I have several clients considering their autumn galas. As they try to outguess the COVID virus, we’ve spent time comparing the pros and cons of in-person galas versus virtual galas.
Perhaps this will be helpful to you as well.
One point to know: For my discussions, the basis of comparison for a virtual gala has been Zoom.
I’ve written about the types of virtual galas — two-screen, one-screen, Zoom*, pre-recorded — and having worked them all, I’m still a fan of Zoom because I believe it offers the most interactivity for guests.
(Technology changes frequently. Next year, I might think differently.)
Pros of in-Person Galas
GLAMOUR: For some of your guests, your gala is the one time a year they have a reason to buy a party outfit, get their hair coiffed, and look their best self. It’s special to them, and gives them an incentive to attend and support you.
PARTY ATMOSPHERE: You make the gala a special night. You’ve invested in decor, flowers, lighting, and entertainment. The drinks flow freely and the music is fun. Who doesn’t like a fun night out? And to enjoy a party while giving to a good cause? That’s magic.
SOCIALIZING: Though guests *do* socialize in the chat feature of Zoom, it’s not the same as at an in-person event. It might be about enjoying the company of friends, business associates, or just the person you brought. (To my knowledge, there are no “first dates” happening at Zoom galas, but I know they happen at in-person galas — I had a date take me to a gala once, long ago.)
BUSINESS NETWORKING: A nonprofit I worked with years ago knew that networking was so important to their attendees that they gave each guest a sheet of paper listing every attendee at the gala, their company, and the table at which they were seated. Formally or informally, networking happens at your gala.
“REAL” EVENT: From a guest perspective, an in-person event likely feels more like a proper event. It is more dignified, and might be viewed as making your charity more worthy of a donation.
Pros of Zoom-style virtual galas
LESS WORK: The first virtual event might be as much work as an in-person gala because everything will be unfamiliar to you — but it gets easier. Your second virtual gala will take less effort than your first, and virtual galas certainly take less effort than an in-person event.
EDUCATION OF MISSION: We’ve observed that guests seem to better comprehend your programs and mission after virtual galas. I wouldn’t have guessed that to be true in March 2020 when virtual galas began, but after conducting many of these virtual galas, I’ve seen guests retain more mission-related information. I’m not sure why, but perhaps they are more focused because their friends aren’t sitting next to them, chatting?
TIME COMMITMENT: Guests can block off less time for the event. Virtual events require no travel time to the venue and generally run shorter overall.
DAY FLEXIBILITY: You and your guests can enjoy having the event on a day other than Saturday night. No need to commit to a Saturday night for a virtual event.
NET INCOME: Due to dramatically reduced production costs, net incomes were strong. If we see this is maintained going forward, it’s a big incentive to go virtual.
Equal in both styles of gala
* PEER PRESSURE: Thanks to Zoom’s chat, I see as much friendly peer pressure happening to bidders in a virtual gala as I see happening during an in-person gala. If your cause has benefited from having guests cheer each other on, or if you have guests who like to “be seen” giving, this can be replicated fairly well in a virtual gala.
*In discussions with possible clients, I refer to Zoom-based virtual galas as “Zoomzilla,” because the production teams use a mixer to create a more enhanced show; it’s not just Zoom. In my opinion, a Zoom gala offers the greatest interactivity for guests.
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Liz Allen says
I agree with all of this comparison. I have done both in person and virtual auction galas. Now this year which one do I pick or do a hybrid which is double work and technology.
Sherry Truhlar says
Oh yes! Hybrid is a different animal, isn’t it? I think we’ll get better at that format and the costs might decline as we streamline, but at the moment it is certainly more work and cost.