In the age of COVID-19 when you and your team are practicing 'social distancing' a Virtual Fundraiser might be the best answer. In place of the live GALA, the 'Good News' Auctioneer George Franco will help you produce and execute a live benefit auction online.
With my years as a television reporter I am keenly aware of what it's like to go 'live'. As a former anchor/producer I would produce the newscast I was anchoring. In essence it's the same thing when it comes to a successful Virtual webcast. This is a merging of two technologies, webcasting/broadcasting and fundraising.
We would produce a fundraising 'show' for the web. We would integrate fundraising software with webcasting to seamlessly bring your Gala to various web formats, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram and others.
With or without our help, a private Facebook group or Youtube page would be set up, to invite your patrons to connect virtually. Perhaps your non-profit or school or foundation is already set up with social media. We simply go from there.
I have access to professional broadcast quality studios, cameramen, technicians and crews to make it a successful event,
Prior to the live event, you would invite your patrons to the page days before and then we would gather on site or in studio with a few luminaries for the big night.
Then we would produce the night's big event with a custom look for your organization.
The Virtual Fundraiser will never replace an actual GALA but it's the next best thing which
may ultimately bring in new patrons who will fall in love with your great cause.
Virtual Fundraising Explained
With COVID-19 comes a new reality, social distancing. Exactly how long this will continue is an unknown. In my opinion, even after the powers to be declare the deadly virus contained, society will remain cautious about venturing out and reconnecting.
One of the paths forward to continue with vital fundraising is virtual fundraising. Benefit auctioneers across the country are approaching this scenario by merging two technologies, webcasting/video streaming and digital fundraising.
My experience as a professional benefit auctioneer and former television news reporter/anchor/producer touches on both sides of this new area. My research leads me to conclude the following are viable options to replace and or enhance the traditional Gala.
The basic premise is the same for all options. There are numerous sources: cameras, videos, computer screens, graphics and more funneled to one distribution point. From there the webcast/streaming video is broadcast to the masses via platforms like Facebook, YouTube and others.
Option One: A live webcast at a dedicated studio. This involves support crews on at least two fronts, the television production crew and fundraising crew. The tv crew includes two camerapersons, and a director/switcher. On the fundraising side are a producer, the hosts, me, and a co-host, as well as a volunteer. Others in attendance could be a speaker and or entertainment. This keeps the numbers attending below the threshold of ten and adheres to social distancing.
Duties: The Camerapersons are focused on going ‘live’ with the talent. One camera is wide on the talent, the other is a cutaway camera. The director/switcher electronically routes the live cameras, videos, graphics and computer screens during the webcast. The producer guides the director to display the live cameras, videos, computer screens and other sources during the webcast. The hosts interact with each other, direct comments toward the audience, introduce videos and more. Me, the benefit auctioneer conducts the live auction and fund a need. The volunteer monitors digital bidding and donations from one computer displaying the bidding software. On a second computer that person monitors the on line remarks on social media.
Option Two: A live webcast from a remote location. The jobs and people involved remain the same. However instead of a dedicated studio, the live webcast occurs at a remote location, perhaps a school, non-profit headquarters, etc. The television crew bring their gear. The fundraising crew bring their necessary computers and whatever else they need.
The audience/Patrons; The audience/patrons are safe at home. They pre-register on a bidding platform. It’s advised the silent auction and live auction open a couple of days or more before the night of the GALA. If donations can be secured ahead of time, it will help. It’s also VERY important to get the word out ahead of time. Social media is key here. When we are ‘live’ this gives us a much more advantageous starting point. When we are webcasting patrons will be watching at home using two platforms, a smart phone to bid and donate in the silent and live auctions and the fund a need. They should also have a lap top open to the platform where the event will be streamed, YouTube, Facebook or some other option.
Challenge: One challenge is ‘latency’, the lag between when we are ‘live’ and when the webcast is seen on social media. Latency averages between 15 to 30 seconds, more or less, depending on the streaming platform used. This is not a big issue for me personally because it was a common occurrence when I was reporting the news.
Option Three – Teleconferencing. This is what we have been seeing all over social media and traditional media as well. Several platforms, Zoom, Livestorm, Webinar Jam and others bring people together electronically through a teleconference. This means people are separated, each safely in their homes. Your team can also encourage watch parties of families and friends to abide to size restrictions.
Duties: Talent, myself and a luminary from the organization. I would conduct the live auction and fund a need. The co-host would be the person administering the teleconference as well as visually dropping in and out. Another person, a producer would be the person playing videos, switching shots on the computer screen. These could include the auction items and perhaps a thermometer or some scale to track the funds.
This approach doesn’t have the long lag times, ‘latency’ of the studio/remote site approaches. It also allows others to be seen as well.
Another middle ground is connecting the teleconferencing approach with the studio approach. However, this is unknown territory where fundraising professionals and AV teams are connecting in ways not tried before.