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The many nonprofits who rely on gala dinners or real-world walk-a-thon style events to generate significant, critical revenue are facing a miserable decision right now. Postponing is an option for some…but until when? Canceling entirely is not just a painful choice, but potentially a major missed opportunity.
For many nonprofits, the most promising option in the age of social distancing is switching to a virtual event. Some already have! Earth Day on April 22 is putting everything online. And schools everywhere are making their spring events digital (check out our favorite from an elementary school in Alameda, California). We’re helping a number of clients make the leap right this minute, and have compiled a short list of what it takes:
A Good, REAL, Reason
As with any fundraising effort, you need to be able to clearly express not just why you are you raising money, but why you are raising money NOW. Chances are you likely already have darn good reasons in this unprecedented time. Tell your story. Be authentic and transparent about how your cause or organization is affected by this moment. You can be vulnerable and honest right now—your supporters are feeling it, too.
Clear Call to Action
You have options. Are you replacing a gala dinner and are thus having a gala-in-place? Or moving your walk-a-thon to be virtual? Or calling on folks to hold Facebook Fundraisers? Any of these can work, but you do need to get specific about exactly what it is you’re asking people to do, and when they should do it.
An Irresistible Concept
You can’t do this halfway. You want people to hear about your idea and be so inspired by or excited for it that they want to do it AND share it. Look at your original event plan, overall and every element. Brainstorm creative ways to take that experience online. Were you providing snazzy entertainment? The band can perform via livestream. Tasty food? Share the recipes. A theme? Invite participants to wear costumes.
And then there’s the creative that you *couldn’t* do when you were having a real-world event. For example, a live pandacam in a hotel ballroom was probably not in the cards. But having a live pandacam for your virtual event is a no-brainer. Assuming you have access to a panda.
The Right Technology
Depending on the type of virtual event you are developing, you’ll need a different suite of tools to meet your needs. There are a few basics we would recommend anybody have in place:
- Create a digital spot with all the information—could be a page on your website, a stand-alone sitelet, or something else depending on the technology you use.
- For live events, use livestream technology where hosts can make a direct appeal for donations. We recommend working with reliable tools a good portion of your audience is already familiar with like Zoom or Facebook Live.
- If an auction makes sense for your event, there are tools that allow you to integrate both silent and live auctions online.
- There are many peer-to-peer fundraising tools for the walk-a-thon style events. If you’re not already using an established tool, Facebook Fundraisers might be your best option for ease of use and familiarity to supporters—just keep in mind some of its drawbacks.
Instructions, coaching, and support for your participants, including going over and above with communicating how to use any tools or services they might need to sign up for in order to join the event. This type of event will likely be new for your supporters, and they’ll need your help doing it right.
An All-Channel Marketing Strategy
Think email, social, text, and ads in promoting your event. Enlist your sponsors, influencers and existing donors to spread the word to their own networks. Consider peer-to-peer texting tools to boost recruitment. Getting a critical mass of signups early will inspire more participation.
A Sense of Community and Purpose
Open your virtual doors wide. Encourage people to show up on camera so they can see each other’s faces. Make sure to acknowledge your sponsors or community partners.
Community, shared hope and purpose, connection—this is why you have a virtual event instead of a regular fundraising campaign right now. At any time, but especially now, people crave connection to each other and to something bigger than themselves. To know they are a part of a larger community with shared values and a common goal. And with so many more people staying home, we desperately need to help and to hope.
That’s the short list. Not gonna lie, it also takes a whole lot of work. But it’s worth it. The people and places you serve…they’re going to keep needing help when all this is over. Your nimble action to keep things moving is going to help ensure that you’re there.
As always, let us know if we can help. Find us @mrcampaigns on social.
Steve Daigneault thinks trying new things is the key to happiness, whether that means trying new fundraising strategies or trying new gastropubs with his boyfriend in Atlanta. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beth is thankful raising money for amazing causes is something she can do from her couch. She’s spending the rest of her stay-home days missing Washington Nationals baseball, trying to keep her plants alive and baking with her sourdough starter. You can reach her at email@example.com.