Should You Charge for Tickets to Your Virtual Gala?

Virtual galas provide nonprofits an affordable alternative to an expensive in-person gala.

By replacing ballrooms and dinners with online auction and event streaming technology, online fundraisers can engage supporters at a fraction of the cost.

However, cost is only one side of the equation. Equally important to cost is revenue, and an important revenue driver to in-person fundraisers is ticket sales.

This leaves organizers of virtual galas to wonder: Should we charge for tickets?

Yes, you should charge for tickets. But…

This is a fundraiser after all, not a party. People who support your cause expect and want to give.

But…you should avoid the flat ticket price for all guests.

Rather, you want tiered ticket pricing to appeal to each type of person who may consider attending your event. In marketing terms, this is called “segmentation and targeting”.

Donor Segments

Below are some logical segments and ticket packages that would likely appeal to them:

Donor SegmentTicket Option (on average)Notes
(1) People who can’t attend (or don’t want to)Donate in lieu of attendance (recognition optional)Provide suggested amounts with increasing recognition at the event.
(2) People who would attend but won’t give or only want to bid in the auction.Free ticket with option to donate“Free” guests may spread the word to someone who may donate. The beauty of virtual events is that additional guests do not cost anything!

Deal-seeking auction goer will either win an item themselves or drive up other people’s bids. Both good!
(3) People who would attend and give but won’t be major contributors to your auction or paddle raise.“Diner’s Package” (~$100) with option to donate more.The “Diner’s Package” (or whatever you decide to call it) will contain some sort of bonus for the purchaser, such as a delivered meal from a local restaurant or swag.
(4) Major donors“VIP Package” (starting at $500) with option to donate more.The “VIP Package” comes in tiers, and includes everything in the Diner’s Package plus special recognition at the event. Additionally, consider having a special breakout session with organizational leaders for your VIPs.

“Won’t everyone just choose the free option?”

Look at each of the segments above. Segments (1) and (2) will never purchase a ticket for your event, by definition, so you aren’t leaving money on the table by offering a free option.

While your virtual gala will certainly be entertaining, Segment (3) and (4)’s primary motivation for attending isn’t to be entertained. It’s to support your cause!

Even if they choose the free option, trust that they will make up for it during your auction and paddle raise.


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.