Live events and in-person fundraisers have played an important role in the non-profit sector for many years. These events connected donors to the positive impact of their gifts, increased awareness for causes, engaged stakeholders, attracted new donors, and raised much-needed funds to support worthwhile causes and goals.
None of us could have predicted that our 2020 in-person events would come to such a jarring halt. And yet, here we are.
Virtual events, when done right, can be successful and engaging. They offer fewer costs for the foundation, attendees enjoy attending from the comfort of their home, without travel and venue limitations more attendees can participate, and we’re suddenly able to reach a national and international stage, regardless of where the organization is located.
As an interesting side effect, organizations are taking a close look at their traditional event calendars and removing legacy events that produced a low return-on-investment.
So, if you’re not sure… YES! Keep doing events, but shift them to virtual. Maintaining an event calendar creates consistency for your donor recognition and fundraising efforts. Having virtual events now will make it easier to continue uninterrupted when we are able to switch back to in-person events. However, we see a great opportunity to create a hybrid of both virtual and in-person events in the future where organizations can maximize the advantages of both options.
First and foremost, before executing any virtual fundraising event, seek input from your donors. Finding out what they want, and their ideas is extremely valuable because at the end of the day you want to engage them.
We’ve seen some creative virtual fundraisers—everything from a virtual teddy bear run to an ungala gala. These are opportunities to reconnect with loyal supporters as well as engage with an entirely new audience who may have been deterred by an in-person event.
There have been virtual walks/runs, galas, auctions, educational sessions, and more. Some have had great success doing online games events, and it is a great way to attract a new, younger group of donors.
Unveiling events are quickly becoming effective and sophisticated as foundations creatively bring the opening experience to attendees from around the world:
Penn State Children’s Hospital recently virtually unveiled their new donor engagement system. It was a fantastic event showcasing stories from donors, doctors, families, and grateful patients.
The Health Sciences Center Foundation Winnipeg also recently held an unveiling event for their new donor celebration center. It walked donors through the new space and showed the impact the new system will have on their fundraising efforts.
We’ve been thrown into an excellent place where public acceptance of (and willingness to participate in) virtual fundraising events has become a fait accompli. What happens next is up to you—and your donors!
Keep doing events but take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of events that are a low return on investment. Place virtual fundraising events into slots that used to be held by in-person events, and plan to offer both types of events in the future when in-person gatherings are again safe and appropriate. Seek input from your donors—some of them will be a great source of ideas, and their feedback from events is extremely valuable.