The last year has been one of pivots and possibilities for organizations across sectors, and around the world, especially when it comes to driving new online revenue streams to supplement projected revenue from in-person events. And this has been particularly beneficial for companies whose fundraising efforts have been affected by COVID-19.
Virtual events are one of the most innovative ways nonprofits can fundraise today. In fact, a study on Fundraising Through a Pandemic indicates that 62% of businesses converted to a virtual fundraising event over the last year and that the majority of those who did, described the event as successful.
And with audiences having become accustomed to a digital and virtual-first world, a virtual fundraiser is a great way to leverage this medium to match (or even outdo) the best in-person fundraisers in terms of reach and donations raised.
In this article, we’ll tell you how to go about planning, promoting, and executing a successful virtual fundraising event.
1. Set a fundraising goal
What are your organization's current goals? Are you looking for more members, volunteers, or donors? For which projects are you raising money? It's important to keep all of these things in mind when setting your fundraising goal. Once you’ve done so, you can start planning sessions and activities at your virtual fundraiser that will help you reach your objectives.
2. Make a list of donors and keep them engaged pre-event
It's best to start your list of donors by compiling a database of all the people who have donated at past in-person events. These can be people, businesses, community members, etc. You'll want to make sure you note why they gave and what sparked their interest in doing so. But this list isn’t just of people who have donated to your cause, it’s also important to have an idea of people who are interested but may not yet be ready to donate. Make sure you keep everyone engaged before you host the virtual fundraiser using social media and email marketing. You’ll need to acknowledge and thank the efforts and money raised towards your cause thus far, and what you’re hoping to achieve with your upcoming event, so potential donors can feel aligned to its purpose.
3. Decide what type of event you will host
Part of the beauty of virtual events is that you can choose from or blend together different types of formats, for instance, a webinar, crowdfunding, live stream, or even a virtual race, which you can all host on a virtual event platform. Here are a few examples:
- Webinars or educational lectures: Organize interviews or panel discussions pertaining to your fundraising goal, with experts in the industry, volunteers out in the field, or even leadership at the organization. Skid Row Housing Trust did a Facebook Live video with the CEO of a nonprofit organization that provides 1,040 beds every night at different shelters and talked about how they can help end homelessness. A link and code were provided so attendees could watch the discussion happen and even donate or ask questions if they wished to do so.
- A virtual silent auction: Try out a virtual silent auction where attendees are given access to an online catalog of items that are available for auction and then bid on items that interest them. Unlike in-person auctions, virtual silent auctions can happen for a longer period, like a week - just like on eBay. Usually, auction items that receive the most bid activity are ones that appeal to a donor’s needs or interests, are unique, and of course, are reasonably priced.
- Hold a virtual gala: This is a great way to connect with and thank your supporters when you can’t do that in person. With a virtual gala, you’re essentially inviting your supporters for an interactive program that showcases your mission and your program. Using the right virtual event platform, you can schedule a program of speakers, live appeals, videos, and even entertainment to keep your attendees engaged and enthused. In fact, you could even incorporate the virtual silent auction here if it suits the purpose.
- Virtual/hybrid tours: Whether a university or a museum, taking your supporter and donors on a guided tour through the space or exhibit can give them an insider’s view of the work that your company is doing, and help them feel more connected to your goals, and increases the chance that they will donate to your cause. And unlike hosting an only in-person event, there’s no limit to the number of attendees you can take on your tour.
- Crowdfunding via virtual activities: First, you need to set up a page with information about your cause. Then organize an activity for which participants can pay a registration fee and then take part in, like a virtual race. This event is best done as a peer-to-peer fundraiser where the participants can seek donations for how far they’ve run or the time they’ve been running for. Afterward, you can use a virtual event platform to hold an awards show, celebrate the participants, and give them the opportunity to connect with each other.
4. Pick the right event technology
You’ll want to make sure that your virtual event platform supports whichever virtual fundraiser format you’re choosing to go with. And to that end, you’ll need a platform that gives you the ability to easily customize it to execute your vision.
Keep in mind that your event can have different components - a live presentation or discussion, an area where attendees can connect and chat, and an area where you can showcase your organization’s work. So on your event platform should be able to have a lobby area where attendees can wait before the event begins or interact with other attendees.Then there should be a Stages area where you can livestream sessions or play recorded videos, and pull together a real-time audience with whom you can communicate your fundraising goals. It’s also good to have breakaway rooms or networking areas where your attendees can mingle and chat.
And in all areas of your event, it’s beneficial if your virtual event platform gives you the ability to use widgets or buttons that link to your website, landing page, or crowdfunding page, to promote in-the-moment donations.
5. Promote your virtual fundraiser
Go on social media, plan an email blast, advertise on public radio – whatever it takes to get the word out about your event. This will only encourage more donors to come forward You'll want to promote it at least one month in advance so that people are aware of the event dates and format, and can make space in their schedules.
6. Make the attendee experience a seamless and enjoyable one
This point might seem like it goes without saying, but what we mean to say is to leverage the advantages of a virtual platform to deliver an experience that is authentic and relevant for your attendees, and is high-impact for your business. This can be as simple as putting up images of your volunteers in the lobby, or playing a video of everything you’ve achieved for your cause so far.
Keep in mind that because you’re no longer hampered by geographical constraints, you can now invite Speakers to your virtual fundraiser who were out of your figurative and literal reach before. For example, if you are raising funds to build a park, you can invite a high-profile athlete to talk about how important outdoor activities are for children or if you’re raising money for wildlife conservation, you can try to recruit famous conservations to make a virtual appearance at your event - who knows, maybe even David Attenborough?
And a smart way to leverage high-profile speakers would be to set up private roundtable discussions or a 1:1 meet-and-greet that can be accessed by specific ticket tiers.
7. Prioritize audience interaction
Level up participation and engagement by leveraging the features and tools of your platform, such as a social media wall (that makes visible the posts and tweets about your event). This allows you to amplify the activities and energy of your attendees, thereby boosting your reach and interest in your cause.
Using interactivity tools will also go a long way. When hosting a live session with high-profile speakers, encouraging two-way dialogue via Polls or Chat is a way to make your attendees feel more involved and engaged. And you can have a virtual emcee to remind your donors why you’re raising money and give them an easy way to contribute by clicking on a donation button on the page.
Another way to ‘level up’ your audience interactions is by introducing gamification at your event. Simply put, gamification introduces game mechanics to a setting, and can be used to increase attendee engagement. So you can use it at your virtual fundraiser to educate and entertain your audience. You can award points for asking questions at a session, answering polls, or watching a video about your project. You can even launch a virtual scavenger hunt, where attendees need to visit different rooms or virtual expo booths to find clues that lead to a prize.
Virtual fundraisers give organizers great opportunities to drive better results, far more than what you can expect at in-person events. But it’s up to you to think of out-of-the box fun and unique ideas for your virtual fundraiser that make people want to attend. Once you’ve done that, the next major step is to then engage with all levels of donors during the event itself. And last but not least, make donating during your event, engaging, simple and easy.
If you’re looking to explore the capabilities and benefits of virtual or hybrid virtual fundraiser – let’s talk!