So your annual fundraiser, your big breakfast, your upscale gala, the event that ensures you are on track to meet your annual budget requirements is now on pause due to COVID-19.
It’s time to pivot into creating virtual fundraising galas, virtual challenges, and virtual events in 2021.
Getting the creativity flowing can be really challenging with zoom burnout, working from home, and not having access to collaboration as easily, coming up with ideas for your virtual fundraiser can present a challenge. Check out some virtual fundraising ideas to get started!
Here’s the deal:
Your fundraising dreams are not doomed, you still have the opportunity to raise money in a virtual space and keep your nonprofit running smoothly.
Have a positive outlook and take this as an opportunity to try things you have not tried before and to add to the opportunities for people to give and interact with your event. The lessons you learn from planning this event can help you make in-person events more accessible and interactive in the future!
Planning a virtual fundraising event is not easy, but in the following post, you will learn to:
- Prepare your list of donors
- Stay true to your “normal” event plan, but be willing to make changes
- Define the purpose, fundraising goal, budget, and event timeline
- Choose the space you will film in
- Choose your streaming platform
- Market the event, using creative digital elements and surprises
- Provide plenty of accessible opportunities to engage and give
- Have a day-of coordinator
- Make it fun, interactive, and personal
- Thank people, provide updates, and provide access to fundraiser information
10-Steps to Host a Virtual Fundraising Event
1. Make a list of donors and keep them engaged
This first step is vital.
Donor databases, once a luxury few nonprofits thought they should invest in, are now a necessity.
Those who are donating virtually need to know that they are giving using a secure platform that will protect their valuable information. If it’s not secure, people are less likely to donate.
Create a list of key donors that you expect to attend. Make sure that you reach out to those donors first and give them VIP information about your event, including anyone who will be performing for your virtual event, information about party boxes if you are including those, and other insider information.
Encourage them to save the date of your event, and make them feel like an integral part of your event. If it is safe and if COVID regulations allow, offer to have coffee or lunch with a few key donors (safely, of course), and take the extra step to ensure they will attend your event.
Once you have a list of donors that are key players for your virtual event and who have agreed to come, Use Donorbox to easily export donor information and send updates to donors, notify them of your event, and help them donate quickly and easily.
If using other online elements, do your research
You want to keep donors engaged, and you want to provide opportunities to donate before the event for key donors.
Having money in the bank before the event helps kick off the donations at the virtual event. If you can prove that people are invested in your mission and if you can tell people that you have already raised a percentage of your goal, they will be more likely to donate.
If you are thinking about including an online donation thermometer, text to give options, or other technical pieces to your virtual fundraising event, do your research and make sure the platform you choose for these technical pieces is supported wherever you are streaming your event.
2. Stay true to your “normal” event plan, but be willing to make changes
Your followers and donors know what to expect with your fundraising events.
If every year, you put on a large gala, but during COVID-19, you decide to transition your fundraiser to a virtual 5k because it is easier, this will likely confuse consistent donors.
They are expecting a gala, so that’s why you need to give them. Just because you are sticking to what you are used to and what your followers know, that doesn’t mean you cannot still add new, creative elements.
For example, The Homeless Families Foundation hosts a gala every year. Inits #NoShowGala2020, instead of sticking with the hyper formal, cocktail attire style of the event, it encouraged donors to attend comfortably: on their couches, in pajamas, with no pressure to have cameras on.
The HFF gave their donors what they were expecting as far as hosting their signature event while still adding special, nuanced, COVID-friendly touches.
On the other hand, maybe your event is typically more laid back. Keep the laid-back element, but encourage people to thrift cocktail attire for the event, with a chance for their outfits to receive a live shoutout.
At the end of the day, you know your target audience best, and you know what adaptations will work for them and excite them. This is not a “one-size-fits-all” list of to-dos. Do what you know will work for your nonprofit.
3. Define your purpose, fundraising goal, budget, and event timeline
Just because your fundraiser is now a virtual fundraising event does not mean that you can just hop on Zoom or Facebook live, talk about your nonprofit for an hour, and expect to raise thousands of dollars.
Your virtual fundraising event needs to convey your values to influence the attendees. So, whether they have followed your mission for many years or are joining your fundraiser for the first time, they should walk away from the event knowing exactly what you stand for, who you serve, and why you chose this particular mission.
The reason for your fundraiser needs to be clear. Are you raising funds for a specific project? Are you $20,000 short of your annual fundraising goal? Are there a few families in particular that you are trying to raise money for so they can have a house, an apartment, access to other resources? Be clear about your purpose, while staying within your budget.
Here’s how you can go about this:
3.1 Define a budget
Even though you are shifting to a virtual platform, you still need to define a budget.
Since you won’t be spending a large chunk of sponsorship money on a venue, food, and other normal needs, pour that money into a videographer, a video editor, and decor for the space you choose to film in. Your event should still look great and look on-brand for your organization.
Reach out to film companies in your area and ask them to be a part of this mission. Be clear about your budget for digital services, and see if you can find someone who believes in your mission and will help you stay on budget.
If you are relying on volunteers for the event, consider budgeting money for gift cards or another small gift to make volunteers feel special and to make sure they want to keep returning and helping you!
Also, consider spending money on interactive elements, which we will talk more about.
3.2 Define a fundraising goal
Is your goal $50,000? $100,000? Set a clear fundraising goal for you, your staff, and your board of directors to work towards. This will help you stay on track and engage your donors better.
During your event, use a fundraising goal meter or thermometer of some sort, constantly updating your attendees on how much money they have helped you raise.
Give people who have donated shout-outs. Have a leader board on your website or on your social media to see who has donated and the amount they gave. This will further motivate people to continue to give and to give large amounts.
Always push people to sign up as recurring donors. Recurring donors are a vital source of funds for nonprofits, so if you can get more monthly donors during your event, push yourself to make that happen.
Tell people the impact of monthly giving, let them know that they will receive exclusive updates about things happening within your nonprofit, and tell them they will be added to monthly newsletter updates and have access to buying tickets for future events before the general public.
3.3 Define an event timeline
A timeline of the virtual fundraising event is crucial. If you are planning an hour-long event, make a detailed minute-by-minute schedule of events, who will be speaking when, and–if you are going to include any live performances from musical or other artists–including special guest performances.
As we will talk about more later, having a day of coordinator for the event would help immensely. A day of coordinator will keep the run of the show flowing and help make sure anyone who is a part of the event knows when they need to log on to your streaming platform and talk or present, as well as making sure other elements go smoothly.
4. Choose a space you will film in
As previously mentioned, where you gather footage for the virtual fundraiser is still important. This footage can look like many things. Gathering footage in advance can take a lot of pressure off of event organizers and help reduce the risk of unexpected hiccups in the event.
Some examples would be getting the introduction for your fundraiser pre-recorded, with updates from your annual report and details about the intention of your fundraiser. Also, you could ask donors, board members, staff, and others in the community to share about why they donate, what they do, and how your organization has impacted them.
Local artists (musicians, poets, etc.) can also pre-record their performances. Panel discussions or your founder speaking are some other ideas.
Filming at your home office or in a tiny closet is not going to come across as professional or well planned.
Have a small team of people socially distance and film in your office, or in another space that looks professional.
Of course, if you are having donors, board members, or others film videos for your event in advance, they may film at home or in less professional spaces.
However, the keynote speaker should film in a place that has good lighting and professional, well-decorated background.
5. Choose your streaming platform
For better or worse, there are more live streaming options available than ever before.
Nonprofits like the Washington Performing Arts Center used Zoom for virtual fundraising events.
On the other hand, take a look at the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. Its virtual fundraiser was a huge success because it made a point to get dozens of pre-recorded video messages from teachers, donors, students, and more! Make sure that the platform you use can integrate pre-recorded videos easily if you are asking supporters for those.
Some popular streaming platforms that you might consider using include:
- StreamYard, starting at $20 a month for premium features.
- Facebook Live (which is totally free!)
- Twitch TV is usually used for video game streaming, but can be used for other types of live streaming, as well! This might be a good option if you have a younger audience!
- Zoom is one that has a lot of familiarity at this point, and people are already using it a lot! If your nonprofit already has a premium version of this, stick with that!
- DaCast starting at $39 a month
- NextLot if you still want a live auction element to your fundraiser
6. Market the event, using creative elements and surprises
Market your event on all platforms at least six months before your event, always pointing people to your secure donation landing page for the event.
Make the event personal by including some surprises. For example, the Seattle Shakespeare Company created some custom Zoom backgrounds for the event that attendees could use when they joined the call. Or, send out a link to a virtual photo booth to those who sign up to attend or buy virtual tickets. Customize virtual photo booth elements to fit your nonprofit’s brand.
Include party boxes or a cocktail hour in a box for attendees who commit to hosting a mini-gathering of ten people or more.
These tiny but special details will set your virtual fundraising event apart.
7. Provide plenty of accessible opportunities to engage and give
Leading up to your event, it is important to ask: What are ways you can provide more opportunities for engagement to those who are attending this event?
With everyone adapting to a virtual setting, it is easy for your nonprofit to get lost in all the noise.
If someone is going to jump on another webinar, another Zoom event, or another streaming opportunity and commit two hours or more of their time to you, how are you going to set yourself apart and make that time unique and valuable?
It’s important to consider this as you are planning. If you are not offering opportunities for engagement or unique opportunities for donors, they are less likely to show up for your fundraiser and less likely to participate this year.
7.1 Offer a sponsorship package
One way to do so would be to offer sponsorship package options for donors. If someone pays a bit more money, your nonprofit should consider giving them early access to the fundraiser. If your virtual fundraiser includes gift bags with chocolate or food, consider offering your bigger sponsors a private virtual tasting with the chef.
If your virtual fundraiser includes live performing artists, consider giving your bigger sponsors a pre-fundraiser private show with an opportunity for artists Q and A. Get creative, and provide special opportunities!
7.2 Add a challenging element to your fundraiser
Another opportunity for unique engagement would be adding a “challenge” to your fundraiser.
If your fundraising goal is $30,000, challenge people to donate $30 and tag 30 friends in a Facebook post who should also donate. Or, a supporter could walk 30 minutes a day for 30 days, post about it, use the hashtag for your event, and challenge others to do the same. Get creative, and use the #AtHomeEverest challenge as an example.
7.3 Get your board involved through a virtual auction
If your virtual fundraiser has an auction element, create an online auction where people can bid on items weeks in advance, and announce winners during your virtual fundraising event
A fun and unique way to spice up your online auction is to ask your board members to get involved and consider asking them if they would be willing to set a fundraising goal for their followers. If they are willing, have them sign up to participate in a crazy task to help raise money.
“Auction” the opportunity to pie a board member in the face, make them shave their head, or ask them to get a tattoo as an option, but only If they meet their fundraising goal!
7.4 Prioritize audience interaction
Too often, audience interaction during virtual events is not prioritized.
If you want this fundraiser to be unique, add in some time throughout the night for your audience to ask questions, share stories, and connect with other supporters!
Allow them to unmute or create a Google Form with the option to submit questions leading up to the event. Answer those questions throughout the night, and have someone monitoring the chat so you don’t miss any opportunities for engagement!
If you are worried about participation, have some attendees “planted” in the audience to ask questions, engage, and speak about their experience with your organization, setting the tone for other attendees.
Pro tip: Use your event page link in newsletters, in the bio on your social media accounts, and in any other places that you are sharing about your event.
Pro tip: Allow attendees to unmute themselves and talk during your event. If you are worried about participation, have some attendees “planted” in the audience to ask questions, engage, and speak about their experience with your organization, setting the tone for other attendees.
Pro tip: If you are hosting your nonprofit’s website on Wix, or Squarespace, or WordPress, you can embed secure donation pages into your existing site, eliminating the extra work of creating a whole new page for your virtual fundraising event. Also, with resources like Donorbox, your donors can choose to cover online processing fees, which takes the burden of responsibility to front those costs from your agency.
8. Have a day-of coordinator
It may sound like a no-brainer, but make sure you have one or two individuals designated to keep everything on track behind the scenes during your virtual fundraising event.
Keep the specific timeline you have created on hand.
Get the contact information for every speaker or performer who is scheduled to speak just in case you need to get a hold of them.
If a speaker bails last minute, or if someone is having technical issues, make sure you have ideas for how to fill in time.
Pro Tip: Rehearse the event at least a week in advance. Make sure that every individual that will be a part of your virtual event is also present at the rehearsal so everyone is on the same page the day of the event and there is less chance of slip-ups and virtual hiccups.
If you are planning on using any virtual tools like the fundraising thermometer, polls, break-out rooms, or others, make sure you also rehearse those!
9. Make it fun, interactive, and personal
Don’t forget to include special messages from board members, sponsors, and those that your nonprofit serves. These are easy to collect in advance. Here are some ideas:
- Provide live updates on how close you are to your fundraising goal.
- If people are joining you live and asking questions, or saying hello, answer their questions or give them a shout-out. It’s important to acknowledge people who have taken time out of their day to join your virtual fundraiser.
- If you used a hashtag for your event, ask people to post pictures using your hashtag. Search for the hashtag and share your screen so attendees can see others who are participating.
10. Thank people, provide updates, and provide access to fundraiser information
After pulling off your successful event, don’t forget to provide supporters with updates. Here are some ideas:
- Send out a newsletter with your fundraising results.
- Share on social media.
- Upload a recording of your event to YouTube or embed it into your event donation page. People can watch again–or watch for the first time if they missed it–and continue to donate.
- Send thank-you notes to the participants and volunteers, including information on how much you raised and how that money will help.
Virtual fundraisers are overwhelming at times, and it’s important to rely on your team, your volunteers, and your board members to ensure the day is a success.
With the tips and tricks given in this blog and with other information on our nonprofit blog, we wish you success in your virtual fundraiser planning and execution!