Screenshot of Surgeons of Hope (SOH) virtual gala on Vimeo

November is the month of galas for many Franco-American associations. But Covid-19 obliges, they had to review their copy.

Instead of organizing the traditional big meetings with tens or even hundreds of people in evening clothes, with champagne, petits-fours and auctioneers, they had to go online for the very first time. “We are completely in the dark“, Summarizes Sylvie Epelbaum, president of Entraide française, an association that helps Franco-Americans in distress in New York. The small association of motivated volunteers, on the front line in supporting people economically affected by the Covid, was to organize its gala at the consulate, as every year. Instead, she makes an appointment with her supporters on Zoom on November 20 for a free evening mixing music, speeches and readings of letters from beneficiaries of Entraide française.

There will also be the usual auctions, but this time the bidders will be invited to raise their hands virtually via Zoom. “We do rehearsals to make sure everything works ”, specifies Sylvie Epelbaum. Canceling everything was not an option, especially at the moment: the Entraide française provides financial assistance to individuals who can no longer afford their rent. “We are small, we have nothing to lose. It’s a lot of work. We don’t know the performance, but we have to. It would have been worse to do nothing. Our gala will be very warm“.

Galas are often the main source of income for “non-profits”. They make it possible to finance the various programs offered by these associations, while offering guests the opportunity to network and show off. Organizing a virtual gala involves risks and obstacles: possible connection problems, limitation of the number of participants on the platforms, questions about the fair price of tickets and the duration of the event while “Zoom-fatigue” lurks … “Usually, there are models or good practices that we can refer to when setting up an event. But virtual galas are new to everyone“, Summarizes Jennifer Herlein, director of the French Heritage Society (FHS) association, whose gala will take place on Thursday 19 November.

FHS has chosen to keep ticket prices high ($ 300-10,000), even though the event will be completely virtual this year. “Many people have supported us and understand that it is important“, Explains the director. She expects this 2020 gala to generate a third of the revenue from classic galas, but she is counting on a distinguished guest, decorator Robert Couturier, and a mix of speeches and videos to energize the evening, presented as a “virtual ball” which will also allow guests to “network” in virtual “rooms”.

The FIAF (French Institute Alliance Française), which hopes to raise between 250,000 and 300,000 dollars (against between 1.5 and 2 million in normal times) during its “Petit Gala Outside The Box”, Monday, November 16, has opted for a hybrid evening. On the program: a series of shows broadcast on Vimeo and a face-to-face dinner limited to ten people in its Manhattan building (instead of the 500 expected at the Plaza Hotel). “Our desire to disseminate French culture remains at the center of our ambition. Covid or not, we must always have the ambition to do better, and we must finance all that ”, Marie-Monique Steckel, director of the FIAF, declared to French Morning last week.

Auctions, the highlight of any gala, have also become a puzzle: how to reproduce on Zoom the dynamic created in a room by the auctioneer? And which lots to submit to the highest bidders? While these prizes traditionally include stays in France or trips to paradisiacal destinations offered by sponsors, the restrictions imposed on international travel complicate matters. The Franco-American Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco (FACCSF), which is organizing its much-awaited Evening on November 18 in the presence of two climbers around the theme of perseverance, has thus opted for gastronomic prizes and sports equipment. “Travel is more uncertain. In addition, some of our partners are in difficulty because of the economic context. We didn’t see ourselves asking them to give us prizes“, Explains Laurence Fabre, the director of the FACCSF. Despite the challenges, the Frenchwoman believes that the amount of funds raised this year “se will bring”Years gone by. “The big advantage of digital is that we have lower costs. You don’t need to rent a room, for example. Normally we can still cover the organizational costs, around $ 100,000, but that’s a risk-taking. This year, the financial risk is lower“, She confides.

Guests of La Soirée will have the opportunity to have a food “box” delivered. They can also have their picture taken in a virtual Ubersnap photo booth and go to breakout rooms to vary the experiences. “The challenge is going to be commitment. We will have to vary the pace, help the public to navigate between interviews, the photo app, auctions …, continues the manager. We do this in a start-up spirit. Don’t expect a Netflix production!

The associations have not all decided to go virtual. The American Friends of Blérancourt, which raises funds to support the Franco-American museum of Chateau de Blérancourt in Picardy, have decided to cancel their November 11 gala, which was to honor actress Angelina Jolie. “As the New York clubs where we do our galas are closed, we couldn’t organize a gala this year.“, Specifies Franck Laverdin, the president of the association. Even though the gala is “a key moment”For“ not profit ”, the person in charge specifies that his donors gave money of themselves. “We are in a time when everyone pays attention to their budget. We didn’t want to insist“.


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