play uplifting music throughout the presentation. Add laugh-tracks during your monologue. Add applause when someone makes a big donation or you announce a pre-secured gift. Just avoid the crickets.

11. Nail the transitions

Show a short, funny video as you move from one part of your presentation to another. This could be a pre-filmed contest of your board members naming as many Disney movies as they can, or a card trick from a volunteer. Good transitions keep the audience’s attention so they stay for the next section.

12. Dedicate a person to the chat window

Many virtual gala organizers will tell you that the chat window was the highlight of their event. Assign a creative (and fast typing) volunteer to respond to chats and solicit comments. You may even ask a trivia question and give a prize to the first correct response.

13. Make it easy to give

Try to incorporate a way to donate within the attendees’ viewing window. For instance, Facebook Live and YouTube Live each let you embed a “Donate” button. Provide alternative ways to give, such as PayPal.

14. Optimize for the Fund-a-Need

The Fund-a-Need (AKA Raise-the-Paddle) is where many virtual galas are earning the most revenue. Position the Fund-a-Need in your presentation where you expect the most people to be tuning in and engaged. Don’t save it for the end!

15. Open all live auction items up for bidding at once

If you wait for bidding on one live auction item to be complete before opening up bidding for the next item, you risk people logging off. Rather, present all your live auction items at once, then open them up for bidding. The bidding can continue online for hours after your event.

Throwing a virtual gala? Check out The Definitive Guide to Virtual Galas.


Al McDonald is the Chief Product Officer for TravelPledge and author of the e-book “The Definitive Guide to Silent Auction Fundraisers.” Al has helped thousands of nonprofits exceed their auction goals through auction item procurement and advice. Al understands that successful auctions are hard work and is committed to delivering practical advice that will move the needle for you today.