Another non-profit fundraising season is nearly upon us—after last spring’s sudden shift to online events, it’s a great time to review virtual event options to enhance fundraising.
The Evolution of Virtual Events
Virtual events first came on the scene during the Digital Revolution in the 1990s as a way to connect small group meetings and presentations. During the Great Recession (mid-2000s) it became a popular option due to its economic and environmentally friendly advantages. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it suddenly became a necessity for organizations as they scrambled to keep the commitments they’d set for in-person meetings. Now, as the Fall 2020 fundraising season kicks off, we find ourselves relying on this option as a necessary tool to connect with our donors, without endangering their health.
Over the last three decades, the virtual event has evolved to become a viable option that mimics a real event space, with conference space for large audiences, breakout rooms, the ability to present taped or live productions, and tools that provide unique ways to network in a formal setting with key people or informally with attendees, all in real time.
The good news is: This virtual option has proven to be effective in reaching a broader audience, and with a smaller budget than is typical of a live in-person event.
Stepping Up Your Virtual Event Game
It’s no surprise that challenges come with a new tool. Event planners have had to overcome technical difficulties, limitations inherent in the platforms they use, and the challenge of providing the enthusiasm needed for a fundraising event through an attendee’s computer screen.
Overcoming these challenges takes a thorough examination of an event’s plan and finding new and exciting ways to make the changes needed to eliminate issues. These are areas we suggest you focus on to get started upgrading your next virtual event.
Don’t abandon the year-end fundraising goals you’ve set for your nonprofit. If you feel that one virtual event will fall short of your 2020 funding goal, consider creating a multi-part plan with several events that offer many opportunities for your community to give. Advertise it as a “year of giving” that will offer a series of events focused on the need for your mission and ways your community can continue to give.
For example; you could live stream a tour of your nonprofit with a key person as the tour guide. A month later you could initiate a fun fundraising challenge and invite your community to share videos of them performing the challenge. A more formal presentation could follow, with a large live event, complete with an entertaining program and a silent auction.
Your demographics may change due to time and technical constraints. Getting a tech guru involved is a great way to start exploring what platforms to use, how to expand your reach across the cyberworld, and the technical restraints that you face.
Because the virtual world has no geographical boundaries, you may discover you have more opportunities to spread your message and acquire new donors. These changes demand a fresh look at who your typical attendee might be and ways that would entice them to get involved.
Two fundamentals needed to get a virtual event off on the ground are 1) a robust online donation platform and 2) a captivating, well-designed, and highly functioning website. Through these two items, you are presenting your attendees with a reason they should become a donor and providing them with an easy way to contribute.
A dedicated, virtual fundraising website provides you with a multi-layered presentation platform devoted entirely to your event. Use an attention-grabbing headline, highly compelling visuals and video, a clear message about your work and your mission, and a call to action that includes a “Donate” button that takes visitors directly to your donation page. Be sure to offer links and hashtags whenever you are posting or presenting anything on the internet.
Amp up the energy in “the room” with a likable, dynamic host that is comfortable speaking to an invisible audience. This is something that not all fundraiser hosts can pull off. Make sure you work with your host prior to the event or interview specifically for an online event.
Create a program that includes fun incentives for your audience. Silent auctions can be successfully reproduced in an online forum, as well as Fund-in-Need and raffles. There are many resources to help you successfully include your guests in the excitement. Just keep in mind the need to scale back the allotted time to accommodate the typical person’s attention span.
Unlike an in-person event, promoting your fundraiser doesn’t stop when the event begins. Live tweeting and regularly posting messages, videos, and images to social media will encourage more people to join in on the fun. The use of hashtags links to the website and keywords is appropriate here, too. And, always encourage your community to share your posts and add their own with your designated hashtag.
Preempting technical difficulties is like feeling your way through a dark room—you are bound to bump into something before you get out. Your tech guru should be a calm, knowledgeable partner that can stay in constant contact and control throughout your virtual event. Check in with them prior to, and throughout the duration of your event, especially as your attendees are logging on and the activities are starting to kick off.
With the fall fundraising season just a few weeks ahead of us, we can still take advantage of the lessons about virtual events that we learned last spring. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to fine-tune your end-of-year fundraising event and make it memorable for all involved.