Why Virtual Fundraising Events Are Here to Stay August 5, 2022 by Jeremiah Erasquin Event MarketingEvent Production There are two near-universal qualities that set fundraising events apart from other virtual events, making them worthy of special attention. First, the entire event apparatus itself has to be optimized for donation conversions — everything from the visual appeal and user experience of a given webpage to the payment processing and confirmation experience. The same can be said for all the content marketing leading up to, during, and after the event. The second factor is seasonalism. All nonprofits are familiar with the pressures of year-end fundraising. Despite the market saturation of consumer ads and competing charities of that time of year, donors are ready to give. It’s part of our culture for a number of reasons. You can’t un-convince donors that year-end is when they should donate. After all, it’s their last chance to do something good – and get a tax deduction for it – in that year. Aside from year-end, every nonprofit has its own culture of seasonal giving as it relates to their cause. Examples include charity races in the Spring and Summer months (often around a holiday like Memorial Day or Labor Day), where nonprofits encourage their constituents to team up (a.k.a. “team raisers” or “friend raisers”) or go solo in a friendly race competition (running, biking, etc.) where donors commit to a dollar-per-mile scenario for their favorite racer or team. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made many nonprofit organizations turn to virtual fundraising events. Yet as pandemic concerns subsided, the appetite for these events did not. To the contrary, the early adopters of virtual fundraisers are planning their next year-end galas as hybrid events — in-person events with a virtual component. To not do this would be to leave opportunity, and vital donations, on the table. How Do You Fundraise Virtually? Fundraising online requires the same amount of careful planning as an in-person fundraiser. There are at least as many variables at play, and not all of them are shared. However, a great starting point is to take inventory of your digital marketing & online fundraising capacities. Tap into staff with knowledge of user experience and conversion optimization. Corral your best wordsmiths and social media marketers. These roles will be essential to curating the best and most effective online experience. Staff with in-person event planning experience have much to offer in the virtual event production process, too. Just make sure they appreciate and can adjust to the important differences between online and offline fundraising. Make sure they’re teamed up with the right digital thinkers on this project. If you have the budget to bring in consultants and event platform services, make sure you choose those with digital expertise. Tread thoughtfully when assessing event consultants who started producing virtual events merely as a response to the pandemic. Some run the risk of not appreciating the digital space, where people, especially donors, behave different. What Are The Most Profitable Fundraisers? Buffalo Urban League’s Annual Gala (2021) Virtual Fundraising Gala Many year-end fundraisers take the form of a gala. A fundraising gala is a big, anticipated event held annually. They usually center on dining and performative experiences, from speeches to musicians, all obviously geared toward donations — “the ask.”Gala organizers spend considerable effort winning the attendance of large donors. However, they’re also when that nonprofit’s community of staff, volunteers and advocates come together to strengthen their sense of community. Appreciating this subtlety is essential, because the presence of community reinforces donors’ generosity.Community is a critical element of social proof that giving to this cause will result in sustainable outcomes. Community is also the source of inspiration and hero narratives, which is why many galas include award ceremonies and volunteer recognition. A gala without community is another boring gathering of wealthy folk.A common challenge that nonprofits face in organizing galas is making them cost effective. Galas can take countless hours of preparation by staff and often consultants, as well as high costs to secure performers and venue logistics. This is why many galas include corporate sponsors. But it’s also why incorporating a virtual component to your next in-person gala is a wise option to pursue. The cost-to-attendence ratio is remarkably lower, making your gala dramatically more profitable, and your community – and therefore your message – exponentially larger. To India With Love: Help India Breathe Again (2021) Virtual Fundraising Concerts & Festivals Virtual concerts and festivals have unique qualities and strengths. While they might lack the energy of more traditional, live concerts, they also ushered in new activities and audience expectations that are often not found in exclusively live music events. These attributes evolved out of the need to confront what virtual music performances don’t have: the human proximity of dance, movement, and sensations. How many musicians sound cleaner or more flawless live compared to their professional studio recordings? People don’t go to concerts to catch flawed renditions of their favorite artists, they go to enjoy that artist alongside others who share their passion.This is why virtual concerts and festivals offer unique activities like break-away sessions and workshops that give real value to attendees. The point of these is not to replace the indescribable satisfaction of human proximity, but to give attendees a purpose around which they can interact.It’s best if this purpose involves nuance. Challenge your attendees with subject matter they care about but might never have discovered on their own. For example, if the festival was on Earth Day, there could be a breakout session where a band member talks about her/his personal story on why they came to be an environmentalist (a near-perfect opportunity for pre-recorded material, too!). This would give die-hard music fans a window into the lives of the artists they love. Couple that with a call-to-action or fundraising ask, and you can almost guarantee some donations.More importantly, you’re giving your attendees value that they wouldn’t have received at the in-person event. It is a value that can’t — and shouldn’t — be compared to the value of human proximity. But it is a value, newly uncovered in the virtual concert & festival space.Bring performers together and host a concert or a mini-festival that will benefit the communities that your organization serves. It’s best to tap artists who are also passionate about your cause. You can even go big and reach out to globally-known artists. Since you’re hosting a virtual concert, you have the chance to reach more people, even those who are on the other side of the globe.You can also organize an online meet-and-greet or moderated chat with the performers for additional donations to your cause. NSBE – Austin Professionals: Virtual Movie Night (2020) Virtual Movie Night Virtual movie nights hold more appeal since many people are already used to streaming movies at home. Choose a film or documentary that’s relevant to your organization’s projects. But instead of charging the attendees for tickets, ask them to donate to your cause. Make the experience streamlined for them by including a donation button on your event website or your nonprofit’s website. If the guests are highly engaged, you may want to consider allotting some time for discussion at the end of the movie. This way, you’re sure that they understand what your cause is about. REFORMA Los Angeles: Silent Auction Scholarships Fundraiser (2020) Virtual Auction A live auction is a great way to raise funds. The same goes for virtual auctions. Consider setting up a website or a page on your organization’s website where all items can be viewed and bid on.On the website or page, make sure to include high-quality content to help the participants understand why you are raising funds. This makes them feel more involved and connected. When people feel connected to a cause, they are more likely to bid higher.Carve out time to coordinate the bids and then announce the winners either through a dedicated live stream or during one of your virtual events, like a virtual gala.There are numerous online auction platforms available for you to explore, or you can ask your event consultant for their recommendations. Run Your City Series: Heritage Day Virtual Run (2020) Virtual Race Yes, even races can be done online, as mentioned above. You only need to ask the participants to have a tracking app or device on them to show proof of miles logged or calories burned. If you have sponsors who are willing to give away prizes or goodie bags, you can still do so. Ship the packages to the participants or have them pick up their bags at specific locations before or after the virtual race. This is even how the 125th Boston Marathon was run in 2021! SNAP Charity’s Virtual Quiz Night (2022) Virtual Quiz Night A lot of people may be missing their Wednesday happy hour trivia nights. So, why not bring the experience to them in the form of a virtual quiz night? Choose a quiz theme that relates to your organization’s mission and work. If you can, put together a quiz night package filled with drinks or snacks that your attendees can enjoy during the event. To keep the funds coming in, you may want to consider making it a weekly event. Make a ticket price more affordable and keep the event light and fun. Your supporters will be coming back for more. The Outback Experience: Online Photography Workshop for Kids and Teens (2021) Virtual Workshops As more people take advantage of this time to hone their skills and learn new ones, virtual workshops and classes are popular right now. There are various options for you to choose from. You can invite an expert to donate their time and expertise to the cause, and you can ask attendees to donate to secure their slots.As for the workshop options, it’s best to choose something that your community is interested in. Maybe you can do a survey or a social media poll and ask them what they want to learn. Perhaps it’s mixology, a foreign language, public speaking, or knitting. The guests will not only walk away having learned something new, but your organization will also have enough funds to further your mission. Everyone wins. The Story of Stuff Project: Reclaim Nestlé’s Troubled Waters (2021) Fundraising Webinar Series Fundraising webinar series are a phenomenon that have gained special traction since the onset of the COVID pandemic. They are a great way to keep your supporters up-to-date while also keeping your project well-funded. Reach out to experts, speakers, or community leaders, and ask them to put together a short webinar about current events or your organization’s mission. Charge a small fee for the participants to access the webinar.You can also offer donation tiers to get the most out of the virtual fundraiser. The higher the donation tier, the more perks the donors get. Maybe they could have a Q&A with the speaker or a roundtable discussion with the speaker and other donors in the same tier. Donation Matching It’s normal for donations to taper off after a large event. If this is the case for your organization right now, you might want to consider donation matching. Reach out to local or national companies, and ask if they can match a percentage of donations you receive during a specific period. This is a great way to encourage more people to donate because they know that their contribution can go a longer way. As for the companies, the donation matching can be included in their corporate social responsibility programs. This is also good publicity for the companies. Social Media Fundraisers So much can be done through a social media campaign. Challenges work incredibly well on social media. A great example is the UN’s #danceforchange campaign on TikTok. The challenge is about persuading global leaders to invest in rural youth and agriculture, which also affects the organization’s fight against world hunger.Before you begin your social media challenge, make sure to identify which platform to focus on. Ideally, this is the platform where your target audience spends a lot of time. Then formulate a social media strategy and create compelling content.Make sure to lead your followers to your donation page in every social media post you create. On Instagram, people can already make donations from your profile, so you might want to explore that. Email Fundraising Campaigns Email is not new to the fundraising space. But the good thing about emails is that you can deploy them all year long. It’s one of the most cost-effective and conversion-rich forms of digital marketing, and you should take advantage of it. Make sure every email includes an emotional and persuasive story, compelling and high-quality visuals, and a call-to-action that expresses urgency. How Do You Engage Donors Virtually? Cultivating relationships with donors may be challenging if you can’t meet them in person. But, as with all other things we discovered during the pandemic, there are ways to build and maintain genuine connections with them. Ask Them For Their Advice & Ideas People typically become more committed to a project if they are asked for their ideas or advice. So, why not ask your donors for their opinions? First, start small. Get in touch with a few of your supporters, donors, advisors, and even volunteers. Schedule a video call with everyone so you can brainstorm for future initiatives. Include them in your plans and watch their engagement increase. Offer Insider Access Make your supporters feel like they are a part of something exclusive. Select a group of people and offer them VIP experiences. Some ideas include a private socially distanced or virtual musical performance, a behind-the-scenes virtual tour to your organization’s facilities, or host invite-only auctions. Don’t Forget Donor Recognition Show your donors how much you appreciate them through a well-thought-out virtual event. It can be a philanthropy awards ceremony of sorts or a virtual ceremony for the program participants. You can also acknowledge them on your organization’s website or other promotional materials. What Are The Benefits Of Virtual Fundraising? According to some surveys, more than half of donors worldwide prefer to donate online. Online giving is increasing every year. Statistics show a 27% increase in overall online revenue for nonprofits in 2017 compared to the year before that. As more people spend more time online, you might as well be present online, since that’s where their donations are migrating, too. It Saves Your Organization Time And Money A donation given online is automatically entered into a database. Donors get an automatic thank you email and tax receipt. You don’t need to do anything to make it all happen.When you raise funds online, the process is automated. There’s no need to enter and keep track of information manually. This reduces overhead costs and allows your organization to focus on executing the work. Better And More Accurate Data Since the process is automated, you also get immediate access to that data. You can track incoming funds in real-time. Furthermore, this eliminates manual entry, reducing chances for human error, no more missing or adding zeroes when logging donations. This process allows you to allocate the funds to your programs more efficiently. It Expands Your Reach A virtual fundraiser allows you to reach anyone anywhere in the world. Thus, you maximize your donor base with minimal effort. Nonprofit organizations that establish strong community engagement in virtual events have a new arsenal going into post-pandemic event planning as they return to in-person fundraising event planning. They can activate their digital communities with hybrid fundraising events. For some nonprofits, this can mean exponential audience growth. What Are The Drawbacks Of Virtual Fundraising? Just like in-person fundraising events, virtual fundraising has its fair share of disadvantages. One, there’s a possibility that donors will give less than the amount they usually would give in person.Two, although an email campaign is an effective method for raising awareness, reaching your audience, and raising funds from your supporters, some donors may give less than they usually would in personOnline donating may provide donors with the feeling of being removed from reality. While this empowers some people to give more, other people might feel less pressure to give. You always have to account for this possibility.Another con to watch out for is technical difficulties. You have to make sure that your donation channels are running smoothly all the time. A glitch spells the difference between hitting your targets and barely breaking even. How Do I Pivot To Virtual Fundraising? COVID-19’s impact on fundraising has been the number one challenge for many nonprofit organizations. Because of canceled fundraising events, most nonprofits report raising fewer funds than what they initially budgeted for their programs. However, a few are saying that they have raised more than their original target.So, how do you navigate this virtual fundraising landscape? Just go for it.While some organizations paused their fundraising efforts, others pivoted to virtual and hybrid fundraising events. Those who have found success in virtual fundraising say that mobile optimization and creative donation options are crucial to engaging a virtual event audience.If you’re not sure how to pivot to virtual or hybrid, We & Goliath can help. We’ll guide you every step of the way so you can continue hitting your targets not only this year but also in the years to come.Virtual fundraising will play a significant role in most nonprofits’ fundraising efforts in 2021 and beyond. So it’s best to learn how to pivot now than to figure it out down the road. How To Implement Virtual Fundraising Ideas The first thing you’re going to need to implement your virtual fundraising ideas is finding a nonprofit event planner. This person typically has already organized many in-person and virtual events and knows how to put together a meaningful virtual fundraiser to help you achieve your targets. Next, you will need a solid team. Some of the typical event planning positions you need to fill include the following: Project Manager – This person is vital to the success of your entire virtual event. They oversee the strategy and design of the event, including logistics. The project manager also coordinates with all the virtual event’s stakeholders. They also typically monitor the event budget and provide the staffing plan for the day of the virtual event. Registration Manager – As with in-person events, virtual events also need someone to take charge of all things registration, including the registration launch, participant sign-in, data collection, and checking in participants during the event. They are also responsible for ensuring that participants receive their event materials, including items delivered before, during, and after the event. Sponsorship Manager – This person manages all aspects of the sponsorship process, including sponsorship design, outreach and sales, fulfillment, and post-event follow-up. Marketing Manager – This person is in charge of marketing the event and coming up with the social media strategy and branding before, during, and after the event. Talent Manager – If your virtual event has talents, such as speakers or performers, you will need someone to manage them. The talent manager coordinates with the speakers or the performers, including collecting materials or content required for their presentations or performances, coordinating advance recordings, and working with the director during the virtual event. What Is Hybrid Event Fundraising? Hybrid fundraising essentially offers you the best of both live events and virtual events. For example, you want to host a gala. You can have half your attendees dress up and go to an actual event venue, and the other half can Livestream the in-person event in the comfort of their homes. This setup is beneficial not only during this time of social distancing but also in the future when you need to expand your reach. Some of your supporters may live in other states or on the other side of the world. Hybrid events allow them to still be a part of your event. Although organizing a hybrid event might feel like you’re prepping for two separate occasions, your organization will reap the benefits. And once social distancing ends, many in-person events will continue to include a virtual component for broader audience reach. Furthermore, virtual events allow you to boost your donor engagement as you can get in touch with them in meaningful ways in between annual or period events. Now is the time for nonprofit organizations to consider both virtual and hybrid events in their fundraising arsenal! Creative Virtual Fundraising Event Ideas Here are some examples of virtual fundraising events to get you started. ERA Coaltion: Meet the Chairs | Watch on YouTube Equal Rights Amendment Coalition: Meet The Chairs The Equal Rights Amendment Coalition, representing over 100 organizations nationwide, wanted to hold a virtual public conversation about equity in the judicial system. They wanted a panel-based conference and fundraiser with an impressive speaker roster that included Alyssa Milano, Ilyasah Shabazz, and Patricia Arquette.The panel was called “Meet the Chairs.” We & Goliath met the challenges of the conference, although they had to pre-record the parts of some of the panelists who couldn’t be present live because of conflicting schedules. We also designed and built a conversion-optimized landing page with information on donation levels included in the post-event VIP reception.Meet the Chairs turned out to be a streamlined experience. The event flow was attentively timed and interwoven with diverse sets of live and pre-recorded content. Meanwhile, the event landing page served as a registration and attendance gateway and political calls-to-action, including a petition to ratify the ERA, and an interactive database showing where candidates stood on pertinent issues. Seattle Shakespeare Company: Bill’s Bash | Visit Website Seattle Shakespeare Company: Bill's Bash At the height of COVID-19, Seattle Shakespeare Company decided to take Bill’s Bash, their yearly fundraiser and gala, online. The event featured many fun events, like a peer-to-peer fundraising segment, an online silent auction, and downloadable coloring books.The success of this fundraiser style lies in the many multiple ways participants can get involved. Not everyone will want to participate in the auction, but they might want to download some pages they could color. Everyone gets a chance to donate and have fun in the process. Save One Life, Inc.: At Home Everest Challenge | View Post on Facebook Save One Life, Inc.: At Home Everest Challenge To mark the anniversary of their executive director’s climb to Mt. Everest (despite his hemophilia), Save One Life came up with the idea for a creative fundraiser that would ask participants to walk 2.9 miles, climb 29 flights of stairs, ride 29 miles, or swim 29 rounds. The number is a nod to Mt. Everest’s height: 29,029 feet. Participants donated $29 to Save One Life and challenged nine friends to do the same to join the challenge.The success of this fundraiser lies in its originality. Although you have seen other races challenge people to run 5K, you haven’t heard of another organization challenge people to climb 29 flights of stairs to save other’s lives. So, put your thinking cap on, and don’t be afraid to get creative.