For many nonprofit organizations, a direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps reflected in their fundraising efforts.
All their in-person fundraising events have been canceled (thanks to social distancing laws), and they are now hard-pressed to find suitable replacements to meet their fundraising goals.
There is, however, some good news.
#GivingTuesdayNow – the fundraising drive launched by Giving Tuesday specifically in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has shown that it is possible to hold successful events even during these challenging times. Donors are still eager to support their favorite nonprofits!
This post will give you more information on how you can replicate the same for your organization.
Fundamentals for a Successful Event During a Crisis
Running an event during a crisis is not the same as running a regular event. Your donor psyche is completely different, for one. Second, how the ongoing crisis affects your nonprofit operations will also make an impact on your fundraising efforts.
Because of these two factors, you need to prepare a bit more to make your events successful.
1. Picking the right kind of event
Don’t put your volunteers (or participants) at risk! If your events have been centered on civic engagement thus far, now is the time to think of something that can be done while maintaining social distancing.
Plan your event with the lockdown in mind. Having a social media event (take the #Unselfie hashtag, for example) is perfect for keeping your participants engaged and safe.
2. Providing options to participate
What I really liked about #GivingTuesdayNow was that it included a range of activities that participants could mix and match. From doing something as simple as adding a #GivingTuesdayNow tag to your profile on social media, to engaging in #Unselfie contests, to making donations to their favorite nonprofits, this event provided options to donors of all categories.
Having such a range of options is more important now than ever. You may not know how the pandemic is affecting your donors. For instance, your minor donors would be having economic uncertainty and would not be able to make a monetary contribution. However, they could still spread the word on social media and share about your event in their circles.
3. A collaborative approach to event planning
If you’re like many nonprofits, you’re facing some funding challenges. Supply chains are hit and funding is frozen (regardless of PPP benefits). Still, you have salaries to pay and fundraising goals to meet. In such cases, one way to plan your event would be to recruit willing third party volunteers to help you out as much as possible.
This was quite apparent in the #GivingTuesdayNow event. A ton of resources were readily available for download by any nonprofit (or individual) who wanted them. The basic tools they would need, the graphics, etc. were all planned in advance and shared. Can you take a similar approach to your event, too?
4. Promotion via user-generated content
Sure, you’d want to promote your event regardless of what was going on in the rest of the world. However, it’s exceptionally hard now given the public’s preoccupation with the COVID-19 crisis.
While your regular social media ads, campaigns, and email newsletters are going out, they may not perform as well as they used to.
How can you get your event in front of more people? The answer here is to look to your event participants— recruit the attendees themselves to promote it. This is why #GivingTuesdayNow had an immediate advantage! It was designed to be shared and so get a lot of ‘effortless’ promotion.
See if a similar approach would work for you, too. For instance, once a participant registers (or buys a ticket) for your event, give them a badge to pin on their social media profile. Include social media sharing buttons on your event page and confirmation pages and encourage attendees to share their participation. See if they want to share their participation publicly—not just to spread the word, but to build hype about your upcoming event.
5. Clear communication
For your earlier events, you would emphasize why your cause is important. Now, there is a crucial nuance to add to the story. You have to tell your prospects why your cause is important while the world battles a pandemic. This tiny addition of information gives perspective to your event. It can help in communicating the urgency to act—even if your event does not directly affect the ongoing crisis.
Your event communication should also allay any concerns your prospects may have around participating. Say you are planning a civic engagement activity—like helping a neighbor get groceries. Your emails should outline how it can be done safely and what precautions to take.
In case your event does have any kind of social contact, assuring your participants that it is safe to participate is important.
Challenges With Online Events
Right now, virtual events are the ‘right’ kind of events to host. They respect social distancing norms, so they can also be held during lockdowns.
While this is an excellent idea, hosting a virtual event is not without its challenges. In this post, I wanted to talk about the challenges with online events, too, as they can easily hinder your event’s success.
1. Getting donor attention
With the ongoing lockdown and the resulting emotional upheaval, this pandemic is definitely at the forefront of your donors’s minds.
Such preoccupation does not always bode well for your nonprofit.
It might be much tougher for you to get your donors to focus on your cause—especially if you don’t show them how your mission is being affected by the COVID-19 crisis. You may worry that supporting food banks and related organizations that directly combat the crisis are be higher on their(your donors) priority list.
But don’t worry! Your donors loved you before the pandemic and will love you through it. Get their attention with smart targeting and extremely sensitive messaging. Smart targeting, in this case, means using data on past giving behavior to make the right ask.
Keep in mind that this pandemic may be intensely personal (and potentially traumatic) for your donors. They would at least be affected by social distancing and lockdown measures! When you do reach out to them with an event invitation, acknowledge the obstacles they may be facing and keep the messaging sensitive. Here are some text messaging templates with sensitive donor messaging that can help you there.
2. Ensuring participation
Even if a donor registers to attend your event, they may not always turn up for it. Yes, this is a typical problem with all events! In this context, it poses what may be an even bigger problem.
For your virtual events, donors will join from their homes—a situation that involves tons of potential distractions. At a time when the lines between work and home are already blurring, your donors are probably overwhelmed (because hello, home-schooling!). It could be hard to tear them away from their busy schedules to attend your event!
Even if you run a well-targeted campaign and sell a ton of tickets, your turnout may be less than you hoped.
Frequent donor communication is the key! It is important to communicate with your donors and potential attendees on multiple channels. That will help ensure your donors see (and remember) your event.
Sending a registration confirmation via email alone is a great first step, but it’s not enough. You can also send reminders via mass text messages (SMS) to keep your event at the forefront of your donors’ minds. You can also use a call center software to personally contact important donors to attend.
3. Keeping up the interest
There are lots of advantages to running virtual events right now. But there are two potential disadvantages! Both of them pertain to keeping your event attendees engaged with your event.
Since your virtual event lacks a lot of physical and social engagement an in-person event offers, you’ll have to work extra-hard to keep attendees engaged. And, since the attendees will join from their living room, there’s more potential for them to become distracted by kids, pets, and all the other goings-on at their home.
You can overcome these obstacles! You may just have to work a little harder to keep your donors interested in the event.
For many participants, the chat box in your virtual meeting room becomes their primary form of engagement. Appoint a moderator to ensure that each of your participants gets some personal interactions. But remember: the role of moderator is not just about answering questions! They should also be ready to keep up a lively conversation, even if it means messaging a few participants separately.
A different approach would be to engage your audience across multiple screens. Assuming your participants use their laptops to sign in, you can send them text messages throughout your event. That way, you have a way of engaging them even when they turn from your live event screen to check their phones.
It goes without saying that you should build an event line up that’s highly engaging. But audiences can get distracted even if you build an excellent agenda! Keep these tips handy to make sure your audience stays involved.
4. Technical glitches
Virtual events are new to your audience, but they are new to your volunteers, too. They’re also new to your speakers! Rehearsing your live streaming is an important step, but it’s also a good idea to have a plan in place in case you encounter any technical glitches.
Some glitches to think through include audio problems, unstable internet connections, and even your hosting platform crashing.
If you are expecting high event participation, check with your conference service providers to ensure their system can handle the traffic. You’ll also want to confirm your whole audience can access the stream: some services have limits on how many people can join.
In your pre-event communications with participants, include some troubleshooting options in case they run into problems. Should they try using another Internet browser? Would getting audio through the phone instead of through their computer help? Do you need to remind them to mute themselves when they log on?
Most importantly: have a few test runs with your speakers and volunteers to help them get the hang of the platform. A lot of technical problems will become apparent in these mock sessions and you can tackle them head on before the event.
5. Repeat participation
A virtual fundraiser is a novelty the first time you host one! Participants are curious and excited about something new, so you may see plenty of participation. However, it’s important to remember that such virtual events could easily be the norm in the coming months.
How can you keep your audience excited about future virtual events once the novelty has worn off?
One way to keep people interested is to keep the event invitations highly relevant. For a local fundraiser, for example, invite your local donors and hold an exclusive event for them. Similarly, you can target invitations based on your donor’s interests. For example, if your event benefits one of your particular programs, make it a point to invite donors who have given to that program in the past.
The people your nonprofit serves need you now more than ever. Now’s the time to step up your fundraising efforts and increase donor participation so you can continue to thrive and grow.
Virtual events are a great way to keep your supporters engaged with your mission and excited about your work. Keep in mind that we don’t know when things will go back to ‘normal’. From now on, virtual events and fundraisers could very well be the best way to support your cause! Perfecting your virtual events process now is important.
I hope these pointers helped! We’re totally rooting for you, and we hope you can use these strategies to nail your fundraising goals.