Nonprofit Virtual Events Spotlight – December 2020 Edition

Nonprofit virtual events spotlight

A Quick Dive Into Some Nonprofit Virtual Events that Caught Our Eye(s)

As we wrap up 2020 and prepare for January’s adventures in nonprofit virtual events, we decided to look at the ingenuity that has emerged in that space from nonprofits themselves. So we started a running, somewhat random stream of prop-giving on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook that can only be called the We & Goliath Nonprofit Virtual Event Spotlight — the we-see-you shout out that these nonprofits deserve.

This is not a “top 19” listicle, nor a definitive statement of best in class. This is us sharing promotional love and good vibes toward nonprofits who demonstrate what is possible when it comes to building community through virtual events.

What made these particular events stand out to us? When you think about the range of options available to a nonprofit based on timing, budget, tech stacks & staff — not to mention a less than normal year, that 2020! — and what you see is a sliding scale of… things. Usually it’s less about any one virtual event or fundraiser and more about the sense of community and connectedness that organization has cultivated. That can look like months’ worth of recorded webinars that progressively tell a story or educate toward a cause. That can also look like an interactive cooking show from house arrest. There are face-value wows. There are slow-burn ohs. At least 2020 had that going for it?

We invite you to glance through our social feeds for the events we spotlighted this week. And here are a few that got away from us yet are worth mentioning.

A Virtual Gala on a Bootstrap: Better Humanity Project

The California-based Better Humanity Project, a nonprofit for whom there is limited information beyond social media channels and a basic website, is throwing a Virtual Cookies and Cocktails: An Evening of Holiday Spirits in the Tropics on Monday, December 21, from 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST. It’s the second annual charity event the group has held since its founding in 2019. This year’s event fund will support children’s health systems in Yemen, where, according to Better Humanity Project, “400,000 children are acutely malnourished and can barely fight for their lives” amidst the COVID pandemic. Last year’s event also carried a child focus, raising funds to gift toys to the children of Casa Hogar Sion in Baja Mexico.

WHAT STANDS OUT: Simply put, the masterminds and moxie behind this smart virtual event. They present themselves humbly on the about page of their website — which one discovers via bit.ly links in social media — as just Chloe and Lani (last names See and Tran, respectively), two women wanting to do something about humanity. And they certainly know how to do something about throwing a virtual party. Their event will feature a live an interactive cocktail class with a locally acclaimed bartender, a holiday cookies decorating class, prize drawings and sponsored giveaways. Attendees will also be given the opportunity to support local small businesses with holiday gift purchases, with 10% of proceeds from vendor sales going back to the charity fund.

A Virtual Awards Ceremony for 2020’s Heroes: Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

On Thursday, December 17, the Washington, DC-based Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights presented its 2020 Ripple of Hope Awards ceremony virtually. The annual awards recognize outstanding leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to social change. This year’s award recipients include Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dolores Huerta, founder and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation and co-founder of United Farm Workers of America; Colin Kaepernick, human rights activist, co-founder of Know Your Rights Camp, and Super Bowl quarterback; Dan Schulman, president and chief executive officer of PayPal; and Dan Springer, chief executive officer of DocuSign. 

WHAT STANDS OUT: The event promised a profound lineup of 100 special guests that span the spectrum from Danny Glover to Geoffrey Sachs to Martina Navratilova. “Our country is yearning for leadership, for moral fortitude, for common decency and kindness, and this year’s Ripple of Hope laureates give us great hope for the future,” the organization’s president, Kerry Kennedy, told Forbes. Typically an in-person event, this year’s virtual celebration promises “unprecedented access to the Ripple of Hope laureates — several of whom have faced undue criticism, harassment, and even death threats in their high-profile work defending human rights — and gathered influential leaders across government, business, advocacy, and entertainment.” We were especially impressed by the way RFKHR produced its event recordings and pre-recorded footage, weaving historic and contemporary b-roll footage throughout the award recipients’ speeches. 

The Mother of all Virtual Art Auctions: Simanye Mobile Clinic

Simanye Mobile Clinic, in partnership with Arushvest Capital and Supivaa Medical, a division of Supivaa Advisory Group and in collaboration with RED! The Gallery, held its Evening of African Artistry – A Fundraising Gala. The event is a virtual art auction that kicked off on December 14 and 15 (to accommodate African time zones) that seeks to raise funds for Simanye’s clinic in South Africa. The brainchild of Dr. Kim Lamont-Mbawuli of South Africa, Simanye Mobile Clinic seeks to provide healthcare services for what they call Africa’s “missing middle market,” the disparate communities that cannot easily access healthcare centers. 

WHAT STANDS OUT: The concept of an art auction is probably as old as fundraising itself, but these event planners succeeded in making contemporary African art the prominent and central focus of its kick-off events, and for the duration of the auction, which runs until the New Year. The works for the auction were provided by the House of Mandela Foundation, and hand-selected by curators at RED! The Gallery, a renowned art institution located in the winelands near Cape Town. This is no coffee house art, the program makes immediately clear. In fact, anyone perusing the session and panel headlines could be forgiven for forgetting that this event was about anything but art. The closest reference to Simanye’s actual work is in the opening remarks — “The Dream – Simanye Clinic – How this Gala and Auction Came to Life” — by CEO and Founder, Dr. Kim  Lamont-Mbawuli. From that point onward the program reads beautifully like a set of academic seminars on African art: “African Art Comes in Other Forms;” “The Evolution of African Art as an Investment;” “Expressing Nelson Mandela’s Legacy through Art.” The event is bookended with music, live and recorded, and with virtual mingling and cocktail hours. As notable as these interactive features may be in their own right, they are dwarfed by the eminence of African art. And that’s the beauty of this event: total immersion.

This Is How Millennials Do A Virtual Fashion Show: Global Co Lab Network

The Arlington, VA-based Global Co Lab Network hosted its Mask Fashion Show and Virtual Reality Reception to Support Teen Changemakers Globally on December 13. Global Co Lab Network describes itself as a “virtual ‘do tank’ that empowers inter-generational engagement focused on teens and millennials.” Much of their mission centers on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (referred to below as SDGs), which were established in Johannesburg in 2002. 

WHAT STANDS OUT: A lot. First, this event was intended to help the group’s Teens Dream initiative to “scale globally” by connecting teens with mentors in “virtual action-oriented weekly meetings,” (which you can preview in this promo video). This implies that while this event was singular and unique, it was also part of a socially-constructive engagement process that Global Co Labs has facilitated over time. This nonprofit virtual event had engagement opportunities in spades: Attendees were encouraged to create avatars and “socialize” in one of five “Virtual Reality Rooms” (one of which was a Spanish language hub) where they interacted with peers addressing climate change, mental health, plastic pollution, gender equality, hunger, quality education, racial justice, wildlife conservation and arts for the SDGs. And fundraising? Those tactics blended as seamlessly into this event as supergreens powder blends into millennial smoothies: “We hope you will purchase a mask for $10 on our website or donate $10 to attend,” the event description said. To say that virtual eventeering is in Global Co Lab Network’s DNA is an understatement. And for that reason, they’re a great best-practice role model for other nonprofits to look to, and not just for this event.

The OMG-They-Had-Digable-Planets Virtual Gala: Autism FYI

On December 12, the Bowie, MD-based Autism FYI threw what appears to be one of the most festive Holiday Galas we’ve seen. It had the hallmarks of an unmistakable virtual fundraiser — tickets were $100 — but the proceeds were worth it as they promote “a safe environment, employment opportunities, and independence of those on the Autism Spectrum.”  

WHAT STANDS OUT: Indulge us a quick preach: Whether your fundraising event is virtual or hybrid, the virtual component requires a little extra love and production. This is because so many of the natural, in-person rewards of physical interactions are missing. Social dynamics have to be re-established and experiences re-imagined if you want to nail it on a virtual event. Autism FYI kind of blew this out of the water with a high-profile celebrity line-up (including Kenny Lattimore, Slyver Logan Sharp, Digable Planets, to name a fraction), as well as a silent auction with prizes that ranged from 24 gourmet cookies to $1,000 off your first bill with a MD-based plastic surgeon. (There were other cool prizes in between, for those not due for a lift & tuck.) It was the kind of event that promised to make passive observers wish they had a ticket, and engaged donors happy to purchase a few.  

We also just like Digable Planets.

Digable Planets

When a Virtual Fundraiser isn’t a Fundraiser (or is it?): The Isaac Foundation

Ontario-based Isaac Foundation, which funds innovative research on rare diseases, hosted its 9th Annual GALA FOR A CURE on December 12. The virtual event emphasized “connecting” over fundraising and featured a prize-incentivized “ugly sweater” party. The agenda also promised a “festive holiday program for the whole family” with music, interviews, and patient stories. 

WHAT STANDS OUT: Everything about the way Isaac Foundation described this event points to their confidence that it would foster meaningful connections, while keeping the cause and issues in focus but not overbearing. And since that’s what they believe as an organization, that’s what they got. The curveball was having, essentially, no apparent fundraising call to action. Whether that’s reverse psychology, or indicative of a unique donor culture or both, we can only be impressed with their confidence.

How to Make a Webinar Cinematic: Rise Up 4 Justice

The University of California-based Rise Up for Justice initiative, which consists of a series of “cutting-edge” webinar-based conversations with leading activists and experts around the Black Lives Matter movement, hosted its webinar, titled, “The Surveillance State, Social Safety, and Building Power,” on December 9. Rise Up describes itself as a “non-partisan project of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley in collaboration with leading movement organizations from around the country.”

WHAT STANDS OUT: Full disclosure: Unlike the other virtual events in this blog post, Rise Up is a We & Goliath client, and we’ve had the awesome fortune of producing their webinar series for the past six months — ”The Surveillance State” was our fifth in that series. This doesn’t fall in the category of a virtual fundraising event. The reason we include it here is because it corroborates our earlier point about the power that virtual events have in nurturing community. Like an email marketing campaign on steroids. However, the greatest enemy to the success of a “series” is irrelevance, stagnation. This is why in our approach, we (in a way) wiped away the word “series” from our heads and replaced it with “living story.” This required us to design an experience not just for the event, but for its recording — that leave-behind that has the potential to be a gem or a dud; the power to take off on social media, in post-COVID classrooms and lecture-halls, and even at future virtual or hybrid events. What does this look like? Two examples: In Rise Up’s August event, “Activist-Athletes Elect Justice,” we added animated documentary storytelling effects to run alongside the panelist dialogue. The result was a seamless visual voiceover effect, where iconic images from televised sports gave a profound gravity to the event speakers, speaking organically as themselves. The second example of this cinematic storytelling can be viewed in “The Surveillance State” recording, where renowned performance poet, Jerry Quickley, bookended the panel session with a dramatic reading from “WHISTLEBLOWER,” which is worth viewing in its entirety.