Virtual Fundraising Galas Explained by expert Scott Robertson

Are you experiencing difficulties sleeping as you worry about how the charity, that is near and dear to your heart, is going to be able to survive in our current economy? Are you secretly afraid your charity is going to close its door because a lack of fundraising? Are you intrigued by the concept of Virtual Fundraising Gala to replace your traditional fundraising event?

It’s no secret that the effects of COVID-19 is straggling the fundraising efforts of many Not For Profit (NPO) organizations. They are faced with the same questions;

  • How are we going to survive without the revenue and exposure of our traditional gala?
  • How are we going to meet payroll so we can retain our dedicated staff?
  • How much longer can we afford to pay rent for our office?Our staff is working from home, but we have a lease signed for 3 more years?
  • What does the future hold and how are we going to raise the money to keep our doors open?

As we all know staying in a concerned state of worry attempting to answer these questions and more….Is simply not healthy, nor does it benefit your charity.

The question NPO’s should be asking is “How to do turn our traditional fundraising gala into a virtual fundraising gala”.

Let’s be honest, before March, 2020, 99.9% of charitable organizations had never heard of a virtual fundraising gala but less hosted one. They have no idea what elements of a traditional fundraising gala can apply and what won’t. They are frightened, uninformed, and afraid to make a mistake. Their gala is their biggest annual fundraiser and primary tool for donor development……and now they are faced with cancellation. This is typically when “analysis paralysis” sets in as leaders of NPO struggle with how to proceed with a virtual fundraising gala.

You are not alone. Many NPO’s share the same problem, how do we raise funds for our charity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The hard reality is without fundraising, your organization may no longer exist in 12 months (or even sooner). Please know I feel your pain and anticipated this issue.

In late February 2020, when I realized that COVID-19 was going to totally interrupt our lives and how traditional gala fundraisers were held, I invested most of my waking hours into creating a recipe of success for hosting Virtual Fundraising Galas. I knew that if I could figure out how to orchestrate a fundraising gala, into a digital format where everyone could shelter in place, enjoy themselves, and join others in supporting their favorite charities, we could save many charities and allow them to continue to do what they do best, serve their clients.

Your supporters believe in your charity and we needed a creative solution to allow them to give and or bid on auction items to support your charity. Thus, the concept of the virtual gala was born.

As few people actually understand how to produce a virtual auction, I realized I need to assemble a team of talented/knowledgeable vendors to help NPO’s host a successful event.

These include:

  • Production team to digitally choregraph all the elements of a Virtual Gala and broadcast out to our supporters
  • Story telling videographer to present the mission and work of the your organization in a concise and entertaining format.
  • Talented Co-hosts to help the show flow, be emphatic, and entertaining. Virtual auctions need to be fun!
  • Script writers
  • Partnerships with personnel from mobile bidding platforms to keep the bidding and donating process running smoothly

This allows my clients to work with skilled experts, who have the best interests of the charity in mind and allows me to focus on being the onstage talent and the big picture of the event.

One obstacle, I discovered, is these skilled vendors did not know what was entailed to be successful at a virtual gala, but they were willing to learn, try new concepts, and offer suggestions. Because of their winning attitude, and willingness to pivot, we make an unstoppable team. We have become one of the top Virtual Gala teams in the nation and we have a strong record of success to back up this claim.

We were there at the beginning, pioneering fundraising techniques that are new standard across the country for virtual galas. This cutting-edge thinking is allowing NPO’s to thrive instead of throwing up their hands to cancel their event.

Is this information making sense and starting to sound good to you?

You are likely thinking, what strategies are the same for virtual galas and what are different.

Mission first. As with any fundraiser for a NPO the message of the mission must permeate the event and provide compelling reasons to support the cause. Philanthropists support the change they wish to see in the world. This is the same for both traditional and virtual galas

Entertaining personality to keep the audiences attention and engaged. Again, both critical elements for a virtual and traditional gala. As a fundraising auctioneer instead of my usual role of being a talented stage performer, I had to quickly pivot to being in front of the video camera. Your Virtual Gala is being broadcast onto your supporter’s Smart TV’s or computer laptops. Your supporters are accustomed to being entertained and engaged by these devices, thus your co-hosts must be entertaining and engaging as well. Once the interest of your viewers wain, you have lost your audience. At a traditional gala, to disengage with the event the person has to get up and leave, at a virtual gala, they simply have to turn off the device.

Auction items The same live and silent auction items that sell well at a traditional gala will sell well at your virtual gala.

Special Appeal/Paddle raise the presentation elements are the same for virtual or traditional, just if there is a plan for an “in person” pitch, this will need to be pre-recorded on video.

Engaging Co-host/Emcee. During a traditional gala, as the auctioneer, I sometimes work with an emcee and sometimes work solo, both ways are effective. At a virtual gala, due to the format, an engaging emcee is a must for playful banter, insight, and helping to keep the show flowing.

 So, as you can see, many of the same elements for a virtual or tradition fundraising gala remain the same, the difference the method of delivery.

Clients often ask “as a pioneer of virtual fundraising galas, what have you learned?

Having spent 100’s of hours of research and resolving potential issues for a Virtual Gala, I knew two important things that a Not for Profit would likely want to know before proceeding. User friendly for the charity and proven effectiveness

User friendly for the charity. During this period of uncertainly, I knew it was imperative the program we assembled, while still a lot of work for the charity, had to be intuitive for the charity in order to be successful.

Proven effectiveness. In order for the charity to agree to taking the risk and host a Virtual Gala I knew there had to be documented success this concept will work effectively. Most Virtual Galas, when executed properly have exceeded expectations and often surpass the amounts generated the previous year at a live traditional gala.

You may be thinking, this all sounds good but “how do we turn our traditional fundraising gala into a virtual fundraising gala?”

 This is where my team and I come in. If your charity is struggling, you need a solution now. We can help.

Are you interested in hosting a virtual fundraising gala? We are currently selecting organizations with who wish to work with and who we feel will be successful. Please let us know at if you wish to schedule a one on one phone conversation with me to discuss this opportunity.


We have never hosted a Virtual Gala previously; we don’t know how it will work for our organization.

This is why you hire a Fundraising Auctioneer that has experience in creating and hosting virtual galas.  Virtual Galas can be complicated and have many moving parts like a traditional gala. However the knowledge and experience required are completely different, and few if any committee members have this knowledge

Our advisory board is hesitant to ask our supporters to donate during COVID-19.

Board members, traditionally are afraid of making mistakes which they feel with reflect negatively on them. As a former board member at a NPO I understand, their concerns, but I find this excuse short sighted. The problem is, without fundraising, the charity may not survive. Board members are fearful of the “optics” of asking people for money, when they should be focused on enduring through these troubling times

We do not have the technology to host a virtual gala.

How inexpensively can we make this virtual event? Can we use an I-Phone, Facebook Live, and our CEO for this event?

Why do we need a virtual gala? Can we just put our auction items in an online auction and people will give?

Can we just ask our supporters to make donations to our organization and have the hassle and expense of a virtual gala?

Our supporters are typically over 60. Will they feel comfortable using their smart phone to bid?

What equipment will the supporters need to be able to participate?

Our regular fundraising auctioneer is nice and really funny, why shouldn’t we use them for our Virtual Gala?

Should all NPO’s have virtual gala?

Do all fundraising galas lend themselves to being successful virtual galas

What are the characteristics of an organization that will be successful with a Virtual Fundraising Gala

What is the downside of postponing our event until fall?

Can I realistically host an event in the fall and another in spring at our usual date?

What if I just cancel my event? What opportunities will I be missing?

You have the questions and we have the answers….

Are you interested in hosting a fundraising gala? We are currently selecting organizations with who wish to work with and who we feel will be successful. Please let us know if you wish to discuss this opportunity.


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