NONPROFIT FUNDRAISING IN 2022: Will virtual events stick around?

Virtual events allowed nonprofits to reach more new donors than ever before. As restrictions lift, fundraisers face a choice about how to engage their audience.

The nonprofit industry relies heavily on in-person charity events, so COVID-19 dealt a painful blow. 60% of the nonprofits surveyed in our State of Nonprofit Fundraising 2020 report postponed at least one in-person event, and 80% outright canceled one.

As always, fundraisers adapted and found creative new ways to fill the gap. Events moved online, and livestreams brought entertainment and inspiration to virtual guests while they bid in online auctions. In 2020, nearly 80% of nonprofits said they replaced an in-person gala with a virtual event.

Critical lessons to learn from the success of virtual fundraisers

As restrictions lifted in 2021 and nonprofits began holding “hybrid” events—a virtual event, sometimes with a livestream, running alongside a small in-person gala. But the pandemic was still in flux and sudden changes in health and safety guidelines could throw a wrench in even careful plans. Like 2020, some in-person events had to be canceled or moved back online.

As the pandemic continues to change around us, the virtual event will keep fundraising going and fill critical revenue gaps. Keeping a virtual event ready in your back pocket ensures everyone can still donate.

Virtual events bring in donors!

As reported in our 2020 State of Nonprofit Fundraising report, 87% of nonprofits who hosted a virtual event reached brand new donors.

Online events were simply available to a much broader audience than exclusive, in-person galas had been. They connected passionate people directly with the causes they cared about.

CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: The Dougy Center’s virtual event went big—even worldwide, with guests tuning into the Portland-based live stream from locations as far away as Asia. They planned an incredible outreach campaign leading up to the event, made ticketing and registration available as soon as possible, and even got a TV special that put them in front of a massive new audience.

READ MORE about The Dougy Center’s hugely successful 2021 virtual event!

Virtual events are more accessible, and accessibility means REACH. Anyone, anywhere can attend a virtual event. Some organizations found success making their virtual events available for free. Others have sold tickets (often with some benefits attached, like a delivered meal), or requested a donation for entry. You know your audience best!

Flexible and low-cost, virtual events are a huge opportunity

Nonprofits used to lean on large-scale, annual events to raise a big chunk of their budget—but often carrying a hefty price tag.

Now, as more average donors than ever before are giving to causes they care about, successful fundraisers are embracing novel revenue streams, like small and individual donors, online donations, even micro-philanthropy.

Virtual events cost less, allowing fundraisers to get creative and use them more frequently. Without shouldering the expense of venues or catering, nonprofits can save big—which means more money going straight to the cause.

Diversify your revenue stream. The pandemic necessitated fundraisers that didn’t involve gathering indoors, like telethons and golf tournaments—events that More events in a year means fewer eggs in one basket, so a single disrupted event doesn’t make or break the budget.

Online-only events are easier to plan. Remember, you can pre-record video content for your livestream, and reduce the workload on the big night. Recording in advance can mean higher production quality, and then any mistakes are caught before going live.

TIP: You can save even more on hosting a virtual event by soliciting donations or discounts for services, equipment, or goods. Nonprofits have seen great success finding sponsors specifically to cover audio/visual production costs, and getting ingredients donated for dinner and drink packages to bring the gala experience directly to their virtual guests.

Creativity and innovation will be key in 2022

Fundraisers need to be pioneers now more than ever. Even when we go back fully to in-person galas, there’s always a place for virtual events. That could mean entirely online auctions that happen throughout the year, capital campaign drives, or simple virtual get-togethers that focus on the cause. Online fundraisers reach broader audiences, which can mean more lifelong donors—a worthwhile investment in your cause.

We put together some other fun ideas for possible virtual events to add to your nonprofit’s annual lineup.

• If you have a television or broadcasting partner, running a televised telethon or streaming the event on TV can provide a massive boost of visibility.

A peer-to-peer fundraiser that culminates in a fun virtual party, where participants’ progress is featured on the live stream in a fun (or funny) way.

Broadcasting an outdoor event, like a golf tournament, so people at home can cheer for their favorite participants.

Online auction feature. If you plan to hold a purely online auction, a live stream of the items up for bid can be a great way to build hype and excitement. Get an emcee or auctioneer partner involved to really develop the fun and entertainment!

Have other great ideas for virtual events? Please let us know in the comments!


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