A few years ago, a PTA “Alternative” Fundraiser Sign-Up made the rounds on Facebook and Pinterest. I’m not sure if the letter was authentic or not, but it offered parents an opportunity to give instead of doing all the things that PTA fundraisers usually require like buying wrap paper or signing up to walk or run. Every parent who has ever made cookies or cupcakes for the school bake sale applauded the sign-up form which went viral.
Right now, as Harvard students are receiving eviction notices from their dormitories and the doors of more and more schools are closing, it’s a great time to think about what to do if you’re fundraising event is either (1) cancelled or (2) poorly attended because of coronavirus concerns. Even if you and your board are brave and decide to soldier on with your event plans, you may find that a lot of your guests are no shows, leaving the seats in your auditorium or tables—and your auction totals–empty.
Here are 8 virtual event ideas you can NOT invite your constituents to if your group doesn’t want to forge ahead:
- Online auctions: Just because you don’t hold the gala, doesn’t mean you have to cancel the auction. The bidding software you were planning to use for the auction will more than likely also have functionality for your constituents to bid from afar and even if it doesn’t, ebay certainly does. You can post pictures and descriptions online and hold bidding on a designated evening or leave the bidding open longer.
- Text-to-give campaigns: Run a text-to-give campaign instead of an event (maybe you were planning to set up a text to give option for the event anyway?). While there are many apps that can run a text-to-give campaign, one that I’ve used that is incredibly quick and easy to set-up and charges no fee other than the credit card processing fee to use is Givelively.
- Online Gaming Tournaments: Children’s Miracle Network has, for years, been hosting Extra Life, a series of gaming tournaments, to raise funds. Find the friends within your organizational network to help you with the ins and outs of gaming culture.
- Bathrobe Balls: Sojourner Truth House in Gary, IN has put a fun face on its non-event. (On the right: my favorite pic from the “event”). Sojourner Truth House encourages people to attend their Bathrobe Ball, a stay-at-home event on a particular evening and to donate the money they would have spent (on a new pair of shoes, a pedicure, a dress, a babysitter, the auction, and the rubber chicken dinner) to their services for women and children who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Make your virtual gala social with hashtags, snap chat, and Instagram photos. Ask people to tweet in pics and reasons they stayed at home for you.
- Shop for a Cause: Remind people while they’re stuck at home that their smile.amazon.com account can help you. Send people an invitation to shop for you at all of your favorite sites that will offer you a reward or referral.
- Trivia Night: Go ahead with your trivia and other contests, but take them online. Use webinar technology to put multiple people in a virtual room and let people ring in with answers by “raising their hands” in the webinar technology.
- Webinars or Virtual Conferences: Does your organization offer information that is helpful to others? Does your organization provide any type of training? Take it online and sell your webinar. If you usually conduct a conference, take it virtual.
- Tea parties: Invite people to brew a cup and stay at home on a particular night. A few years ago, the Lumpkin County Literacy Coalition sent me an invitation with a tea bag attached. They invited people to stay at home, read a book, and send in support. It’s kind of a variation on the Bathrobe Ball. If your supporters like to read, ask them to tweet about what their reading or the best book they ever read.
- Peer-to-Peer Fundraising (P2P): Peer-to-Peer fundraising campaigns are often paired with on the ground events like a walk or run and the P2P fundraising precedes the event. The event functions like a deadline and a celebration. Many P2P “events” and activities aren’t events though and they don’t have to be. There have always been P2P campaigns tied to birthdays and other non-event celebrations or milestones. If you’ve had a P2P event with an in-person component in the past, keep it on the books just don’t hold the on the ground, in-person part of the activity. Keep the deadline of the event to give people a sense of urgency, but make that closing activity a virtual activity.
The reality is that fundraising events are always heavily laden with risk. Outdoor events like runs and walks are vulnerable to extreme weather events. Even indoor events in the winter are vulnerable to shut down if ice storms make roads unpassable (yes, I’m writing from Atlanta, Home of the Snowpocalypse or Snowmageddon of 2014). There are risks we manage associated with serving food (food borne illnesses) and alcohol. Hurricane Katrina rained on (literally) more than one walk-a-thon and golf tournament and when the flood waters receded, rescheduling those fundraising events was the least of the concerns of the communities impacted.
Whatever and whenever our fundraising events take place, a pre-event risk management discussion is essential. A contingency plan is essential. Coronavirus is a risk we didn’t anticipate. It’s this year’s risk. I say that without meaning to in anyway minimize it. But that risk doesn’t have to ruin your event or devastate your results. Be creative. Have some fun. Yes, we might be driven indoors and we might be choosing to self-quarantine or practice social distancing (who knew that was a thing!). But that doesn’t mean that we have to abandon our efforts raise funds for our missions. We just need to adapt, to transform those efforts this year. The great news is that we have lots of tools to interact with one another virtually. We just need to harness those tools in creative ways to achieve our fundraising results.