Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your nonprofits’ team members have likely been out of the office for some time. To fundraise while practicing social distancing, virtual fundraising events have risen in popularity over the past few years. These events allow supporters from all over the world to engage with your cause and participate in fun activities to raise funds for a good cause. However, these events don’t just happen overnight, and nearly every successful virtual fundraising event has a meticulous plan behind it. 

Fundraising events allow your nonprofit to earn donations and strengthen relationships with your supporters. To make the most of your events, develop a careful plan to best achieve these two goals and ensure every component of your event is both meaningful and cost-effective. So what do these event plans look like?

The exact mechanics behind virtual event planning will look different for every nonprofit based on their unique staff, operating practices, and goals. However, there are a few common best practices that most nonprofits can benefit from integrating into their event planning. In this article, we’ll explore four of these best practices in detail: 

  1. Invest in Robust Event Software
  2. Assemble an Excellent Event Team
  3. Extend Personal Invitations to Guests
  4. Set Measurable Goals for Your Event

While many of these practices also apply to in-person events, they may look slightly different because virtual events require additional interfacing with technology. While the additional use of tech for virtual events can be a blessing for some aspects of your event plan, it can also cause complications of its own. As you read through these best practices, consider your own tech stack and how the software in it could be used to amplify your efforts. 

1. Invest in Robust Event Software 

Nonprofits have only gotten more tech-savvy over time. Today, even the most basic in-person events can benefit from leveraging robust event software, not to mention virtual events which rely heavily on a comprehensive array of tools. However, not all event fundraising software is the same. Additionally, the massive number of potential virtual fundraising events have generated an extensive variety of event software providers. 

Before investing in event software, determine what services will fill the greatest needs for the type of virtual event you select. In some cases, you might be able to find a free solution or discover you already have some of the tools you need. Here are a few common types of virtual event platforms and the events they support:

  • Basic ticketing software. While ticketing and registration aren’t the most compelling parts of an event, they are necessary for your team to track how many people will attend. Ensure your ticketing software is connected to your donor database, so you can create profiles for new supporters or add to existing donor information. Plus, integrated systems make it easier to pull your guests’ information up during your event’s check in. 
  • Virtual conference software. Conference software enables your nonprofit to host events with breakout rooms, live-streaming, chat capabilities, document sharing, and other features that are key for workshops and presentations. In addition, conferencing tools give your guests a chance to interact with one another, which can sometimes get lost in virtual events. 
  • Event websites. Event and fundraising websites are often useful for long-term online fundraisers. These include virtual fundraisers such as crowdfunding and peer-to-peer campaigns, but there are websites that can host virtual events such as auctions, as well. 

Before making any purchases, be sure to assess your CRM. Some CRMs come equipped with general event software and even the ability to run a few specific types of virtual events. While an all-in-one solution is preferable, if your CRM doesn’t come with these features, check it’s integrations so you can find additional software solutions to fill in the gaps.

2. Assemble an Excellent Event Team

Your event team often determines your event’s level of success. While it’s best to assemble a team of already experienced fundraising professionals, it isn’t always possible, and it’s never a bad idea to regularly train less experienced members of your staff to step into new roles if need be.

While the exact makeup of your team will depend on the size of both your nonprofit and of your event, almost every virtual event team will require members to take on the following roles: 

  • Event manager. Your event manager oversees your entire event planning process, helping coordinate individual aspects of your event. Event managers will create your event planning timeline, determine the direction of your event, and assist in setting specific goals that you hope to reach. 
  • Marketing specialists. Your event needs guests. Marketing specialists get the word out to the community about the event opportunity through email, social media, direct mail, and other communication channels that your nonprofit regularly uses. 
  • A tech-support expert. Virtual events rely on software, and you should have a dedicated tech support expert to help set up your event and step in if anything goes wrong during the event. 
  • Volunteers. Volunteers often fill various roles at the event itself, whether it’s checking in guests, answering questions, or taking on other administrative tasks. Train your volunteers on how to use your virtual event’s technology before your event begins to minimize potential errors. 

Maintaining an active volunteer program can also help your nonprofit build a greater support network and can even set your nonprofit up to earn volunteer grants. These funds are provided as a part of corporate philanthropy programs in which companies support their employees’ support of eligible nonprofit organizations. 

Most corporations require supporters to reach a minimum number of hours before they’ll make a contribution. However, as Double the Donation’s volunteer grant article explains, some corporations that offer these grant opportunities will make contributions to your nonprofit after their employees work for just an hour. To claim volunteer grants, help your volunteers find the necessary application forms for their employers and assist them in filling them out.

3. Extend Personal Invitations to Guests

Personalized invitations can help increase your event’s attendance and make your nonprofit stand out in your supporters’ minds. Messages that address supporters by name and reference their history with your nonprofit convey that your nonprofit appreciates their individual support, helping to build relationships and encourage further interaction. This approach holds true for all kinds of organizations seeking to forge long-term connections, including nonprofits, schools, and associations. 

Pay extra attention to guests who have attended your previous events, and send them invitations for similar events. Guests are likely to attend events similar to ones they enjoyed in the past, and sending invitations that reference past event attendance shows that your nonprofit acknowledges their interests and past support

Events tend to produce a lot of data, which can then be used to improve your future fundraisers and event activities. Chief among this data is your guests’ engagement metrics with your nonprofit. Be sure to collect and store this information using your donor management system or CRM so your nonprofit can extend personal invitations to guests who have attended similar events in the past. 

Personal invitations can also help improve your virtual events’ guest retention rate. Guest retention measures how many guests who attended your last event also sign-up to attend your next event. A high guest retention rate can be a sign that your events are engaging and high-quality. High retention rates also help build a solid and consistent support network. Forming a core, sustainable audience will reduce the burden on your marketing team to find new attendees to sell tickets to. 

You can create a tailored experience for each guest using your CRM’s messaging tools and email templates. Adjust your templates to reflect your nonprofit’s brand and other specifics related to your virtual event. Then, populate the template with unique personal information stored in your CRM. 

In addition to personalized invitations, leveraging individual information also increases effectiveness of other communication necessary for your event such as reminder emails and especially thank you messages. 

4. Set Measurable Goals for Your Event

How do you define success for your event? As you plan your virtual event, make sure you have the analytics tools in place to record key metrics so you can analyze your event after the fact. However, the data you collect will only be useful if you have goals to measure it against. 

As CharityEngine’s guide to year-end giving explains, effective fundraising goals should be S.M.A.R.T., which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Here’s a breakdown of how you can make sure your event goals follow each of these principles:

  • Specific. Broad goals such as “raise awareness” can be useful for your nonprofit overall, but holding your event to these objectives can make it unclear if you met your goal or not. Choose a specific, targeted goal based on previous data. For example, you might set a fundraising goal of $10,000 during the event.
  • Measurable. Putting a numerical value on your goals will clear up any doubt about whether or not they have been achieved. Some metrics such as “awareness” are also inherently difficult to measure, so stick to objectives that you can gather data from or calculate based on your data, such as overall attendance or retention rate.  
  • Attainable. An unachievable goal will only frustrate your event team and cause them to lose motivation. Choose an objective based on previous data that seems possible given your current operating practices and growth goals. For example, it would be amazing to have 100% guest retention but more attainable to aim for improving your guest retention over your last event by 10%.
  • Relevant. Choose a goal that relates to your virtual event and your organization’s overall fundraising goals. This will help your nonprofit down the road when you communicate the impact of donations to your supporters. For instance, in your event follow-up, you might tell supporters that you raised $25,000 at your event which will go towards fulfilling your mission through X and Y initiatives. 
  • Time-Based. Virtual events happen over a defined period of time, whether that’s a few hours or a few days. This means you will have a set timeframe to achieve your goal. However, if you have goals for improving your approach to events as a whole, set a time by which you want to see improvements. For example, you might set individual event goals and an overarching goal for all of your events throughout the year. Doing so will help keep your team focused on your goal and allow you to course-adjust if your goal turns out to be unobtainable. 

Your nonprofit’s software such as your CRM, wealth analytics tools, and other software solutions that provide information about your guests and events can help set these goals. Looking at your past data is one of the best ways to determine what your nonprofit can do in the future and spot opportunities for improvement. 

Planning a virtual event is a lot of work, but you can make the process easier by providing focus and direction to your highly-skilled event planning team. Provide your team with the best software resources to help them reach out to guests and establish internal goals for your nonprofit. Then, start planning your virtual event without losing sight of either its or your nonprofit’s purpose. Happy event planning!

About the Authors:

Philip Schmitz – CEO & Founder

Philip Schmitz is the CEO and founder of cloud-services leader BIS Global, creators of the CharityEngine fundraising & communications technology platform. Founded in 1999, Phil has managed the vision and strategy for BIS’s suite of integrated business applications & hosting tools used by more than 400 businesses & non-profits.

Leigh Kessler – VP, Marketing & Communications

Leigh Kessler is VP of Marketing and Communications at donor management software platform CharityEngine and a frequent speaker on branding, fundraising, data and technology. He is a former nationally touring headline comedian and has appeared on numerous TV shows including VH1’s “Best Week Ever”, CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight”, Discovery Channel & Sirius Radio.​ He has overseen and informed research and branding strategies for some of the most well known brands in America.