Nonprofits pivot for this year’s gala season — with success

| October 28, 2020 | 0 Comments

JAMES CONLON conducted the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra for online gala, viewed world-wide.

Cocktails, a fine dinner, a silent auction, live entertainment, celebrities and a glittering array of guests — a standard formula for major gala fundraising events for many organizations. But not this year.

While many nonprofits are canceling or postponing such events, others are pivoting, creating gala-type events that take social distancing or virtual connection into account, using drive-in type events, live-streaming (live transmission of an event over the internet) or even regular television. Many organizations are learning that one of the advantages of holding such events is the low overhead. They don’t have to pay for a venue, decorating, catering staff, linens, valet parking, etc.

Los Angeles Opera

ROBERT AND ANN RONUS’ pup, Theo, also attended the LA Opera gala.

The Los Angeles Opera is one organization taking advantage of Zoom to book virtual “tables” for a gala event. Several Hancock Park residents participated in an October 15 “online gala,” including Robert and Ann Ronus, Victor and Marlene Chavez, David and Kiki Ramos Gindler, Mark and Cathy Helm, Elaine Johnson, Peter and Annette O’Malley, Suzanne Rheinstein and Phil Roman.

The opera gala program included live-streaming entertainment with performances by tenor Russell Thomas and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra conducted by James Conlon. Participants were able to “hook in” family and friends from around the world to view the program with them. Visit Opera management indicated that generous donors had allowed the virtual event to net as much income as would have been received in a normal year.

Project Angel Food

Instead of holding its usual September gala, Project Angel Food instead hosted an old-fashioned telethon, “Lead with Love,” which was broadcast on KTLA, complete with people manning phones and holding online chats with some celebrities attending via Zoom. The June 27 telethon raised at least $720,000, which was more than what would have been raised at a regular gala event, says Richard Ayoub, executive director at Project Angel Food.

Next up, this month, the annual Angel Awards Gala will be experienced as a 10-day event that begins Thurs., Nov. 12 with an online silent auction that lasts until the live-stream event “A Night of Gratitude and Song,” itself a live auction featuring musical performances and celebrity guests on Sun., Nov. 22 at 6 p.m.  Visit

“FIREFLY NIGHTS” dancers on the banks of the river at River LA.

River LA

River LA, a nonprofit working on revitalizing the Los Angeles River, scheduled two COVID-safe fundraising events this season that together are called “Rio Reveals.” The first was “Firefly Nights,” a donors-only event on Oct. 24-25 that combined a drive-in experience at hidden spots along the Los Angeles River with fireflies, puppets, dancers and music.

“Rio Records,” the second part of “Rio Reveals,” is both live and at-home and is a 70-minute program of live performances and interactive entertainment beginning Thurs., Nov. 19 and lasting through Tues., Dec. 29. Each evening is unique, and participants are to be given a recording of the event at the end of the experience. Visit

In October there were several more not-in-person gala-type events that organizations used for fundraising.

Craft Contemporary

The Miracle Mile museum featuring craft and folk art, like most museums, has been closed because of the pandemic. However, it has been holding a two-week online fundraiser and ceramic celebration, titled “Potluck,” that includes an auction and online programming with clay workshops, studio tours and artist interactions. The event ends Oct. 31. Visit

Museum of the Holocaust

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, adjoining Pan Pacific Park, presented a live-stream event, “45 Minutes of Inspiration” that was hosted on Oct. 21 by Melissa Rivers (daughter of Joan Rivers), to raise awareness about the Holocaust. Visit

Junior League

The Junior League of Los Angeles presented its “Little Black Dress Initiative” during the fourth week of October. Supporters were asked to wear a little black dress (or hoodie or wig or blazer or something) during five days to raise awareness about foster youth and funds for projects to support them. Learn more at

St. Anne’s Guild

The St. Anne’s Guild “Evening of Angels” event was online this year. Held on Oct. 25, Angel Awards were presented during the live-stream event. Visit

Stray Cat Alliance

In September, the Stray Cat Alliance held a virtual event for its 20th Anniversary Gala. For the partially live and partially pre-recorded program, there were: a silent auction, award presentations and rescue stories. Both feline and human celebrities were present. Visit

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Category: Entertainment

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