We are talking to organizations every day about putting on virtual galas/fundraisers and almost every single one asks: What is everyone else doing for the fall or winter 2021 events.
Full disclosure of bias: We run virtual events for non-profits that raise as much or more than previous years while doing it online, so we think they are a great thing. That said, the reality is in-person events are really fun and people want to connect and we encourage that when it's safe to do so.
There are two pieces to consider if planning for an in-person vs. virtual event:
1. What is legally allowed?
2. What are people comfortable doing?
A quick parallel story: I live in Ottawa, Canada. Across the river from us is the province of Quebec where they decided to re-open schools in mid-May. While the government opened the doors to allow students to attend, the parents weren't comfortable sending their kids and would rather do the harder thing of keeping them home. As a result, entire schools had only a handful of kids actually show up.
When deciding to plan for a virtual or in-person gala there is potential that your state will allow gatherings of 50 or more people in the coming months. However, the question becomes:
will people, and especially the most vulnerable older generation (which is likely a large donor base for yours), be comfortable actually coming to such an event?
Here are some ideas to consider:
1. Could you do a well ventilated outdoor event where the risk of COVID-19 spread is reduced? That might help to make the environment safer.
2. Could you do a hybrid event with some people in-person, and some people joining via a livestream? The added benefit here is if things are safe for larger groups, you could just up the number of in-person attendees.
3. Could you make a livestream event during a Thursday evening that wouldn't interfere with whatever weekend plans might look like in a couple of months?
4. Table captains can host house parties of the livestream! Amy Pulk Meara posted in a Facebook group: "we're working with our venue to do "to go" catering and we're creating an opportunity for our table sponsors to host in their homes! We're putting all the pieces of the event in a box for them to pick up that afternoon, keep the food warm in their ovens, and then tune into the event!"
5. Just keep the events fully virtual. These events can still be fun, engaging, and still raise a lot of money.
There is no crystal ball to know what is going to work in a couple of months, but hopefully these are some ideas to help you in your planning.