Living Room Captains: The Key to Your Virtual Gala’s Success

The most important thing for a virtual gala fundraiser is not the scripting, the video, the hosts or the auction items.

The most important thing is getting people to tune in, ready to open their wallets.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to achieve just that using “living room captains.”

What Is a Living Room Captain?

Pre-pandemic, table captains were responsible for filling a table at your gala with their friends. “Living room captains” are the new table captains.

A living room captain is responsible for getting their friends to attend your virtual event and teaching them how to bid and donate.

If it’s safe to do so, a living room captain may even host friends at their home to stream the gala.

Why Do You Need Living Room Captains?

There are several areas where living room captains can benefit your virtual gala.


Just like with table captains, living room captains create word-of-mouth buzz around your event. While email invitations get lost in the Promotions tab, living room captains can ensure their social circle knows about your virtual gala.

Pre-Secured Donations

People donate to people, not organizations. Living room captains can ask their friends to make a donation in advance of your event. It could event be a contest among living room captains to raise the most, just as with other peer-to-peer campaigns.


For your technically challenged donors, bidding in an auction while viewing a virtual gala can present a barrier to giving. Living room captains fully understand the streaming and bidding process and will ensure their friends do too.


Have you ever forgotten to dial in to a work call, only to have a coworker text you, “You joining?” The living room captain fills the role of your coworker for your event. They send the phone reminders and may event host their friends in-person so your event isn’t overlooked.


One difficulty with virtual galas relative to in-person galas is building audience momentum for your live auction or fund-a-need. By hosting a subset of your virtual gala guests, living room captains fill this void by encouraging giving. They may even distribute paddles and record fund-a-need pledges!

Implement a Living Room Captain Program

Deputizing living room captains is relatively straightforward, though it requires a little forethought to make your program as successful as it can be.

Step 1: Recruit Living Room Captains

Start by emailing your donor and volunteer list to describe the responsibilities of living room captains and request commitments.

For those who don’t respond, evaluate which ones would make good living room captains so you can make a personal appeal to them. Your ideal candidates should have the following traits (in order of importance):

  • Passionate about your organization
  • Has generous friends
  • Technologically capable

Explain why you think they’d be good for the role. Being a living room captain is a decent commitment so the personal appeal will go a long way toward mobilizing your base.

Step 2:Train Your Captains

Hold a kickoff call for your living room captains to provide tips about recruiting friends to attend. Give them homework to make a list of 30 people they will ask.

Additionally, review the streaming and bidding process you will have at your virtual gala. You may not have all the details figured out just yet, but a high-level overview will help your living room captains explain the event to their friends.

Follow up your meeting with a sample invitation email, event details and training materials. If you’ve asked your captains to collect donations as well, give them the link they can share.

Ideally, you use a peer-to-peer giving platform that can track which captain solicited the donation. This way, you can create some friendly competition among your captains and honor the best performers at your virtual gala.

Step 3: Supply a Home Hosting Kit

If it’s safe to do so, you may ask your living room captains to host guests at their homes to view your virtual gala together.

Mail your captains materials to make it a special experience. For example:

  • Decorations on brand with your gala theme
  • Cards with bidding instructions
  • Gala programs
  • Bid paddles so your captains can record donations in the fund-a-need
  • Recipe for a specialty cocktail

The home hosting kit will take some of the burden off of your captains, while reinforcing your organization’s brand to their guests.

We’re always looking for creative ways to take virtual galas to the next level. Got a great idea like living room captains? Drop it in the comments and we’ll flesh it out into a “how to” article!


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.