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How to Fundraise Virtually

Updated

Congrats! You’ve just received approval on your fundraising event strategy for next year. But while some donors may be ready to return to in-person fundraisers, others may not feel as confident (especially if they work with immunocompromised or other at-risk populations). 

There’s no denying the magic of getting together in person, but virtual fundraisers have their benefits as well. Not limited to one location, virtual events allow more people to participate, particularly those in your community with medical and financial limitations. 

Virtual fundraisers are also more cost-effective than in-person events while also generating more actionable data on viewership and engagement data, as well as specific performance for each session. That kind of granular data helps you prove ROI and attract more donors and sponsors in the future, all of which benefits your organization and the people you serve. 

Want to start fundraising virtually — or improve upon last year’s campaign? Whether you’re heading up a school or a non-profit organization, follow our top tips to create an effective virtual fundraising strategy. 

How do I host a virtual fundraiser? 

1. Set your event strategy  

Before investing time and resources into your event, your team needs to agree on its goals, audience and format. This will ensure that your team members are working toward the same goals and making progress on the right metrics. Here’s what you need to consider when creating your event strategy.

Goals: First, set measurable goals that align with your organization’s biggest needs. Some examples include: 

  • Raise $10,000 to provide services to make progress on a specified initiative. 
  • Retain 400 engaged donors.
  • Recruit 200 new donors.
  • Maintain 100% board involvement in giving.
  • Share your mission with 1000 more people and increase email subscribers by 10-15%.

Prioritize these metrics based on primary, secondary, and tertiary goals  to inform final decisions on content, speakers and sponsors. 

Audience: Now that you’ve defined your goals, figure out who you’ll need to reach to achieve them. The more you know about your core audience, the easier it’ll be to create content that inspires them enough to act. So run reports in your fundraising database to learn who your donors are, how much they’ve donated, what events they’ve attended previously and what kinds of content they’ve engaged with in the past. 

With that information, you can determine what kind of event and what kind of sessions will get your audience most excited. 

Format: With the rise of virtual event platforms, hybrid events and peer-to-peer fundraising, organizations have more virtual fundraising options than ever. But not all formats work for every use case and organization. So decide what’s best for you. 

Our favorite creative virtual fundraising ideas include: 

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising 
  • Auctions
  • Talent shows 
  • Concerts 
  • Community talks with your organization’s leaders or relevant experts in your field 
  • Behind the scenes tours of your organization 

2. Inspire your audience with strong storytelling

Once you’ve selected your event format, it’s time to plan your program itself. Your sessions will be the heart of your event — humanize your cause, put faces and stories behind the stats that you share. These more than anything else will inspire people to contribute to your cause.  

But this can be easier said than done: When you’re deeply immersed in your cause on a daily basis, it’s hard to see it from an outside perspective. Get started by thinking about your organization’s mission and the outcomes it promises to its constituents. Which people, which stories and initiatives can resonate with a broader audience? 

From there, you can begin creating your full agenda and recruiting speakers. 

3. Cast a wide net for speakers 

Once you’ve determined your content strategy, identify people in your network who can share those stories. Here are a few kinds of speakers to consider:

  1. Staff/Board: Have your Executive Director or Board Member talk about why the organization is so important to them. They can also inspire future giving by sharing their one-year and five-year plans for the organization in a realistic but hopeful way. 
  2. Beneficiaries: Ask people who have benefited from your organization to share their personal story about how their lives have been impacted by your work. 
  3. Expert: Have a professional (author, journalist, psychologist, researcher, etc) with industry-leading knowledge about your cause give an informational talk about your topic. This can reassure your audience members that their support will be caused to make effective change and that their funds will be used wisely. 
  4. Corporate partners: Depending on your organization’s mission, you might work with corporate partners. If so, consider hosting them on a panel to speak to your cause’s importance.

    For example, say you run a nonprofit that places at-risk teenagers in professional externships at local businesses. Host one or several of those business owners to talk about the potential of those teenagers and the impact of your work. 

  5. Inspirational Example: Your goals are sky-high, so shoot for stars when selecting speakers. Recruit a prominent community figure — or celebrity — that either believes in your mission, or aligns themselves with similar philanthropic activities.

    This may be the WOW factor that brings life to your event and exposes your organization to new people (pssst, work cross-promotion into your speaker contract so you can tap into their following to promote your event.)

PS: Don’t limit yourself to your immediate circle. The biggest pro of the virtual format is accessibility, not just for attendees but for potential speakers. It’ll be much easier for your organization’s leaders — and other experts — to give remarks from their desk than to travel to a separate fundraiser. Similarly, as long as they have access to the Internet, you can accommodate members of the population you serve more comfortably in a virtual setting (since they won’t need to travel, etc.). So take advantage! 

4. Make your fundraising platform accessible and provide tech support / trainings if needed 

Speaker quality can make or break a virtual event. So if your speakers can’t use your virtual event platform to interact with your audience — or just plain can’t use it — your event as a whole will suffer. Prepare your presenters to succeed with the following tips: 

  • Conduct practice sessions with each speaker at least two weeks out from your event. During your session, teach them how to log onto the platform, use their microphone and camera, use interactive features like polls and Q&A, roll videos, and switch speakers if necessary.  
  • If your speakers aren’t tech-savvy, consider sending them a screen recording of yourself using the platform — or ask your virtual event platform’s support team to provide documentation or video tutorials. This way, your speakers can learn the platform at their own pace and rewind if needed. 
  • Ensure they have access to a solid Wifi connection and quiet area to speak — and have them pre-record their talk if possible. Also consider arranging for them to use your organization’s offices if necessary and feasible.  
  • If your speakers present live, be on hand to help them resolve technical issues. If this isn’t possible, provide them with a contact from your virtual event platform’s support team who can tackle any issues with them right away. 

5. Harness virtual event tech to boost engagement 

49% of marketers agree that audience engagement is the most important factor in having a successful virtual event. But as we’ve all experienced during the pandemic era, it’s often difficult to strike the same quality of connection with audiences virtually. 

Our attention spans expand and contract based on our interest level — so if your event has a compelling narrative and strong speakers, you’ve won half the battle. 

From there, get people talking with your virtual event platform’s interactive tools. Encourage attendees to participate with the presentation via the chat, Q&A and polls. (82% of virtual event organizers use polls to increase audience interaction.) You can also provide downloadable handouts and/or replays for guests that want to take another look — or spread the word to their own networks. 

6. Secure corporate sponsors 

Next, monetize your event by booking corporate sponsors. Virtual event sponsorships can net your organization upwards of $10,000 — which you can use to improve your event offerings and support your mission. So scour your professional and personal networks for businesses that might support your event. Then pursue sponsorships with these tips: 

Define your organizations’ value: In your pitch, clearly communicate how your organization’s mission aligns with that sponsor’s goals. For instance, if you’re heading up an organization that increases access to tech for students, consider targeting tech companies with a similar focus.

Also demonstrate your organization’s success: How many people in the community have benefited from your organization? What outcomes do you see among people you serve and what additional services can you provide with the sponsor’s funds? The more concrete information you can provide the sponsors, the more likely they’ll be to buy into your vision and support it.  

Tell them about your audience: Since they’ll be pursuing leads from within your audience, your sponsors will want to know about your audience’s demographics and size. How many people are you expecting at your event? How old are they? What is the gender split? What topics are they most interested in? This information will help sponsors evaluate your opportunity and see if it will provide a good ROI for them.

Create tiered sponsorship packages: Offer different sponsorship levels so you can attract small local businesses — who might have a stronger connection with your mission — and bigger brands. The best way to differentiate these packages is by the quantity and quality of ad placements: Have higher-level sponsors place their ads below your video player during sessions and in the header of event emails. Also consider using push notifications to encourage people to visit your biggest sponsors and give them more exposure. 

Learn more about securing and optimizing your event sponsorships here

7. Spruce up your sponsorship booths 

One great way to attract and retain those sponsors? Select a virtual event platform with standout sponsorship booths, so that your corporate partners can earn a good return on investment from participating in your event. 

So what features should you look for? The best sponsorship booths include the following: 

  • Custom-branded booths with logos, ad placements and branded video players
  • Polls, pop-up offers and Q&A that drive deeper engagement and capture more information about prospects 
  • 3D product demos that allow attendees to physically manipulate products with their cursors 
  • The ability to automate presentations, so sponsors can roll presentations automatically while giving individual attendees their undivided attention 
  • Push notifications that encourage attendees to visit sponsor booths during lulls in the action 
  • Virtual meeting rooms  

The more your sponsors can interact with attendees and book meetings, the more excited they’ll be to participate in — and invest in — your event.

8. Choose a full-service virtual event platform

Professionals wear multiple hats in the slowest of times. 

Ease the stress of planning and promoting your event by picking a one-stop-shop virtual event platform — one where you can send email invitations and reminders, create and design landing pages, manage speakers, schedule practice sessions and process payments all in one platform. 

Besides keeping everything organized, keeping everything in the same place also reduces the risk of mistakes when you can least afford them. 

9. Minimize errors with automation   

Speaking of mistakes, it’s really easy to make them while you’re speaking live on camera. 

So for your cause to resonate with potential donors and sponsors, your content delivery needs to be seamless from start to finish. That’s why we recommend pre-recording each of your sessions. This allows you and your presenters to experiment with different storytelling styles and navigate the virtual event platform before going live to attendees and donors. 

During the session itself, you can roll your pre-recorded session and, using an automated workflow, set trigger polls, chat questions, and offers to pop up at predetermined times throughout the session. This way, you can be fully present with attendees during each session, answering their questions and advocating for your mission, without worrying about remembering to send an offer, etc. 

10. Promote your event 

Next step: Get people in the “door.” Event marketing is involved enough, but get started with the following tips: 

  1. Give yourself enough time: When events fail to meet expectations, it’s usually because teams don’t give themselves enough time to secure speakers, learn their virtual event platform, and create marketing assets. We recommend that you start planning your event at least three months in advance — and if you’ve got a team of one or two, even earlier than that. 
  2. Articulate your event’s value proposition: People make registration decisions in a split second, so you need to convince your audience to say yes just as quickly. With one look at your event website, your audience should know who your event is for, what concrete things they’ll learn, and why they should care. So before doing anything else, your team should decide your event’s value proposition and identity. 
  3. Focus on securing relevant speakers: Once you’ve decided on your event’s identity, you can start identifying the best speakers for those needs. 
  4. Align your marketing team right away: In conjunction with event planners, your content writer and graphic designer should craft your event’s messaging and visual identity. With that, the rest of your marketing team can more easily create social media, email, and digital content that follows those guidelines. 
  5. Encourage your speakers and sponsors to cross-promote your event: Imagine if you could double or triple your event’s reach just with one post? By having even one of your speakers promote your event to their own following, you can achieve that. Working with your marketing team, create a promotional kit, along with suggested copy and graphics, for your speakers to easily post about your event. (Learn even more about cross-promoting your webinars and virtual events here.) 

11. Keep the momentum going post-event  

Good as it feels to pull off a great event, nonprofits need prolonged engagement from donors to ensure their long-term financial viability. 

So you need to follow up your content with outreach that’s both heartfelt and data-driven. That includes: 

  • Show gratitude to get better feedback: The post-event email is the best place to gather useful feedback and prime people to engage with you in the future. While anyone can whip up a survey, the best nonprofits ask for feedback in a way that inspires action. Provide the reason you’re asking for feedback so your attendees know why their input matters so much.

    Besides simply getting more responses, this signals your commitment to improving your work and your appreciation for your audience’s time. That heartfelt approach increases your organization’s credibility and makes people more likely to engage in the future.

    Here’s some sample messaging to get started: “We were so inspired to see so many people take time to support our mission. It’s because of people like you that we are able to make strides in our cause and serve our community. That’s why we’d love to ask you for a little feedback about our event. Please consider filling out this 10-minute survey to help us maximize your impact going forward.”

    PS: On BigMarker, you can now distribute post-webinar surveys to attendees before the session ends, which improves response rates.

  • Use information to your advantage: If your organization can afford a CRM software, integrate with your virtual event platform so that all of your registrant and attendee data . Not only will you know who attended your event, but who interacted with each of your pop-ups, poll questions and offers. (No integrations? No problem — This information is available in BigMarker’s post-event analytics reports.) This allows you to identify your most promising potential donors and prioritize accordingly.

12. Repurpose your content

Following your event, repurpose its content so you can have fundraising appeals on hand to use throughout the year. Below are some easy ways to turn one keynote session into several weeks’ worth of content: 

  • Turn your sessions into on-demand replays. (Organizers can host replays on BigMarker for three months or longer after their event.) 
  • Create a blog post summarizing the session’s biggest takeaways and most actionable recommendations for audiences
  • Splice the session video into smaller videos to share on social media and/or stories
  • Use your speaker’s most compelling quotes in graphics for social media or in other key fundraising materials
  • Condense findings by your expert speakers into a research-based whitepaper that you can share with donors and corporate sponsors  

Multiply this across six or seven event sessions and you’ve got a whole lot to work with. Besides spreading the word about your mission, this also gives your team more time and space to create more impactful pieces of mission-related content. 

You’ve got the playbook. Now use our virtual fundraising tips will help you crush those fundraising goals — you’ve got this!

Want to learn how to engage your donors with webinars, virtual and hybrid events? Our team is here to help! Contact us at sales@bigmarker.com or request a demo to get started .

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