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Re-imagining the virtual gala fundraiser to be donor -centric, by Red Apple Auctions

Re-imagining the virtual gala fundraiser to be donor -centric is FREE courtesy of Red Apple Auctions

1 Lesson / 9 Minutes / FREE

In the month since COVID-19 desecrated the in-person auction event, a new virtual gala fundraiser has emerged.

Initial results from these events have been impressive! Net incomes have generally been higher than 2019, and some have even seen higher gross results.

But is this model sustainable?

I am questioning it.

If virtual events are the modus operandi for the next several months, I wonder if our industry might need to get more creative at designing donor-centric online experiences.

In general, I’ve felt these virtual events are nonprofit- focused. The vibe runs a bit like this: “Here’s a link to our stream. Show up at 7 PM to give us money.”

Yes, the approach has thus far worked. Donors have stepped up in this crisis to support their cause.
• But as time goes on and economic impacts become more personal, will donors continue to give?
• Will nonprofits need to do more than distribute a link, and expect people to show up?
• And wait — if donors can make a donation online anytime, what makes a virtual event worth attending?

Is it possible for us to evolve the virtual event into something more experiential?

I’m wondering how can it be more interactive, so that I — as a donor — am eager to show up and participate?

Years ago, Penelope Burke shared her landmark research promoting the importance of donor-centered fundraising.

I’m not convinced that our virtual galas to date — though successful — are donor-centered. It’s been bothering me.

The event producers who have been running these virtual fundraisers have all shared similar advice: KEEP IT SHORT.

The standard virtual event to date begins with a slideshow of sponsors, bidding instructions, and event photos. The slideshow cycles for 20-30 minutes, allowing guests time to log into the auction software, figure out the livestream chat, pour a beverage, or do whatever they want to do before the official start time.

When the speaking program begins, it typically kicks off with a welcome and rapidly shifts into either a fund a need or live auction.

Many organizers seem to be advocating that the entire program be 20 minutes, but certainly no more than 40 minutes long. “Viewers drop off,” has been the overarching comment shared on more than one webinar, “the most important fundraising piece must be first.”
• Why are donors leaving so quickly?
• Is that just to be expected?
• How have virtual events outside the nonprofit industry captured and kept the attention of viewers?
• Have you been thinking the same thing?

In this video, I provide my take, offering a few exploratory ideas on how we can make a virtual gala fundraiser more donor-centric.

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