With the rise of COVID-19, more and more people are staying home to practice safe social distancing, putting a pause to almost all in-person events. No one could have predicted the impact this global pandemic has had so far, especially for nonprofits. Events that were  supposed to bring in fundraising revenue are now cancelled and supporters who might have given before are likely reconsidering.

However, this isn’t the time to halt all efforts. While you will probably need to change how you’re making fundraising asks, it is still important to maintain donor engagement. Now is a great time to check-in with your supporters to ask them how they’re doing, thank them for their past support, and explain your organization’s next steps amid COVID-19. 

Many supporters are probably wondering about your ticket return policy for cancelled fundraising events as well as what your organization is doing to give back to the community.

Keeping your donors engaged is crucial, especially in times of uncertainty. Even if some of your supporters are unable to make gifts today, retaining their support for your mission is more beneficial for you in the long run. Remember it is almost always easier (and more cost-effective) to retain donors than it is to acquire new donors. 

As we all continue to adjust to the “new normal”, now is the time to look into modern software solutions to turn your events into a purely virtual experience. While virtual fundraising events may be different than your normal efforts, they can still engage attendees and bring your nonprofit into the spotlight. With an effective virtual event, you can continue to foster relationships in the hopes that your attendees become life long supporters, or even better, life long givers. 

As you begin preparation, ask yourself the following about your tools and strategy to ensure that you’re maximizing your success: 

  1. What kind of virtual event should you host?
  2. How can you attract more attendees?
  3. What could turn attendees into donors?

Virtual events are likely a new endeavor for your organization, but the concepts are similar to basic event planning. You just need the right tools to carry out the processes usually done during live events. Let’s get started!

1. What kind of virtual event should you host?

The initial thing your fundraising team has to consider is: What kind of virtual event should you host? Whether you’re replacing an event that had to be cancelled or this is an entirely new experience, this is a critical point in your event planning. 

If you fail to create a virtual event that entices your donors and supporters enough to become attendees, then you’re spending time and money without any real return.

As you’re considering the best virtual fundraising event for your audience, think about

  • Who your current supporters are.
  • What type of events have been successful in the past.

These two questions will give you a better sense of what your attendees care about and the type of virtual event to plan. Are your supporters from a specific generation? Which events did they attend in the past? What do they talk about on social media? 

On the other hand, also think about your own needs as an organization. If you did everything you could to make your event guests happy, you’d be way over budget and sleep-deprived. Make sure you keep in mind your:

  • Budget 
  • Timing
  • Resources

You don’t want to make the mistake of spending more than the return of your virtual event, especially if you’re fundraising. That would basically make the whole point moot and could establish your reputation as unreliable and bad with money, causing people to lose interest in your cause

Make sure you understand the scope of what you can accomplish. Though an entire conference with different sessions hosted online with live video streaming is impressive, you’ll need the right tools for it. If COVID-19 has already put a dent in your budget, consider a social fundraising campaign, like peer-to-peer or crowdfunding.

2. How can you attract more attendees?

Once you and your fundraising team have brainstormed a virtual event that could garner a strong level of support and offer an extremely meaningful experience, begin to start thinking about how you can attract your desired attendees.

Make sure to:

Develop an online marketing strategy.

Every event needs some sort of marketing strategy to get the word out there, even if it’s as simple as sending out an email or posting it on your nonprofit website. With many people working from home, your online marketing strategy is more important than ever. An effective marketing strategy will clearly convey exactly what your virtual event entails while reaching your target demographic. 

Using an event registration tool, consider tactics to help spread the word about your fundraising event. A good place to start is by contacting your past donors and event attendees – especially since you already know they support your mission and are familiar with your cause. This is also a great way to get initial reactions to your virtual event, as well as any technological concerns. Maybe some of your attendees don’t have a webcam but still want to participate in some way.

Consider the following ways to further your reach:

  • Create a website or landing page for your event. You’ll have a dedicated place to post all pertinent details, as well as host your registration form. It can also be easier to track leads this way because you’ll know people are only registering from one place. 
  • Send emails based on user action. Configure your event tool to automate emails and other messages to be sent out based on a “triggered” action. For example, as soon as someone pays the registration fee, a payment transaction email will be sent. This improves your organization’s reputation and saves time for the entire fundraising team.
  • Offer discounts and coupon codes. A good way to get people to come to your event is to offer discounts and coupon codes. Start off by giving them to those who have supported your cause in the past. This is a great way to continue developing these relationships, as donors will keep coming back with a good incentive!
  • Use social media. Social media is a great way to promote your event, especially to your more tech-savvy guests. Get people excited by posting photos and videos of your organization in action for your mission. Social media channels are great to announce your event (just make sure to include your website link so your supporters can take action).

It’s important to get the word out there, but your efforts shouldn’t stop there. It’s also key to optimize your registration page. 

Optimize the registration process.

It’s not uncommon for an online shopper to fill up their shopping cart, go through multiple steps of the check-out process, and then end up closing their window. It’s hard to pinpoint a reason, but a lot of excuses come down to the form being too long or too complicated.

Online event registration has this problem too. More people are staying home and likely spending time on the internet, where there are a lot of other opportunities. Your virtual event is likely competing with a ton of other great experiences, so ensure your registration form is not what turns users away.

Instead, encourage users to complete registration in a smooth, seamless, and timely manner. A good tip is to always embed your registration form into the page. Studies show that if applicants leave your site for a third-party page, conversion rates typically drop down by 27%.

Using your event registration tool, consider the following ways you can optimize the registration process for your event attendees:

  • Group registration. Allow users to register multiple people at once. This is great for parents, employers, and teachers! Adding this feature can net you 26% more paying attendees.
  • Registration templates. If you’re having trouble figuring out what you should put on your registration form, some tools will provide templates for you. Define the core questions you need and then customize it to fit your specific event.
  • Conditional logic. Advanced registration forms have conditional logic to make the user experience more personalized than ever. As a registrant is filling out questions, the form changes depending on the answers they input. For instance, if you choose to opt for an optional activity, the form will provide further questions pertaining to it. This process can also automate other things, like adding in discounts, more fields for group registrations, and more.
  • Mobile friendly. This should be a no-brainer, but make sure your website and registration can be accessed from all devices. Often, people will forget about something if it doesn’t load effectively on their mobile devices.

To maximize success for your marketing strategy and registration process, it’s recommended that your nonprofit invests in a comprehensive event registration solution. This way, you can handle all your processes in one platform!

3. What could turn attendees into donors?

One of your main goals at a virtual fundraising event is to turn your attendees into donors. However, viewing your event guests as just sources of money can easily seem transparent and disingenuous – especially now. COVID-19 has already had a negative impact on the global economy and unemployment rates are continuing to increase, so it’s important to remember where your donors may be coming from. 

Here’s a good takeaway: it’s not all about fundraising. Focus your virtual event and other fundraising efforts on developing your attendee relationships first. Remember to check-in with attendees and ask them how they are and if they need anything from you. Before any gift solicitation, ask guests how they want the engagement to look. If they say they can’t make gifts at this time, don’t worry. Continue building relationships and set the foundation for future giving.

People will recognize these efforts, especially if you’re also taking the time to make each virtual event better than the last. Afterall, it’s unlikely that your organization’s first in-person events were 100% successful. Take your guests’ opinions into consideration and try to better understand their experience. Having this reputation as your foundation will help nurture your attendee relationships into future givers.

To improve your future virtual fundraising efforts, it’s a good idea to review past ones to understand what went well and what can be improved. Make sure your event tool keeps its data in the cloud, ensuring that your entire team can access information from your marketing efforts, registration form, and more.

Here’s what you should do with this data:

  • Dynamic data filtering. Filter searches and focus on specific metrics. You can also stack filter conditions in order to narrow your selection and get specific data you need. 
  • Dynamic reporting tools. Easily view statistics and export reports for your team to review with both custom and saved reporting tools. This is a great way to gain a holistic perspective on your event. 

Alongside consistently reviewing data so that you can improve virtual fundraising efforts, you should also develop donor relationships in other ways. Remember to personalize your communication efforts and always send donor thank you letters. This is especially important now. The more you work on your relationships, the higher your retention rates will be down the line. If you’re curious about other ways to increase donor retention, checkout this article.

As you’re preparing for your nonprofit virtual fundraising event, make sure to get input from your team. It’s important that you have an actionable plan in mind, as well as the necessary tools and resources to carry out the plan. Good luck!