COVID-19 is forcing local and national governments to restrict in-person events. Businesses, nonprofits, clubs, and organizations all over the world are trying to figure out how to host virtual fundraising events.
Even large companies like Salesforce are pivoting to virtual events! So, you’re not alone in this adventure. And, the good news is that there are some easy and practical ways to make your virtual fundraising event effective and successful.
We gathered some of the tips and tricks from top businesses and nonprofits to help you confidently take your next fundraising event online.
Top Virtual Fundraising Event Tips
- Create a clear vision
- Develop a detailed plan
- Run a practice
- Get audience participation
- Repeat the event
- Create an atmosphere
- Track the data
What Are Virtual Fundraising Events?
A virtual event is an online gathering that allows you to connect with people remotely instead of in-person. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses with international employees or audiences relied on virtual events to connect and interact without costly travel. Nonprofits often used virtual events to live-stream content and connect with donors who could not attend an in-person gathering or event.
Virtual events come in all shapes and sizes! Some are short, live-streamed events that people log into from wherever they are. Others take place over several days and give loads of opportunities for interaction and participation. Some businesses and organizations also pre-record their virtual events and make them available to watch and engage with on their own time.
There’s a place and time for all kinds of virtual events. Some organizations host virtual events with no fundraiser attached, and others take the opportunity to invite people to partner financially.
Benefits of virtual events for nonprofits
The social distancing requirements required to combat the spread of the Coronavirus make it very challenging to hold in-person events (at least for the foreseeable future). However, there are some practical benefits to hosting virtual fundraising events that extend beyond the pandemic. So, learning how to host a great virtual event during the pandemic can benefit your nonprofit long after things start getting back to normal!
Fewer logistics to manage: Online events are easier to plan than large in-person gatherings because there are fewer logistics to manage. You won’t have to worry about details like renting a space, getting permits, finding caterers, or decorations (ok, you might need to think about that last one for virtual events, but we’ll get there). Your team will be able to put on a great virtual event with far less manpower and fewer volunteers.
More cost-effective: There’s no need to reserve locations, pay for food, and other expenses that drive up overhead costs for in-person events. This makes virtual fundraising events very cost-effective compared to in-person fundraising events. This means that even if you bring in slightly less money through a virtual event, you might actually pocket more fo the cash for your organization!
Sharing these kinds of details with your donors will likely help build trust and momentum toward these types of fundraisers because you are demonstrating good financial stewardship. (Of course, we wholeheartedly believe that in-person events are essential for building long-term relationships, so don’t ditch them entirely!)
Advances in technology make virtual events more impactful: Technology seems to advance at the speed of light. COVID-19 has only fueled that relentless drive forward, particularly in technology that helps people connect virtually.
Think about it: museums are creating virtual tours, musicians are learning how to host online concerts, and people are getting more comfortable with “attending” things from the comfort of their own couch (with a drink of choice in hand). Video chat and messaging technology make it possible for you to connect more personally with virtual attendees.
Thanks to all these new technological advances and more people learning how to use them, your organization can create an entertaining, engaging, and impactful virtual fundraising event. You might even be able to take your “guests” on a virtual tour of a location in the world and tell them all about how it relates to your cause!
Easier to engage with virtual attendees before, during, and after: In-person fundraising events definitely require thoughtful, personal engagement before, during, and after the event. Just a few years ago, it would have been challenging to engage with virtual attendees during an online event, but new integrated tools like live leaderboards, campaign updates, and message boards, make it much easier to help virtual attendees feel connected.
Virtual Fundraising Event Best Practices
We gathered some tips, tricks, and best practices from businesses and nonprofits who are well-versed at hosting significant virtual events.
1. Create a clear vision and purpose for your event--What’s Your Why?
You need a clear purpose and vision for an in-person event, but this is even more critical for virtual events. There’s a lot of activity online and loads of entertainment and events jockeying for people’s attention. It’s essential to have a strong “why” that stands out, attracts your target audience, and communicates exactly what will happen at your virtual fundraiser.
Don’t let the new format distract you from your organization’s mission and ultimate goal. As you craft your “why,” make sure it focuses on your donors and inspires them to partner financially.
2. Make a detailed plan for your virtual fundraiser.
Even though you don’t have all the usual logistics of planning an in-person event, you still need to make a detailed plan. Create a budget, timeline, measurable goals, an event page on your website for registrations, and a donations page.
You’ll need to be even more detailed in your content planning when preparing a virtual fundraiser. When all your attendees are in the same space, it’s ok to create space for them to connect and interact. You won’t really have that buffer with virtual events, so it’s critical to have a concrete plan for your content.
3. Do a practice event!
No matter what kind of virtual fundraising event you create, you need to do a practice run! Make sure the conferencing platform works, run through all your content, and do everything exactly as you plan to on the day of the event. Enlist a few trusted donors to “attend” and give feedback.
Practice events give you time to iron out details, make sure technology is working properly (barring any unforeseen glitches) and helps catch any potential trouble spots that might be harder to predict. It also gives your team a chance to work out any jitters and get comfortable with being on camera before the actual event.
4. Audience participation is always a good thing.
Even in the business world, the days of passive audiences are behind us. People are used to engaging online and want opportunities to voice their opinions. It’s critical to create spaces for audience participation.
Don’t be afraid to be creative with this! Q&A panels, surveys, and polls throughout the event, and even quizzes all create a sense of interaction. Some virtual meeting platforms have features that let you break attendees into small discussion groups! You can plan fun, engaging things like choosing attendees to interview during the live event. No matter what you decide to do, make sure you have opportunities for audience engagement throughout the event to create the most interactive experience possible.
5. Don’t make it a one-time thing!
Think about how you can leverage the content from your virtual event for future use. You can record the conference and create short, bite-sized videos for your YouTube or social media channels. Make your audio content available on iTunes if you have a podcast. Create sharable slides for people to reference later. Put the content behind a paywall for people to purchase after the conference.
Think beyond the event to find ways to get more out of your work and reach a larger audience. Thinking and planning this way helps your virtual events become part of your year-round fundraising strategy instead of an emergency response event.
6. Atmosphere (and background) matters!
We all know the atmosphere and decorations matter for in-person events, and it’s easy to forget about it when planning a virtual fundraising event. Don’t let this detail slide! Make sure everyone who will be on-camera is well-lit and has a great background that isn’t too distracting but isn’t just a blank wall.
I once attended a virtual event where one of the presenters was standing in front of her open pantry… it was very distracting. I found myself trying to figure out what kinds of cereal she likes instead of focusing on her content.
Have each presenter (perhaps except any outside speakers you might bring in) set up their camera and lights ahead of time to “show” everyone what it will look like on the day of the event. This will ensure there aren’t any distracting backgrounds. (Pro-tip: also check for potentially controversial things in the backgrounds, like flags, political icons, alcoholic beverages, etc.)
Basically, you want to make sure people look their best on camera and ensure nothing is distracting or potentially objectionable in the camera shot.
7. Don’t forget to track the data.
You can capture an overwhelming amount of information when you host a virtual event that will help with future fundraising efforts. Gather people’s contact information (remember, you want to follow up with them, too).
Look at the numbers afterward to see how many people attended, how long people stayed, and other data points. You can even send a short survey afterward to ask attendees for feedback. All this information will help you improve future events and offer content that your audience wants.
8. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
Don’t forget to follow up! We can’t say that enough. This is critical for in-person events… it’s even more essential for virtual fundraisers! It’s an excellent way for you to stand out from all the other organizations doing virtual events.
Whether you send a handwritten thank-you card or phone each person to thank them for attending, you can’t really go wrong. Before the day of the event, have a plan to follow up with each person. Be sure to gather the information you’ll need to execute your plan. For example, if you plan to send thank-you notes, you’ll need to get everyone’s mailing addresses. Identify who on your team is responsible for the follow-up activities and a deadline. Having a detailed follow-up plan increases the chances that it will actually happen and improves quality.
Now that you’re ready to put on an incredible virtual fundraising event, here are three more resources to help kick your online fundraising into high gear.
- 20 Virtual Fundraising Ideas During COVID-19: Consider adding an on-going virtual fundraiser to your event. Here are twenty tried-and-tested virtual fundraisers that donors love to participate in.
- Write A Fundraising Plan That Converts More Donors: If the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown your traditional fundraising strategies out the window, you probably need to come up with a new fundraising plan that incorporates more online and virtual activities. Here’s a quick guide to writing fundraising plans that will help you convert more donors.
- 8 Website Updates To Boost Your Giving Tuesday Campaign: As with any fundraising effort, it’s critical to have a great website that helps donors engage, give, and learn. This is even more true when you’re hosting virtual fundraising events! Here are 8 updates you should give your website that will improve your virtual fundraising efforts.