With the WHO declaring the coronavirus a pandemic, more and more nonprofits are canceling their in-person events and taking them virtual.  Here are some tips to help your virtual event succeed.

  1. Send invitations: Invite people in all the ways that you would invite them to a live event. Send out special invitations, Save-the-Date cards, and evites as if you were hosting people face-to-face.
  2. Reach out in-person to your invitees:  Call people to invite them. Let your V.I.P.’s and faithful supporters know that their participation this year is just as important—if not more important—than in years past. Let them know the event is an important part of the support mix for your organization and the work it does and make sure they know they’ll be missed if they not “there.”
  3. Make it social: Part of what is fun about events is that they involve connecting with others. You may not be able to give hugs virtually, but you can still have them connect. Use a hashtag. Invite people to share pics. Check out these Bathrobe Ball pics from Sojourner Truth House in Gary, IN.   Consider other ways to connect.
  4. Don’t forget the entertainment: Pick a fun theme and invite everyone to do something at the same time as if you were together. The Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte, NC puts together a play list for their virtual gala.  Are there other things you usually do at your gala? Do you give awards? Have a “mission moment”?  Livestream these things.  You can still recognize honorees, have a client testimonial, and share a brief video about your impact.  Just plan to do these through Facebook Live or another online sharing platform.
  5. Refreshments: Share recipes for food and beverage. Send t-bags, coffee, bags of microwaveable popcorn, or slice-and-bake cookie dough! If you really want to go upscale, consider sending a food gift or uber eats type-delivery for your VIPs and/or sponsors.
  6. Show your participants appreciation: Don’t just send thank you notes for their gifts, but show them the love in other ways as well.  One organization gives out goody bags to all people who attend their “virtual gala” that give at least $100 or more. If you were gathering in-person, you’d have a parting favor or gift for people so don’t skip this step when you go online. Consider awarding t-shirts.  Your “virtual” walkers or runners need t-shirts, just like your actual ones do.
  7. Include a planning committee: If you were planning an in-person event, you’d need at least six months and several committee members. Give yourself time and talent for the planning of a virtual event as well.  A planning committee is a great way to brainstorm and come up with the creative ideas that will make the virtual event a success.  Committee members are bought-in and will also help drive participation of others.  Don’t skip the committee just because you’ve gone virtual.
  8. Sponsors and other revenue centers: Don’t skip the sponsorship dollars. Make sure you include ways (other than just logo presentations) to include your sponsors. Video them pulling the winning raffle ticket out of a hat or presenting an award. Give them an opportunity to make a special offer to your participants. If you have traditionally have other revenue centers at your event (like raffles) determine how you can adapt them to the virtual world so that your organization doesn’t lose the revenue you’ve traditionally raised.
  9. Decorations: Consider offering your attendees a “step-and-repeat” looking paper poster to photograph themselves in front of (not an actual step-and-repeat because they’re expensive, but a paper poster with logos as if it were a step-and-repeat) (or create a digital one they can add as a background image). Give them the red carpet experience without the red carpet.
  10. Budget: You still need a budget for a virtual event. You might not need to shell out $40/person (or more!) for a catered, plated dinner, but you’ll need to plan to spend some money nonetheless. Some things you might need to budget for include any additional technological tools you’ll need, for the production of video(s), for invitations, for thank you gifts or remembrances, and possibly an auctioneer. The good news, though, is that a virtual event is probably much less expensive to produce than an in-person one.

Holding your fundraising event virtually, rather than in-person, doesn’t make the event easy. In order for your event to succeed, you still need to make the event a fun experience for your guests which means thoughtful and creative planning and skilled execution. With a good planning committee and hard work, a virtual event can be as much fun as an in-person event and can have fundraising results that are just as strong for your organization.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

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