Keep Your Annual Gala And Make it a Virtual Event


Many synagogues hold their annual major event or fundraising gala in the spring. In light of the current pandemic, some were forced to have canceled or postponed their March and April events. With uncertainty about when they can be reopened, synagogues should consider re-imagining these important fundraising events in a virtual format, particularly if reaching a financial goal in fiscal 2020 is critical. In some cases, the current pandemic has created a type of “philanthropic adrenaline,” meaning congregants realize they need their synagogue more than ever, they are connecting more than they have in the past and therefore, those who can. are making every effort to support their synagogue community financially.

Virtual experiences can be just as creative and engaging as in-person ones. That is why we encourage synagogues to keep their fundraising efforts and events intact, following the same annual cadence as much as is possible.

Importantly, with congregants increasing their use of popular communications platforms such as Zoom, Facebook Live and others during this time, changing an in-person event to a virtual one is a great option for bringing your community together for an event that is looked forward to annually. This accessible format can even open up the gala to additional attendees including existing members, prospects and members of the greater community who hadn’t been moved to participate before.

Dinner “With Friends”

Consider recreating a virtual dinner gala with paid attendance. This can be done by creating small groups of people who are assigned to different virtual breakout rooms. These let you separate people in a meeting into smaller groups – following the same seating plan as in an in person event – where they can eat their dinner and have private conversations, see, socialize and connect with others in a similar fashion to being in-person. Zoom offers this easy-to-use feature and the breakout rooms can be set in time increments of your choice. In the same way you might identify table captains, select lay leaders who can bring excitement and fun to the breakout room.

Staff Participation

Having clergy and staff participation in a virtual event is critical to keep the synagogue mission front and center. One of the main goals of a gala, in addition to raising much-need dollars, is networking and meeting congregants, donors and community leaders in order to build stronger relationships. Make sure that staff, clery and key officers have an opportunity to mix and mingle among different breakout rooms. Work with the table captains to determine their guests interests and place the right staff or officer accordingly.

Pick a Gala Theme

Select a meaningful and festive gala theme that you can translate into compelling visuals for the electronic invitation and auction. With Zoom, you can change the background image, which for the gala, could include a festive theme, synagogue imagery or a photo of the Israeli landscape. The theme could also connect back to a gala honoree. Encourage hosts to carry the theme on their end through their table decor. The congregant/donor cultivation process starts as soon as the guest logs on, so use that moment, and backdrop, to your advantage.

Recognition Can Still Be Meaningful and Special

Many synagogue galas include ad journals and honoring individuals, even couples who have given back to the community in various ways. A virtual gala still allows for tremendous creativity and numerous ways to share appreciation for those being honored. Introductions, videos, even musical performances can be shared with attendees once they return from the breakout rooms to a singular award program. Put your journal online, where you can post local advertising and congratulatory messages from family members and friends.

Highlight The Event Mission

Set the stage for the gala by providing table hosts with a brief, pre-written introduction and presentation, while allowing for some personalization. Keep the synagogue’s mission as a central part of the evening, to help guests feel connected and engaged around giving support.

It’s extremely gratifying that during this time of crisis, Jews across North America, feeling anxious and isolated, are turning to their synagogues to help them get through this time. Don’t fear asking for those much-needed dollars now. You may be pleasantly surprised at how many people are more than willing to show their support and appreciation. See our related blog, 10 Tips: Virtual Fundraising Today To Prepare For Tomorrow.

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