Girls Inc of New Hampshire: 13 Steps to A Successful Virtual Gala

Girls Inc. of New Hampshire has spent the last 45 years inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold. They provide girls throughout New Hampshire with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the problems they face. This attitude of boldly confronting challenges surely played a large role in their ability to rapidly adapt to a changing fundraising market and the huge amount of uncertainty COVID-19 has created.  Below, see the key measures they implemented to ensure a successful virtual gala and fundraising auction.
 
Background
 
Online auctions and mobile bidding have been  gaining in popularity for over a decade. Most nonprofits, including Girls Inc.,  have  used it to improve an event's experience,  but have stopped short of actually holding their entire gala virtually. However, the spread of COVID-19  has forced many nonprofits to confront the challenge of hosting virtual events  much sooner than one might have expected.
 
It can be hard to adapt to change and nonprofit organizations often deal with  circumstances that make change especially difficult.  Large changes require time and money, two things that are often lacking at nonprofit organizations. 
 
Girls Inc. of New Hampshire  was able to overcome these challenges and used  Panorama by FrontStream™ live streaming on Facebook and YouTube  to create a well-rounded virtual annual gala experience and  ensure their fundraising success. FrontStream spoke with their staff to learn about  their thirteen key steps to fundraising success.
 
Girls Inc website banner
 
Going Virtual
 
In early March 2020 the staff at Girls Inc. of New Hampshire started to sense that COVID-19 might affect their annual gala. It was still early on in the pandemic, but they had a feeling that  they may not be able to hold their traditional in person event. The  CEO and staff started to research additional options, including hosting a livestream video event.  A few weeks later, New Hampshire  issued an official stay-at-home order. Girls Inc. was going virtual.  
 
Circles 1Create a comprehensive event experience 
 
 The staff quickly decided that hosting an online auction wasn't enough. They wanted to mimic sense of community present at  their traditional in person event. They chose to gather  all their supporters in one place, at one time (virtually) to create excitement and draw attention to their mission. The staff  chose to record a live taping of the auction and gala program and stream it  on Facebook and YouTube using their free streaming services.
 
Facebook live streaming help
 
The staff hadn't hosted an event  like this before, so they knew they would need help to ensure it was professional and engaging for their supporters.
 
 Circles 2Engage the experts
 
One of the staff's next moves was engaging a professional TV studio to film and live stream their event on Facebook.  They worked with  a local studio Events United in Derry who handled all the logistics  of taping and streaming the video. Hiring these experts allowed them to focus on the program and  maximizing their fundraising. 
 
 Circles 3Invest in your event
 
There is, of course, a cost to working with a professional studio. While some nonprofits are hesitant to incur new costs, the Girls Inc. of New Hampshire staff looked at their budget and realized the cost would actually be  significantly  lower since they wouldn't be spending money in other areas. In fact, the cost was about 13%  of the amount they normally spent on costs like their venue, food and beverage, signage, and postage.  These savings in costs meant that even if they raised less money overall, they still had a very good chance of reaching their net fundraising goal.
 
Circles 4 Engage a dynamic host
 
The live streamed program was about an hour long, so the staff knew they'd need to make the event exciting and engaging. They chose to  make the CEO of Girls Inc. New Hampshire, Sharron McCarthy and professional auctioneer Mark Federo  co-hosts. Sharron was able to start the event by talking about the history of the organization and  the work the organization does with over 2,000 local girls. She emphasized how  vital their programming is during the COVID-19 pandemic and created a sense of  urgency for donors. Mark was able to provide the comic relief and help to highlight the auction items. This created a great balance between being mission focused and creating some fun.
 
Sharron McCarthy Girls Inc Mark Fodero Girls Inc

 

Circles 5Hire a talented auctioneer
 
While they can be costly, professional auctioneers have the specific experience needed to maximize bids and engage bidders at a special event.  Girls Inc. knew it would be especially vital to have the right auctioneer  for a live stream.  They worked with the auctioneer they  had already contracted- Mark Federo- for the in person event. He was a bit concerned initially that  he wouldn't have his normal interaction with the crowd to work off of. Ultimately there was no need to worry as the auctioneer was dynamic, funny and made sure to keep it interesting.
 
Another key step was a run through of the script and a rehearsal to work out the logistics of the program. Sharron and Mark considered ways to change the program to be better suited to a live stream and keep things light and fun. Since the auctioneer was a professional with lots of experience, he was able to adapt and improvise once they went live.
 
 
 
 Circles 6Create an engaging event program
 
In addition to sharing mission information and highlighting auction items, Girls Inc.  knew they  needed to provide some entertainment during the program. Most special events feature some sort of entertainment like a singer, band, or performance.
 
The theme of their 2020 gala was: "Fuel Her Fire and She Will Change the World" so they asked local singer  Tanya Myrick to sing a very appropriate song: "Girl on Fire" by Alicia Keys.  Her performance was not only incredible, but also emotional and inspiring. 
 
 
 
Circles 7Invite everyone. And we mean EVERYONE!
 
One of the best parts of a virtual event is that anyone can attend. Instead of being limited to those that can afford to purchase a ticket and attend a gala, the staff offered the live stream free of charge to their entire network. They also secured online marketing and local coverage of the event, including this article from the Nashua Telegraph.
 
The reach of the event was wide- with over 2,000 individuals tuning in during the stream.
 
Circles 8 Invite your supporters to speak
 
The Girls Inc. staff invited their program attendees to create videos  talking about what they miss about attending Girls Inc. centers. The videos were edited into one piece and played as part of the program. This added to the experience of the overall program and really drove home where the funds raised go.
 
 
 
 
They also invited their  high profile supporters to film a short video for the program. Former MLB pitcher  Lenny DiNardo recorded a video with his daughters. 
 
 
 
Governor of New Hampshire Chris Sununu  and Senator for New Hampshire Maggie Hassan and other community leaders also contributed their support and video messages. 
 
Circles 9Create an Actionable Mission Ask
 
Part of the program featured a mission ask. "Fund Her Need" raises funds that  go toward serving girls in New Hampshire with their unique programs, their two program centers, summers camps and Young Women’s Leadership programs. Having a mission ask gives attendees the option of making a direct donation instead (or in addition to)  bidding on an auction item. Plus, these donations are 100% deductible as the donor receives no goods or services in exchange for their donation.
 
Despite the fact that  some of their programming is not  feasible with social distancing, the staff has been able to keep in regular contact with parents and girls. They  offer virtual mentoring, daily virtual programming and help girls adapt to online learning. They have also been able to implement "curbside pickup" of food and prepared dinners to ensure their girls and families are safe and cared for during the pandemic. Highlighting the ways your organization is still fulfilling your mission during COVID-19 helps to keep donations flowing.
 
Girls inc fund her need
 
Circles 10Use every tool in your toolbox
 
The Girls Inc. staff was thankful that they were already using BiddingForGood- the online auction platform in Panorama by FrontStream. That meant that when they made the decision to go completely virtual, they already had the online auction set up.  As they have used the software since 2008, they were comfortable with the tools and features in Panorama and the online bidding marketplace BiddingForGood provides. 
 
During the stream, they used BiddingForGood to promote auction items, engage virtual participants to encourage mobile bidding and display leaderboards. 
 
Girls Inc Leading Bid
 
Circles 11 Empower attendees with education and best practices
 
Since this was a brand new type of fundraiser, the staff sent emails and  an instruction sheet about mobile bidding to their constituents. They also hosted a hotline for attendees having any issues with mobile bidding. 
 
Bidding Tips Email to Constituents
BiddingforGood instructions Girls Inc Girls Inc Email page 1

 

Circles 12Don't Forget Your Sponsors
 
In addition to supporting a great cause, many sponsors look at an in person gala as a publicity tool. It's great to be in a room of like minded people and make connections. However, this is still 100% possible with a virtual event. Sharron made sure to thank the event sponsors early and often, and the staff created an online program of the auction items that highlighted sponsors. You can also create new opportunities to replace the signage, logo placement and other   traditional sponsor benefits. Don't forget to promote your sponsors on social media  and in your event emails. 
 
A great point to make with any sponsor that may be hesitant to engage with a virtual event is  that the reach of virtual events can be exceptionally larger. You're no longer limited to the people in the room. For example, a traditional gala normally has between 300-500 guests. Girls Inc. of New Hampshire had over 2,000 attendees that tuned in for the livestream. 
 
 
Girls Inc Email Page 2
Acknowledge  Sponsors During LiveStream Thank Sponsors in Event Emails

 

 Circles 13 Stay focused on your goal
 
Overall the event   raised $175,000 for Girls Inc. of New Hampshire. Despite the challenges they faced they remained focused on their goal and their mission of helping girls. The event was so successful that they are strongly considering keeping it a completely virtual event in 2021!
 
If you'd like to see the entire live stream of the event, you can visit the Girls Inc. Facebook page here.
 
Or watch now: 
 
 
 

More information about:

Girls Inc. of New Hampshire

GIRLS INC. INSPIRES ALL GIRLS TO BE STRONG, SMART, AND BOLD

For nearly 45 years, Girls Inc. of New Hampshire has inspired girls to be Strong, Smart and Bold. We provide girls throughout New Hampshire with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face. Girls Inc. gives girls the tools and support they need to succeed, including trained professionals who mentor and guide them in a safe, girls-only environment; peers who share their drive and aspirations; and research-based programming.

 

 

More information about:

FrontStream Supporting the Good You Do

FrontStream is a leader in the nonprofit fundraising industry and makers of the Panorama by FrontStream- your all -in-one digital fundraising platform.With over 20 years of experience in the fundraising software industry, our FrontStream team is mission-focused on helping nonprofits and socially responsible corporations raise more funds to do more good. Through our innovative and secure fundraising solutions, we help organizations reach their goals and effect positive change in the world. 

 

Additional resources: 

 

Auctions with Panorama by FrontStream

Blog Post: 10 Simple Steps to Host an Online Auction During COVID-19

Blog Post: Nonprofit Fundraising for the Digital Age

FrontStream Knowledge Base: How to Embed a Video on your Auction Homepage

Case Study: Jacksonville Humane Society

Case Study: Misericordia Takes Candy Days Virtual

Panorama: overview video 

COVID-19 Resource Center

Share this article