Since event fundraising has rapidly pivoted to virtual galas, organizers have focused their efforts to learn how to broadcast a live online presentation.
However, many have overlooked the most important aspect to virtual gala success: getting people to tune in.
Sure, most will send an email blast and post about the event on Facebook. But will that garner enough registrations to maximize your event proceeds?
In this post, I’ll explain some creative ways to take your virtual gala marketing to the next level.
Drip, Drip, Drip Emails
Email drip campaigns are a series of automated emails that can change based on each recipient’s action. Many major email systems, like Mailchimp, support drip campaigns.
Customizing your emails to each recipient improves your success rate since you can estimate what part of the conversion funnel they are in.
For example, suppose you emailed your donor database an invitation to your virtual event. Then, you will have three groups of recipients:
- Those who don’t open the email
- Others who open the email but don’t click the registration link
- Finally, those who click the registration link.
For group 1, you can send an identical email, just with a different subject line. For group 2, you can send them a “reminder” email to complete registration. For group 3, you can exit them from your campaign or start sending them teasers about your auction.
Deputize “Living Room Captains”
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.
If you’re not charging for tickets, you may have your living room captains compete to solicit the most donations, just like a typical peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
Recruit living room captains who fully understand the bidding process and supply them with template emails they can send their friends so no detail is miscommunicated.
Encourage Registrations With Prize Drawings
Online registrations are important since your registration software will send calendar invites and text reminders to registrants. Further, registration is required if you’re streaming your gala through a mobile bidding software.
Encourage registrations by entering each registrant into a prize drawing. Draw the prize at the end of your event so people stick around through your fundraising segment.
However, don’t require registration so donors can simply click the link in your email blasts if they forget to register.
Should we charge for tickets?
Charging for tickets has a few drawbacks:
- You can’t check tickets on Facebook Live or other social channels.
- Paid tickets increase expectations for your presentation’s entertainment value.
- Virtual galas help build your brand, and you want the biggest audience possible.
However, asking for a suggested donation during registration gets around these drawbacks. You’ll earn revenue from many registrants while allowing others to attend for free.
Leave Voicemails for Big Donors
For your biggest donors, you can’t risk your invitation email getting lost in cyberspace. A few days after sending your invitation email, follow up with any heavy hitters who haven’t registered with a phone call to double check the email wasn’t missed.
You may be thinking, “No way! That’s a lot of phone calls!” Well, it’s only a lot of phone calls if you have to talk to everyone.
Since you are simply alerting donors to check their email for an invitation, leaving a voicemail will do just fine.
Most major carriers let you connect directly to someone’s voicemail without ringing their phone. Otherwise, a third-party tool like slydial should do the trick. You’ll churn through your call list in no time!
Target Facebook Ads to Your Donor Database
When you post your event to your Facebook page, it will show to your page’s followers. But how about reaching the News Feeds of people in your donor database who haven’t followed your page?
Those unfamiliar with Facebook advertising may be surprised to learn that you can upload a list of emails from your donor database, and serve paid ads to only the people on your list.
Further, you can automatically track which people registered for your event so you can stop showing them ads. Similar functionality exists on other major online advertising platforms.
While the exact steps would be too much to include in this post, it warranted mentioning because it is such a highly targeted way to spend your promotional budget.
BONUS! Add Links to Your Email Signatures
I’ll close with perhaps the easiest way to promote your virtual gala. It doesn’t exactly qualify as “next-level” but it is often overlooked despite being so simple.
Have everyone at your organization add a link to their email signature saying “Join us for our virtual gala on <date>” with a link to your registration page.
Now, every email correspondence from your organization is a marketing piece!
Alex McDonald is the Director of Customer Experience for TravelPledge, your benefit auction’s connection to generous business owners. Alex manages TravelPledge’s content strategy and customer onboarding. He is passionate about helping nonprofits exceed their auction goals.