Find the best virtual fundraiser fit for your organization
With the current event environment, many nonprofits have had to make a major pivot in this busy gala season.
If planning traditional fundraising galas has been your gig, you may find the streamlined process for a virtual event surprisingly appealing. With no chair set up and a more simplified tech world, a successful virtual event is a realistic reality.
Virtual fundraisers come in all shapes and sizes; find the mold that best fits your mission and donor backdrop.
We created a best practices guide and interviewed two local nonprofits who have held virtual events recently. We hope these tips may benefit you and your organization.
Step 1: Evaluate Outcomes
Take time to evaluate the pros and cons of taking your fundraising virtual. This is an important due diligence step to complete individually and with your team.
- Cost-effective. With online auctions and virtual fundraisers, no rental space or dining options are needed, thus a significant reduction in expenses and an increased ROI.
- An online fundraiser can run for longer than a physical one. Per your design, people can participate at any time, from anywhere.
- Data collection. To host an online auction, find a mobile-friendly bidding software that can connect to your client relationship management tool or serve as a standalone for donor data and payment collection.
- Less personal. Virtual fundraisers can lack a personal connection; find ways to create mission moments and social donor connections online.
- Fewer incentives. With no friendly competition in an online auction, there can be less of a sense of urgency for people to bid.
- Tough to stand out. With guests doing this on their own time, you’ll need to find ways to stand out amongst other noise.
Deaf Missions, a faith-based ministry for the deaf in Council Bluffs, Iowa, has conducted virtual fundraisers long before the pandemic. They have led a “virtual” golf outing fundraiser since 2016.
“This change came about after evaluating our return on investment and return on energy on golf events we had done in years prior. It used to be an event involving more people and having those people raise funds for Deaf Missions in order to participate in the golf event,” said Chad Entinger, Director of Deaf Missions. “As part of our evaluation, we saw clearly our Founder and first Director, Duane King, was by far the most successful fundraiser for this golf outing. Now Duane does this golf outing by mailing out special, personalized letters, then playing with a few of us to celebrate the gifts received and the impact that will result from the dollars raised.”
The MICAH House, a Council Bluffs metro nonprofit who helps serve the homeless, typically hosts their annual Champagne & Diamonds Kentucky Derby style event in-person each May. Due to the pandemic, plans had to change.
“Simply put, our fundraiser couldn’t wait. Champagne and Diamonds supports 10 percent of our annual budget and all of the funds raised support the families and women who call MICAH House home,” said Ashley Flater, Director of Donor Relations with MICAH House.
Step 2: Determine Your Budget & Goals
- Decide what you want to raise. For example, if you have an online auction, determine how many online bidders you need to support your fundraising goals. Set a fundraising goal and consider making that visual for attendees as well.
- Determine your virtual fundraiser format. Discuss the layout and the timeframe. Video? Livestream? Facebook Live? It could be a live-streamed speech and program with online bidding, a video conference presentation with questions and answers, a video conference trivia game or challenge, or even a virtual run or walk. Be sure to choose what fits your organization’s mission best.
Like many nonprofit, special events account for a sizeable portion of their operating budget each year. Both events for Deaf Missions and the MICAH House typically account for six to 10 percent of their annual budget.
“Because of Duane and his friends who loved him and loved the ministry of Deaf Missions for years, our event continues to flourish. This event is not only successful in raising funds, but this event gives us another wonderful opportunity to communicate the latest ministry needs of Deaf Missions for which the dollars raised will be utilized,” continued Entinger.
“We learned a lot and I’m excited to share what I learned from our event with others. I think moving forward we will try to incorporate elements of our online event into future in-person events,” added Flater.
Step 3: Assemble Team & Online Fundraising Platform
Determine which team members and volunteers have the time and skill set to manage this unique virtual fundraising setting. Additionally, a stellar online fundraising software is ideally cloud-based, customizable, mobile optimized, includes social media integrations, notifications and reporting options.
Step 4: Determine Marketing Plan
Since virtually anyone can participate, it becomes a great opportunity for nonprofits to attract new and remote supporters to their cause all across the country.
- Inform your community. Share your virtual event or campaign details and how you plan to use the proceeds. Sharing impact is important in a virtual world.
- Explain how to participate. Some of your supporters might not have done online fundraising before, explain clearly how to participate. Reassure them they can bid from their front porch even or wherever they want. Text your donors directly with a call-to-action statements and reminders.
- Share your fundraising site and sponsors. Share the link with supporters so they can start bidding and donating pre-event. Also, be sure to co-brand with sponsors to share your messaging with their clients and employees.
- Leverage ambassadors. Think about your most loyal supporters, volunteers, donors and staff and make them ambassadors. Tap them to help you spread the word about your virtual fundraiser.
- Continue to be interactive on social media. Social media is free and has unlimited reach. Create a social media plan to promote, engage and excite supporters. Be sure to emphasize mission messaging, impact statements and your “why” in your posts to connect with donors. Create a hashtag, share stories and videos, utilize paid ads or boost posts when necessary.
“Two things we learned from our recent Champagne & Diamonds event was to simplify our message and make our “ask” clear. It is important to remove barriers for participation for any of our supporters,” said Flater.
“Fundraising is relational, not transactional. When Duane sends out letters asking people to support him in our annual golf event, they respond because of their genuine relationship with and high respect for Duane and vice versa,” adds Entinger.
Step 5: Launch Virtual Event
- Do test runs. Before your event, do a practice run with all your technology. Learn about common issues to trouble-shoot with your platforms, test distance elements and designate a member of your team to help your attendees solve them.
Flater suggests, “don’t be afraid to try something new and make sure you practice – a lot.”
- Think about your surroundings. A virtual event is still an event, create a pleasant visual experience for your donors on-screen. Be sure to have a clean background, your camera at eye-level and good lighting.
- Create interactions. Since guests are not sharing a table, create built-in engagements such as a chat box or live polling features. And when in doubt, keep it simple.
“During our virtual event we had a variety of visual elements and people to keep things interesting. We switched between pre-recorded videos, live music, live streaming and additional graphics,” shared Flater.
- Communicate your story. Guests have more distractions remotely, between needing to take the dog out or grabbing a glass of water. Keep them in engaged. Focus on how your donors will help advance your mission. Show them what their gifts are doing and the positive change they are making in the world.
Step 6: Follow-up & Evaluate Performance
Thanking virtual supporters is critical, especially if they are new to your cause. Above all, tie all donor communications to the results you achieved, the dollars raised and how the funds will be used to support your mission.
Send your event recording to everyone you invited as well as an immediate post-event survey to those who attended, along with a thank you message. Update everyone on your fundraising totals as soon as possible and send your mailed thank you letters within two days if possible.
Two main evaluation questions: how well did we do at reaching our goal? What can we change next time to make our virtual event even more successful?
“Be honest in evaluating the effectiveness of your fundraising. Look hard at your return on investment and energy so that more of every donated dollar can go toward programs. Naturally, some of it needs to cover fundraising and administrative costs, yet try your best as appropriate for your organization to spend more of the dollars raised on programs,” Entinger adds. “Communicate with your donors what you will do, thank your donors who respond with gifts and let them know the result and impact of their dollars given.”
Each day you are making an impact! Show your supporters and the world how your FOR IMPACT organization is truly making that difference, TOGETHER!
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