Nonprofit Virtual Gala Success Stories During COVID-19

October 3, 2020
5 minutes
A purple-and-black illustration of a flute of champagne clinking another virtual champagne flute shown on a smartphone screen.

We might be tired of endless Zoom calls for work, but that shouldn't stop us from socializing for a good cause using video conferencing technology. COVID-19 has forced many nonprofits to shift their fundraising events—even elegant gala fundraisers. Some organizations have pivoted with the times and are finding creative ways to take their signature gala fundraisers online.

As it turns out, donors are actually enjoying this event format. One of Vogue’s staff wrote about her experience attending a virtual gala.

“While some Brady Bunch boxes revealed dancing couples or families, others showcased stag guests—people who, just like me, have been enduring this isolation in total isolation. felt that the time I had just shared with them was somehow more valuable than any of the preceding minutes, hours, and days that had made up our friendships.”

Talk about a meaningful experience! We've got virtual fundraising ideas galore. Let’s look at two examples of virtual galas and related takeaways you can apply to your own virtual events.

Washington Environmental Council

Here's a particularly relevant example—because the Washington Environmental Council's work is not directly tied to responding to COVID-19, the assumption is that folks won’t care about the ask. As the Washington Environmental Council’s gala page shares, “proceeds directly supporting our year-round policy, advocacy, and civic engagement work so we can fight for clean air, clean water, sustainable forests, and healthy communities for all Washingtonians.”

And yet, they were able to really make their case in an effective way. In the note from their board chair, they share, “We know that when we come out of this, there will be a lot of work to do to make sure we have a healthier and more resilient state that is built to protect and provide opportunity for all Washingtonians, no matter who they are or where they live.” This is an excellent point set within a relatable narrative, and it sets them up for an effective ask.

Ultimately, the Washington Environmental Council was able to exceed its fundraising goal for a total raise of $275,000. Wow!
One of the outstanding elements to the Washington Environmental Council's gala setup is its ongoingplace to continue to interact with content from the gala. This is an innovative way to max out the mileage you put into your virtual event.

Washington Environmental Council Virtual Gala landing page


Indwell is a nonprofit housing society who chose to bring their fundraising event online. According to the local paper's event coverage, their virtual event replaced not one, not two, but three in-person events that were scheduled prior to the pandemic—talk about a leap of faith! The initial goal for this virtual event hail mary was $50,000, but they went beyond and scored $100,000.

While their event was what you might expect, programming-wise (talks from staff and community leaders), one special touch was sending attendees a menu ahead of the event that they could make at home. By sending attendees the menu and recipes, Indwell created a memorable attendee experience that brought together the online and offline.

Indwell Virtual Gala landing page

Taking your fundraising gala online is more than possible. Like an in-person gala, the magic is all about the experience; look for fun ways to connect people virtually, bring elements of your event offline (like a swag box or cook-at-home menu), and don't skimp on the pre- and post-event communications. And remember—no matter what your organization’s mission is, you can craft a fundraising pitch during your event to win over the hearts and minds of donors.

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