Successful Virtual Events Need More Than Just the ‘Wow’ Factor

By Karla Baldelli, Vice President, Donor Engagement, RKD Group

When COVID-19 began its spread, nonprofit organizations had to make the challenging decision to postpone – and even cancel – their in-person fundraising events.

This was a hard hit for an industry that relies on events as a major component of their fundraising strategies.
However, if there’s one word that describes nonprofits in 2020, it’s adaptable. With donors unable to meet in person, organizations quickly pivoted to virtual events as a new form of relationship fundraising – and saw early success.

Now that we have a few months of hosting under our belts, many organizations have learned an important lesson: It takes more than just a great show for fundraising success.

Virtual events need a fundraising strategy

Let’s think back to the good ol’ days of in-person events. You probably spent six to nine months prior planning agendas, connecting with sponsors, promoting the event and determining how you would bring in donations to carry you through the year.
Your approach to virtual events shouldn’t be any different. Just like with in-person, success in virtual events is about more than the “wow” factor.

Sure, pulling out all the bells and whistles to impress your audience is important, but without the structure of a fundraising strategy to back it up, your ROI will fall flat.

As fundraisers, we can’t let the cameras and flashy performances distract us from the bigger picture – bringing in donations.

Here’s what you should focus on before, during and after the event to spur giving:

  • Pre-event audience development
    Just like with any in-person event, most of the leg work to generate donations should happen before. Spend time connecting with your volunteers and major donors who have given at past functions. They can connect with their networks and invite their friends to attend. These events also provide an additional opportunity to engage with your major donors in a meaningful way.Don’t let all this hard work go to waste once the event begins. Determine how you will recognize different levels of giving throughout the event and have a platform that allows for engagement and connection.
  • Fundraising during the event
    How do you plan to bring in donations during the event? Whether it’s through live auctions, fun challenges or emotional stories of how your mission makes an impact, your technology should support your fundraising plan.There are many ways to run a successful virtual event, but if donating is too challenging for attendees, you’ll lose out on revenue.
  • Post-event stewardship
    Do you have a strategy in place to connect with donors and attendees once the event is over? You should.Create a plan to express gratitude to donors and show the impact of their gift. This cultivation is the key to building long-term relationships that lead to repeat gifts.

Make sure you aren’t forgetting about your corporate sponsors. By sponsoring a virtual event, they’re gaining more visibility than they would have in-person. The post-event report you share with them should reflect that.

The move to virtual events has provided nonprofits with fresh opportunities to connect with major donors and increase their ROI. Nonprofits that pair a great show with a strategic fundraising plan will find ways to delight their donors virtually for years to come.