Even in the best of times, fundraisers are the largest and most complex operations most nonprofits will undertake. Not only are they a source of a significant percentage of an organization’s revenue each fiscal year but they also set the tone for donor outreach year round. For this reason, the most successful organizations at fundraising devote a significant amount of planning, resources, and staff to these efforts. On top of all those logistical issues, throw in a global pandemic and the work of virtual fundraising just got many times more complicated.
In the spring of 2020, the sudden shutdown of the nation’s economy sent many nonprofits scrambling to reimagine already scheduled in-person events as virtual fundraising activities. Since then, organizations have been able to plan virtual fundraising events by design, rather than out of a sense of emergency, and are learning the limitations and advantages of new online platforms and technologies. The free flow of virtual fundraising ideas has helped nonprofits reinvent their donors’ activities.
Here are some vital steps in planning virtual fundraising events that will keep your donors engaged and bring in the revenue you need to maintain your operations and achieve your organizational goals.
Because the principal difference between traditional forms of fundraising and virtual fundraising is the platform, many of the steps you will take will mirror those you have taken in the past, but don’t let the parallels between the two forms lull you into a false sense of security. Since the Coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, organizations around the world that depend upon donations to operate have been struggling to adjust.
Reimagine Your Approach to Fundraising Operations
Many organizations plan the same type of event each year. This strategy has long made sense because regular donors look forward to them and annually make room on their busy schedules to attend, and staging similar events allows development officers to gauge year over year how their efforts are working. However, if your annual event is a bachelor auction or a derby day at a local racetrack, you are going to have to try something new.
Rather than a bachelor auction, organize an exchange of volunteer services directed toward your donors’ favorite causes. Agreed upon services can be provided virtually, if possible, or at a later date when we are able to congregate again.
Similarly, in place of a derby day at a racetrack, propose a human derby, such as a virtual 5K, walkathon, or bikeathon. Participants seek pledges from friends, family, and coworkers for how far they walk, run, or ride. Afterwards, everyone convenes for a Zoom gathering in which prizes are announced for the top performers in various categories.
As you begin the process of brainstorming virtual fundraising ideas, consider the advantages of hosting virtual fundraising events. We’ve discussed the limitations of virtual fundraising, but there are distinct advantages, as well. These include the ability to host prospective donors outside of your geographic region, easier logistics, money saved on renting rooms, tables, linens, etc., and instantaneous reporting on fund received and donor data.
Key aspects of the planning process should include:
- Seta fundraising goal. Your donations are likely to be lower than an in-person event so set an attainable amount and remember that your overhead is lower.
- Choose the platforms that will work best for your needs. For example, Zoom for the meeting, Facebook Invite for promotion, and GiveForms for donations. Hint: many of your attendees may be doing so on their phones, so make sure all of your communications are mobile friendly.
- Select an effective facilitator who’s experienced in working on an online meeting platform. Anyone who’s been on a virtual meeting with a large number of participants knows how challenging it can be to keep them moving. Here is where someone who is skilled in moderating online video meetings can be invaluable. The best hosts are equal parts MC and IT.
In addition to any other standard social media platforms you use in conjunction wtih Facebook, including Twitter and Instagram, and your donor page, you should promote your event through a series of promotional emails. Again, make sure they are mobile compatible and every communication should include a link to your donations page. This is Virtual Fundraising 101.
It’s Show Time
Make sure that you specify in your invitation what you would like your attendees to wear. If your physically attended events were galas, then ask your guests to dress up. After half a year of being cooped up in the house, they will likely enjoy the opportunity to put on their best clothes, and more lavish clothes inspire even more generous giving.
Keeping people engaged on Zoom for more than an hour is a challenge, so keep proceedings light to be sure your audience is engaged. Prepare for glitches. Your guests will have a range of familiarity with virtual communications. Expect a few people to be mute-button-challenged. Keep the mood light. We’re all in this together.
In the spirit of the moment, follow up with your donors in the days immediately following the event. Ask for a regular commitment. Donors who have joined you in a heroic effort to do good in a difficult time may well be willing to pitch in for the long run. One day soon, people will gather again. In the meantime, all your creative virtual fundraising ideas will pay dividends.
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