Here at Kennari, the question we have been hearing the most is, “How can we shift an in-person event to virtual and still gain the projected revenue we need?”

It is true that fundraising events look different lately, and this shift is changing the way philanthropic events are going to look even into the future. A bright side to a virtual event is the opportunity to gain more exposure and a wider audience than you could have accommodated in person. However, there are also plenty of new decisions and barriers to work through ahead of time.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to virtual events. Most importantly, the virtual event must make sense with your existing event and for your existing audience. Below are some key questions you need to answer before moving too far down a certain virtual path:

  1. Will funds from this event support something specific, a new need, or just general operational support? In a crisis fundraising environment, offering donors a specific need this event will fund is often more compelling.
  2. Will the event be fully “live” and shared in real-time, will it be all pre-recorded content that is shared, or will it be a combination of both? If it is live, be sure you plan some sort of “reception” type time online so that people can tune in over the course of 15-30 minutes, as not all participants will be getting on right at the same time.
  3. What kind of platform will you host the event on? Depending on whether it is live or recorded, you may need hosting software to accommodate sharing of live content and real-time interaction. Pick a tool that is participant friendly and budget friendly – reach out to us if you need recommendations!
  4. How will you make sure the participants can interact throughout the event? People just “watching” won’t be as engaged, and then will be less likely to give. Identify some unique ways to keep people participating (poll questions, additional facts/figures shared via chat, trivia type games, cocktail/food demo, etc).
  5. Will there be some kind of tangible benefit given to attendees – e.g. dessert in a box, take and bake dinner, gift card to a local restaurant to pick up takeout, etc? It’s not critical to provide this, but for certain types of events this can be an important element. If there is some kind of tangible benefit, it’s more reasonable to continue to have an individual “ticket” price. Then you need to decide if a “ticket” will cover one guest or two, and if individual guests get the same or different benefits as sponsor guests.

No matter how you decide to move forward, the following best practices should help guide you to ensure you hit the participation and revenue goals you set.

  • Set goals and be clear about them. Be transparent internally with what your new expense and revenue plans are – you may need to allocate some of your food/venue budget to technology and videography. A virtual event does not mean it is zero cost. Use your messaging to reinforce that participation in the virtual event is an opportunity to financially support the organization – this is still a fundraiser. Highlight the impact of the dollars raised and the current funding needs you have.
  • Sponsorship is still essential in meeting financial goals. Find unique ways to recognize your sponsors. Get creative with their benefits! Some ideas include:
      • Encourage them to record a short (30 second) promo video to send out before the event.
      • Place their logo in unique places within other videos.
      • Highlight a behind-the-scenes tour of their company after the event.
      • Offer some kind of professional development opportunity for their staff/guests.
      • Give some kind of gift/food item for their attendees to enjoy while participating online.
  • An online event page will be critical to your success. Drive everyone to the event page on your website and share the specifics and registration details. It is very important to have guests register ahead of time, even if they are guests of sponsors or are not paying a ticket price. The more you know about your attendees, the easier it will be to keep them engaged so they are more likely to participate on event day.
  • Personally call/reach out to donors that were at last year’s event and make sure they have seen the info and are planning to participate this year. Some of these could also be good prospects for offering a matching gift – consider that before calling and then make the ask when appropriate. Plan ahead and establish a hierarchy of which staff or board members will call donors. Block sufficient time on calendars and commit to this step now.
  • Communicate A LOT before the event. Having a virtual event means communicating clearly to your audiences and implementing strategies to help your organization ‘rise above the noise.’ Participants and supporters need to know what it is you expect from them. This will require planning ahead and establishing priorities. For example, your sponsors should be the first to know what the new game plan is. Your event attendees should have clear information about how and where to access your event. Participants should receive multiple teaser emails: 2-6 months ahead, send at least one a month; in the month leading up to the event, send 1-2 per week; in the week leading up to the event, send almost daily reminders/quick videos/previews.
  • Ask regularly throughout the event. Rather than creating a program that leads up to an ask, ask throughout the event and make it very clear/obvious how people can give. If you have a match, talk about it in the beginning and then throughout the event. Highlight the different giving methods verbally, on screen, etc. Most donors will give online or via text in a virtual event, but mailing former givers an envelope ahead of time can be a good idea for those that typically write a check or give through the mail. Make sure your website donation form is easy to find and user friendly. Update all emails/auto receipts – do a test donation to be sure you’re ready!
  • Have a clear and prepared thank you plan for those that support the event. Put some energy and creativity into how you will follow up with donors after the event.

The more personal touches and individualized communication you do, the better. Remember, your supporters still value the good work you are doing, you’re just sharing the impact differently than you have in the past. Despite all the recent and upcoming challenges, we are encouraged and excited by the many ways nonprofits are creatively changing up their events and meeting, or exceeding, their goals.