September 8, 2020

Elements of Virtual Galas

Two people host a virtual fundraiser. They stand in front of a large screen that displays donations.

Virtual events will remain a key component of events in the future. 76% of event planners expect to provide virtual alternatives when in-person events return.

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to embrace virtual fundraisers. Best practices have emerged as nonprofit organizations continue to raise essential funds through virtual galas. Let’s take a look at successful elements of the virtual fundraising event

Welcome Messages

Pre-recorded welcome messages bring your community into the event. Metropolitan Family Service kicked-off A Gathering of Good with a special message from their staff.

Behind the Scenes Response to COVID-19

It is extremely important to let your supporters know how your organization responded to COVID-19 and how the pandemic has affected your funding needs. During their Screentime Drive-In Gala, Clackamas Women’s Service shared how they adjusted their services in response to increases in domestic violence during stay-a-home orders. During the virtual Chair Affair, Community Warehouse shared how they navigated COVID-19 and detailed new services created in response to the pandemic.

Online Auction                 

Benefit Auctioneers have modified the traditional live auction to fit an online environment in various ways. 

  • Create an online auction using bidding platforms such as Greater Giving,, and Auctria
  • The online auction opens a few days before and closes a few days after the virtual event. If the goal is to increase bidding during the live event specifically, instruct the audience to use two devices or open two web browser tabs to watch the livestream and participate in the online auction simultaneously.
  • During the virtual event, the host promotes the auction and may even highlight various auction packages. Benefit Auctioneer Johnna Wells included the fun and fast auctioneer chant as she highlighted auction items during It’s a Small World, Columbia Christian School’s Annual Auction.
  • Alternatively, the benefit auctioneer may choose to close auction items during the event. This can be tricky since the speed of everyone’s internet connection varies. The final seconds of an in-person auction are difficult to recreate online. An effective alternative is to close the auction item at a specific time during the virtual event, wait a few minutes after that time and then celebrate the winner live during the virtual event. Benefit Auctioneer Patrick Siver closed six auction items during the virtual Wine and Golf Ball for The Children’s Course while dozens of items in the online auction closed later in the evening.

Special Appeal and Virtual Paddle Raise

Your virtual special appeal retains the same elements as during your in-person gala. Tell your unique story in a focused special appeal video then announce the different levels of giving and highlight how the various donation amounts will create real impact in the lives of those you serve. Kelly Russell of Artisan Auctions guided the special appeal during Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp’s A Masked Affair. 

Celebrity Guest Appearances

Virtual events make it possible for you to include hard-to-book special guests during your event. Super Bowl champ Dennis Brown joined benefit auctioneer Liam Mayclem to co-host the AIM Youth Mental Health AIM Beyond Virtual Gala. The program also featured many celebrity appearances including Ray Romano and Macklemore.


Consider opening or closing your virtual event with special entertainment to ensure your event is fun, memorable, and shareable. Humane Society Pikes Peak, with Benefit Auctioneer Rich Schur, included the adorable Pet Parade during Fur Ball 2020. Caldera Arts invited the von Trapp great-grandchildren to close the 2020 Virtual Stories of Change Campfire with the lovely campfire song “Sing Your Way Home.”

Educational Entertainment

Leave your guests with new skills and knowledge after your virtual event. Chef Jenn Louis filmed a cooking demonstration for Lift UP’s Making Connections 2020. Young Audiences gave the audience a dance lesson during YA on Broadway. Yakima Valley Museum featured specialty cocktail mixology with John Gasperetti during Red into Black XIV.

A Little Competition

Amuse your audience and highlight what makes your organization unique with trivia questions. Guests can easily respond through live online chat. Benefit Auctioneer Greg Quiroga awarded prizes to trivia winners during the Virtual High Desert Museum Rendezvous.

Games are a fun tradition of the Maybelle Center for Community, and host Celeste Horne turned Bingo into a great element of the virtual Hope in the Heart of Portland fundraiser. Guest who RSVP’d for the event were sent a bingo card they could print or play electronically.

Fundraising games are a tradition at the annual gala for Trauma Intervention Program Northwest, and benefit auctioneer Graham Crow successfully brought the fun of Heads or Tails into the virtual gala environment during Heroes with Heart.

Audience Engagement

A virtual event plus a green screen makes it possible for viewers to add themselves to the show. Benefit Auctioneer Misty Marquam invited Dress for Success supporters to join emcee Poison Waters in virtual selfies during the Celebrate Success Gala.

Benefit Auctioneer Dale Johannes engaged bidders and encouraged donations through a horse race during Trillium Family Services’ Heroes Gala.

Emcee Dustin Riley welcomed guests during a pre-show virtual red carpet for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon and SW Washington Hope-Raiser.

Our livestreaming and virtual events page includes links to more than 45 virtual fundraisers, providing hours and hours of inspiration for your own virtual gala. Contact us to discuss your creative ideas and let’s make them happen together.