Virtual Gala Promotion: What You Should (and Shouldn’t) Be Doing

Galas are virtual for the time being and you can’t promote a virtual gala in the same way that you’ve historically promoted your in-person event. There’s plenty of work to be done, but, thankfully, there are also things that you can stop doing for virtual gala promotion.

What to Do for Virtual Gala Promotions

While you’ll likely still promote your gala in many of the same places, like a landing page on your website, emails to your list and social media posts, the promotional content that you’ll use will need a total makeover. Consider using the following pieces of content to entice your supporters to register and attend this year.

Highlight the benefits of going virtual

Encourage participation by highlighting the benefits of a virtual gala, i.e. as a learning and giving experience rather than a night to dress up and eat or drink with friends. It’s a way to stay connected to your organization and learn more about the cause, your impact and your work.

Those benefits might include things like:

  • Inclusivity for those who are not local, homebound, on a tighter budget or who otherwise could not attend in the past
  • Opportunities to learn and connect with your mission in new ways
  • A safe and feel-good weekend activity to look forward to
  • Easy way to catch up on all that your organization has been up to the past year and look forward to the future
  • Various options to support your cause and work throughout the evening

Spotlight guest speakers

This is where your virtual gala can shine. Speaking opportunities are easier to come by when they can be filmed in advance.

Spend a little more time and space to spotlight those speakers who will round out your virtual event and put a face on your work. Let supporters know the speakers’ connection to your cause and their authority to speak on it, including personal stories or direct experiences with your work and impact. You may even create a little snippet of any recorded videos from speakers to share on social media as a way to get folks excited.

Pay special attention to opportunities for participation

Online auctions? Audience question or comment opportunities? Virtual games? While a virtual gala can focus less on direct audience participation and entertainment, consider opportunities for attendees to chime in and connect with speakers, the emcee or others through the event. Be sure to highlight those opportunities and what they’ll entail through your virtual gala promotion.

Note efforts for accessibility

What measures have you taken to make your virtual gala accessible to your whole audience? Have you lowered the price or made it a free event? Will there be captions or a transcription for audio components? Or an interpreter? Will any presentations use high-contrast colors to make them easier to see and read?

If you’re putting in the work to host an accessible event, make sure that your audience knows it. Unfortunately, it’s not an effort that the deaf, hard of hearing or visually impaired community members have come to expect at this point.

What Not to Do for Virtual Gala Promotion

As you’re reworking your promotional content, you can go ahead and cut these pieces of your strategy and promotions. See ya!

Promise a completely live event

One of the best perks of moving virtual is that you can film or prepare all or certain pieces of the event beforehand. It’ll make for a less stressful experience for you and other staff involved and open up the opportunity for new and different guest speakers open to recording a video to use during the event.

And if your event will not be completely live, make sure that you’re not promising a fully live event through your marketing and communications for your virtual gala.

Discuss ticket sales in the same way

You don’t need to rent out a ballroom, and that’s likely reflected in the price of your virtual event. This has the added benefit of making the event more accessible and helping to ensure more attendees, who may have been deterred by price or location in the past. But it also means reframing how you discuss ticket sales for the event.

Since there’s less time pressure to “save your seat” or buy tickets by a specific deadline, the calls to action need to be a bit more creative. Something like “Register Now” or “Add It to Your Calendar” could be a better fit this year.

Send out print materials

I know, I know — but it’s what you do to promote a gala. You send out a pretty invitation to your big donors every year. However, most people will not expect a physical invitation to a virtual event, and this is an easy place to save time and money. Save the printing budget for a future marketing venture and keep communications totally digital this year. 

This year is (still) different, and your communications about this tried and true annual event will absolutely need a refresh from the status quo of past years. But it’s an opportunity to connect and engage with facets of your audience that you may have been unable to reach through past events. And a way to re-engage with those who have attended your galas in the past and are looking for a way to reconnect with a community they feel at home with.

The virtual gala is a safe and intimate learning experience, a way for your community to connect with your cause and your work, and an opportunity for them to give back and feel good while doing so. Make an effort this year to promote it as such.

Are you struggling with how to talk about and promote your gala this year? What approach did you take with your virtual gala promotion? Any tips to add for a fellow nonprofit marketer who hasn’t gone through the process yet? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.