Instructions for a Virtual Fundraiser

Thrilling Adventure Hour – a virtual event raising funds for food banks

On March 22, 2020, we cobbled together some technology to do a live streaming fundraiser based on the long-running scripted stage show and podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

We ended up using about $200 in technology to:

  • Raise over $12,000 (plus an additional $30,000 from the shows in April!)
  • Entertain about 3,000 people
  • Trend nationally on Twitter:

It was a risk, and at times frustrating, but not too hard. The important thing is we took a chance, moved fast, and made something that made everyone happy. 

Here’s what we wanted to accomplish with this fundraiser:

  • An event that felt special, broadcast live from 14 homes
  • Fundraising would come from ticket sales, so it needed to be a closed event
  • We wanted as many people as possible to be able to watch the show 

Here’s how we set up the live stream fundraiser:

Ticket sales

We started by setting up a Simple Tix page using the show’s existing paypal account (there are a few other payment processors available as well). Tickets were priced at $5, because honestly, we didn’t know if this was going to work, but also because we wanted it to be accessible to everyone in our network.

Connected SimpleTix to Gmail using Zapier so that each ticket sale triggered an automatic email to the customer. This email gave them details on how to access the show, thanked them for their donation, and gave them links to other shows.

We promoted the event to existing fans of the show using the email lists and social media accounts for the show. Email was the most effective way to reach people to buy tickets and actors sharing about the show also helped quite a bit.

The broadcast

We used a Zoom professional account for the show and practiced with it the day before (taking care to rehearse “entrances” and “exits” by turning actors’ cameras on and off). We also played with the speaker view and gallery view to give the show a few different camera angles.

Our plan was always to stream live to YouTube, but we didn’t want to just make it live for anyone to access. Remember people bought tickets, so we needed to make this event closed.

We also didn’t want to:

  • Mess around with sending links through YouTube (as in inviting people to a private stream) 
  • Risk it by sending out a live stream link too close to showtime. (You only receive your YouTube live viewing link from Zoom when you start live-streaming, which would have cut it too close. There are ways to schedule an event in YouTube and send a Zoom link there, but we hadn’t done that before and did not feel like this was the right time to try it). 

So we knew we’d want to send the Zoom meeting feed directly to You Tube Streaming account. (Here’s how to do that) But the question remained about how to get our audience to the right place at the right time for an experience that felt exclusive. We needed to create a virtual theater.

Creating a virtual theater:

We put up a very simple wordpress site and gave it a password.

We populated the page with pictures, links to the charities the show supported, and a note to refresh the page at showtime.

A few hours before the show, we closed ticket sales and sent an email to all ticket buyers with the link to the site and the password. The password was not unique to the user and we figured there’d be some sharing of the password once we sent it out. Surprisingly, there was not. The number of live views was roughly analogous to the number of tickets sold. 

In that pre-show email, as well as on social media, we sent information about the hashtag for the show, #TAHLive.

Twenty minutes before the show, we started the zoom meeting and got all the performers into the meeting. (We used the “waiting room” function to ensure if anyone got knocked off we could let them in without interrupting the scene).

Five minutes before the show, we went live on YouTube and made the event “unlisted.” We then grabbed the embed code from the YouTube stream and updated the home page to display this link.

Then we shared our screen that displayed a PowerPoint slide that said “please take your seats,” waited a few minutes after the announced showtime, and then we started the show!

2,659 people tuned into the show and the #TAHLive hashtag trended nationally. We were thrilled beyond belief. All in all, the endeavor raised over $12,000 for food banks in LA, NYC, Seattle, and New Orleans.

April 2020 update!

We raised an additional $20,000 in the second show on April 11. About 500 fewer people tuned in, but we added a second ticket level called “feeling generous” that was a $10 ticket. We were blown away by people’s generosity when half the audience chose to buy a higher priced ticket.