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Disney_Menken_WDFM.jpg Photo courtesy the Walt Disney Family Museum.
Superstar composer Alan Menken (‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Aladdin’) entertains at a virtual fundraiser for the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The Virtues of Virtual Fundraisers

Three case studies of fundraising galas that successfully pivoted to virtual events.

These special event professionals believe in the power of live events to raise funds for worthy causes. But when the COVID crisis made them switch their galas to virtual events on the fly, they came through with flying colors. Read on ...

Photo courtesy Tolo EventsTolo_VM_Dreambuilders.jpg

Behind the scenes at the Dreambuilders' Ball with Tolo Events at work.

The what: Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center moved its Dreambuilders’ Ball, originally slated for March 14, to an online event on July 30. The 45-minute live-streamed show focused on celebrating and supporting health-care workers, explains producer Shelly Tolo of Seattle-based Tolo Events. “We settled on one host who was live throughout to transition through the evening and thank donors, with all the storytelling and announcements being prerecorded.”

The Tolo team streamed the event on Vimeo and Facebook Live, and also had it embedded in GiveSmart, their donation software program. As a result, viewers needed only one link both to watch the event and to donate to it.

The results: In a usual year, some 700 guests attend the gala. But this year, 320 households viewed the virtual event on Vimeo, with 1,200 views on Facebook. At present, some $930,000 has been donated, “but more continues to come in,” Tolo says. Next year, she is looking at creating a hybrid event “with smaller groups of people together on the same night to support the cause, and then bringing them all together through technology.”

Words to the wise: “Marketing for a virtual fund-raising event is very different than one in person,” Tolo warns. “Frequency of contact, reminders, social media, calling people, etc., are all important to be able to get your viewership to the level that you desire.”

She also urges planners to ask their client about assets that the client may have that could relate to the event. “When we asked this question, we discovered the hospital had received 30 watercolor portraits of their workers in PPE [personal protective equipment] that were beautiful. We worked with a graphic designer to put the portraits in motion, set them to music, and this artwork became the 45-second opening and closing of the live show.”

Photo by Matthew MurphyDISNEY_LinManuelMiranda_Headshot_ CreditMatthewMurphy.jpg

'Hamilton' creator/performer puts in an appearance at the Walt Disney Family Museum virtual fundrasier.

The what: San Francisco’s Walt Disney Family Museum turned California’s COVID shut-down orders to its advantage, launching an array of free, interactive experiences in April linked to Walt Disney’s life and legacy. The virtual events were such a hit that management offered its first, exclusively virtual fundraiser on Aug. 6—“An Evening with Alan Menken,” famed composer of “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Best,” “Pocahontas” and “The Little Mermaid.” The event took place in two parts: a paid fundraising program followed by a free musical performance.

Tickets started at $200, with tiered ticket and sponsorship options along with the opportunity to submit questions for Menken and to receive signed Disney artwork. The virtual performance, featuring a special appearance from “Hamilton” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, was free to view with donations of any size welcomed; this segment required guests to pre-register.

To allow for a quick and simple optional donation process throughout the virtual fundraiser, the museum decided to use MobileCause as its primary platform for streaming the event. Not only could guests pre-purchase sponsorship packages and/or register for the fundraiser via the MobileCause platform, but they could also easily access details to make donations via text while enjoying Menken’s presentation. The free performance was also hosted on Facebook Live, Vimeo and YouTube as alternative streaming options.

The results: More than 20,000 people tuned in to the live event, reports Caroline Quinn, Walt Disney Family Museum senior communications coordinator, with viewers watching after the event bringing the total to 75,000 views. All told, more than $160,000 was raised to help the museum keep its educational efforts alive.

Words to the wise: “With any virtual or live-streamed program, there will always be the possibility of technical challenges,” Quinn notes. “To address this, the museum’s team ensured staff were standing by to assist viewers, via email and phone, who experienced issues with accessing links or loading the event stream. An unexpected number of people simultaneously tuned into the free virtual performance on the MobileCause website. However, the museum had provided alternative streaming links on popular social media platforms to all registered viewers ahead of time to allow other options for viewing the program.”

Photo courtesy MM Event GroupMM_LCF_Gala.jpg

MM Event Group oversees the fundraiser for the Latino Community Foundation.

The what: The Coming of Age gala for the Latino Community Foundation was held on its original date—May 21—but was transformed from an in-person event to a virtual gala thanks to the team at New York-based MM Event Group. “By watching every live event and webinar, we quickly realized the weak point in virtual events is the Internet connection,” explains MM president Marilyn Moss. “Storytelling is fundamental to virtual events, which makes the ability to successfully hear and see your speaker critical. To be proactive, we decided that our event would be 75 percent prerecorded content and 25 percent live-streamed.”

The results: Using the GiveLively platform, the 2020 event brought in about $800,000—more than last year’s in-person event, Moss says. Some 7,000 people viewed the event live—more than could fit in many venues. “Since then, with our video accessible on the LCF website and YouTube, the event has received over 10,000 views,” Moss notes.

Words to the wise: “The attention spans of your attendees are minimal in virtual events—our run of show must be well thought out and take advantage of every minute,” Moss says. “We recommend sticking to 60 to 75 minutes maximum for your show time.” She adds, “During the LCF gala, our guests experienced a variety of forms of entertainment, including musical interludes and spoken-word poetry, celebrity-featured videos, prerecorded LCF storytelling content, and breakaways to the live call-to-action, with donor names in ticker tape along the bottom of the screen.” 

TAGS: Event Tools
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