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What to Consider When Taking Your Nonprofit Events Online: A Crash Course

Posted Jan 14, 2021 04:05 PM
When the pandemic hit, nonprofits were forced to adapt and grow their fundraising in a digital world. Now, hosting virtual fundraising events is a strategy many nonprofits are making a regular part of their fundraising calendar – for the long haul.

Why? Because they’re relatively easy to launch and expand nonprofits’ reach far beyond the ballroom, golf course, or special event venue.

Whether you’re planning a virtual event to meet increased fundraising goals or you’re trying to grow your nonprofit’s digital footprint, having a concrete plan to keep donors engaged and avoiding tech pitfalls will be critical going forward.

In this guest article written by OneCause, experts in nonprofit charity auctions, you will find the three most important steps to take when hosting an online fundraising event:

  1. Making the decision to go virtual
  2. Building a toolkit for virtual nonprofit events
  3. Understanding your audience

Although the fundraising landscape has changed, any nonprofit can succeed when the right virtual engagement techniques, fundraising strategies, and technology are in place. Let’s get started.

1. Making the decision to go virtual

When deciding to go virtual with your fundraising event, it’s important to think through your options to ensure a virtual event will be the right move for your mission and donors.

For example, let’s say you have a critical and essential fundraising need that can’t wait. Virtual events can be launched quickly with the right strategies in place. In some cases, nonprofits are successfully launching small to medium-scale virtual events in just a couple of days or weeks.

When weighing your options, consider the following:

  • What are your overall goals? In addition to monetary goals, you may also use a virtual event to facilitate other goals; including acquiring new donors, promoting your cause, stewarding existing donors, or engaging prospective major donors.
  • What’s your budget? While fundraising events can be major money-makers, let’s not forget that you’ll have to invest some of your own capital to make the event happen. Virtual events are typically more cost-effective than in-person events.
  • Can your existing technology support a virtual event? Do you have the right technology to reach and engage your donors virtually?
  • Who is your target audience? If your donors are spread throughout your state – or throughout the country – a virtual event may be the way to go.

If you have a mix of donors who want to be both in-person and virtual, hybrid fundraisers are a top choice for many nonprofits. It’s the best of both worlds! You can engage with your donors face-to-face while still expanding your reach with virtual components. Interested in learning more? Check out OneCause's guide to Planning and Hosting a Hybrid Fundraiser in 10 Steps.

2. Building a toolkit for virtual nonprofit events

Virtual nonprofit events and campaigns naturally rely more heavily on technology than in-person events.

It’s important to take a close look at the solutions you use in this post-pandemic world and ask yourself, “Do I have the right technology to reach and engage my donors, both in-person and virtually?”

For instance, if you’re planning an online campaign that culminates in a virtual auction, you’d benefit from using software like:

  • Mobile bidding software for donors to place bids and make donations on-the-go.
  • Auction software for tracking your auction items and creating an online catalog.
  • A dedicated event website to build your online presence and host your auction catalog.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising software that allows supporters to launch and customize their own DIY fundraising pages in accordance with your virtual event.
  • Digital marketing tools to manage your email and social media efforts, ideally integrated with your CRM or database.
  • A live-streaming platform with flexible and intuitive options to add live elements during your auction.

If you’re shifting existing event plans to go virtual, an effective strategy might be to walk through each of the logistical aspects that must translate effectively to an online space.

3. Understanding your audience

As we’ve covered, your audience and objectives should be major deciding factors when choosing an event format.

  • Audience: If you’re looking to engage high-impact donors, an online auction or other virtual programming might be the right move. For broader audiences, peer-to-peer campaigns and events can be effective choices. Either way, specifically targeting your event strategy to fit your target audience is a best practice.
  • Objectives: Your timeframe and goals will definitely shape your virtual event. Beyond the programming, work with your team to determine your revenue and engagement goals for the event. Do you want to host a one-time virtual event or a longer event over several days or weeks, like an online auction or virtual challenge? Use these insights to pick the perfect virtual event for your audience, goals, and schedule.

Depending on your goals, you may find that targeting multiple audiences is the right way to go. New event formats and tech actually make this easier than ever to do in a strategic way. Hybrid galas, for instance, make it possible to offer an in-person VIP experience to a small segment of supporters while anyone else can tune in online to enjoy the unique virtual version of the event.

Finally, dig into your donor data to see how your segments of donors have engaged with different types of events in the past. Then, identify any specific marketing, programming, or appeal strategies that worked well or didn’t deliver results.

About the Author

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings more than 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution.

She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.