2020 was a difficult year, especially for nonprofit organizations. It was unusual, unpredictable, frustrating, and challenging on many levels. One of the biggest shifts in the nonprofit world has been having to move signature events and gatherings from an in-person environment to a virtual space. The longer the pandemic has gone on, more and more organizations have begun to understand that virtual events could become standard for the future of fundraising. With the right tools, planning, and strategy, your organization can benefit from hosting a virtual event.

Hosting a virtual event allows nonprofits to keep their events up and running. They can help your organization engage even more supporters and donors so you can raise more money. Organizations are freed from geographical restrictions with virtual events, which means they can maximize their reach, expand attendee participation, and lower venue and operational expenses, while increasing their overall return on investment. Using a platform such as Facebook Live, donors from across the country and the world can engage with your event from the comfort of their own homes.

As you think about your next virtual fundraiser or social gathering, here are some things to consider.

Set Clear Goals and Expectations for Your Virtual Event

Start planning your virtual event by deciding what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. This will help you generate ideas for the main goals of your event.

Know the purpose of your event. Do you want to raise funds, build community, appreciate donors and supporters, expand your existing support base, or all of the above? Meeting your fundraising target is a great goal, but you should also consider building community among your supporters, which can help increase trust and strengthen your organization.

Decide what kind of experience you want to create for your attendees. Is it a fun and entertainment-oriented environment, a learning-oriented and interactive atmosphere, a networking and virtual hangout, or something else? It is also important to make sure your virtual event fits the style and ability of your organization.

Identify the key event takeaways for attendees. What do you want them to remember? What takeaways do you want them to leave with?

Have a Well-Defined Target Audience

Online events defy geographical barriers, so you can reach more people than before. However, this doesn’t mean you should start targeting everyone for your cause.

Knowing your target audience is important for a successful event, and it will determine a few pieces of the planning process. For example, if your audience is international, then you should factor in the date and time of your virtual fundraiser. Be sure to think about time zones or holidays that might not be as prominent in your home country.

Different audiences also tend to use different platforms, so you’ll want to pick the one that’s most likely to draw in the crowd you want. If you already have a large following on a social media platform, such as Facebook, then you already have a built-in audience for an event on Facebook Live. Also, if your page is public, you can invite others outside of Facebook to join you and they do not need an account to watch the livestream.

Plan Ahead

If it’s your first time planning an online event, we recommend at least four to six weeks of preparation beforehand, for most events, and at least 12 weeks for large, multi-day online events with concurrent tracks. Even though you don’t have to manage all the usual logistics of planning an in-person event, you still need to make a detailed plan.

At the very least, you will want to make sure that you:

  • Create a budget and a timeline responding to the goals you’ve set.
  • Set up an event page on your website for registrations.
  • Set up a donation page on your website, and utilize the donate button when you go live, if your Facebook page qualifies for one. Also, consider offering a Text to Give option that integrates with your donation software.
  • Create the agenda, highlighting key themes and important points to remember. These should be of interest to your target audience, and when it comes to virtual fundraisers, the program outline should have a quick pace.
  • Send multiple reminders through social media that your event is approaching.

Share Your Stories

Virtual events are a great venue for sharing videos and testimonials. Interspersing videos of how you are impacting your community with live or prerecorded testimonials of how people have been affected by your mission can be a powerful way to show supporters what you do and how they can get more involved. They can also help drive people to your event. Pique people’s interest with short teasers. In the weeks leading up to the event, post portions of the full stories you plan to share during the livestream, or share photos with some teaser text.

Test Everything and Do a Dry Run

We recommend that every speaker does a dry run—or a full rehearsal—to make sure they understand how to log in, when to log in, and where to log in. Take nothing for granted. Check to see what the experience is like from a user’s perspective, not just what it looks like when you are logged in. Have contingency plans. What happens if your internet goes out or a speaker can’t log in? Consider having messages written in advance for these crises that you can quickly send out, even from your phone. Another great idea is to have pre-recorded videos ready to launch in case of a problem with a live speaker. And don’t forget to point people to your donation page, donate button, or Text to Give option during the event.

Recognize Your Sponsors

If your event is sponsored, make sure you prominently recognize your sponsors. A logo on a screen may not be enough to appropriately acknowledge important sponsors that are helping you pull off the event. Stay in close communication with them to let them know they are a priority, even though your event is virtual. Many organizations overcome sponsor problems by inviting them to pre-record quick videos to be held throughout the event. You can also spotlight sponsors in your communications leading up to the event.  

Don’t Forget to Follow Up

Whether you hold a virtual fundraising event or in-person event, it’s always good to do follow-ups. When it comes to online fundraisers, you can thank the donors through emails and track donors who have given to your organization in your donor management software. You may also want to consider adding some digital gifts along with the thank you emails. Regardless of how you do it, following up helps your brand stand out from the other organizations hosting virtual fundraisers. It also helps you maintain engagement after the event and nurture attendees who could become repeat donors for your future fundraisers. If you stream your event using Facebook Live, your video will automatically post to your Facebook timeline once it’s over, so you can also send a link to those who weren’t able to attend.

Learn From Others 

Reach out to other nonprofit organizations that have pulled off successful events, and ask them what worked well and what didn’t. You can learn a lot from their mistakes and failures. Make the most of your professional associations and online groups, and attend other organizations’ virtual events to spark ideas.

Even after COVID-19 is finally in the past, hosting virtual events can be easy and beneficial, so consider including them as part of your future fundraising strategy. You can expand the scope of your reach to new audiences, increase fundraising revenue, and deliver an unforgettable experience.