Balance Your Event Costs with the Benefits of a Virtual Audience

Virtual Audience Engagemetn with The Camp Rosenbaum Fund

The Camp Rosenbaum Fund included a virtual audience in their live event for this one important reason.

As more people become accustomed to consuming content online, events require thoughtful design to keep them fresh and viable. An event with a virtual audience option means that people you want to reach, no matter where they are, can participate. In fundraising, not all the costs or benefits come in the form of dollars. For long-term fundraising and development, nonprofits have many different priorities to manage:

  1. Sponsor engagement and stewardship

  2. Outreach and donor recruitment

  3. Fundraising

  4. Future development

We know it’s important to keep big donors engaged in the cause, and fundraisers are a perfect opportunity to get to know them better and develop a more powerful connection. But the costs can also add up, so it’s critical to weigh them against the future potential for fundraising.

Holding an event that engages ALL donors

The Camp Rosenbaum Fund is a community-building nonprofit that offers camps and programs for low-income youth, and funds these important programs with multiple fundraising events throughout the year. But like many nonprofits, they have one big gala—The Taste of Camp—that provides a large amount of their fundraising during the year.

They had seen impressive success with virtual fundraisers in 2020 and 2021, indicating that a large group of their donors wanted to attend from home. The purely online event had also drawn supporters from outside their typical gala’s 250-person guest list. But their sponsors preferred an in-person event, where their guests could receive a more traditional gala experience.

So in 2022, The Camp Rosenbaum Fund decided to bring both worlds to their annual Taste of Camp event, and include their at-home donors and in-person sponsors at the same time. In addition to streaming the event to virtual guests, 120 people attended the live event, with everyone participating in the same live donation appeal. Though they could only invite half of their pre-pandemic guest list, the virtual audience would help boost their revenue.

But there were many new details to figure out with this new format—essentially two events in one—and some additional costs. It was a big undertaking in a difficult fundraising environment.

Shaping your event to YOUR In-Person and Virtual Audience

The Camp Rosenbaum Fund knew it would be a lot of work to put on this event, but keeping sponsors happy while continuing to engage remote donors was ultimately worthwhile. Now sponsors felt satisfied with their own contributions to the event experience, and a large group of additional donors could still give in the live appeal.

Though the additional equipment needed to stream the event to virtual guests brought an additional cost, 51 households tuned in to the virtual event to participate.

But they struggled to get auction item donations, and certainly didn’t have enough to fill out an auction large enough for both groups. So The Camp Rosenbaum Fund made a quick adjustment, choosing to make their silent and live auction items available only to their in-person attendees—who are traditionally larger donors, sponsors, and their guests.

Not all returns are tangible

Camp Rosenbaum Virtual EngagementUnderstanding this, the auction team decided to add consignment items as well to help fill out the catalog. Though these items came with a cost to the organization, it made the auction experience feel full, appealing, and professional—which was ultimately worthwhile.

Knowing the auction wouldn’t bring in the same fundraising as previous events, they also added fun games and activities to the event. This offered in-person guests the entertaining experience they expected, while generating easy additional revenue.

Though the event cost was higher than pre-pandemic events had been—and didn’t quite deliver the same fundraising results thanks to some unforeseen circumstances—The Camp Rosenbaum Fund was able to engage donors from across the spectrum in the cause, and make up for losses with some creative thinking. It also inspired their program director to hold many more events during the year, at every level of participation.

While future events may look different in a better fundraising environment, The Camp Rosenbaum Fund found new ways to bring in donors, boost their fundraising in the face of unpredictable challenges, and spread giving across the year.

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