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Moving Forward with a Virtual Event

by Charity Dynamics

It’s almost June! Do you know what you’re doing with your fall event season yet? Does that question make you want to run away screaming? 

As nonprofit leaders, we’re facing tough decisions about our upcoming fundraising events. We are being forced to choose between the “known” and the “unknown.” The “known” is the 5,000-person walk at the local baseball park where everyone fundraises online, wears matching t-shirts, eats free food and goes home after a few hours feeling great about supporting a cause they love.

The “unknown” is this thing we’re calling a virtual event and it comes with so many more questions. What does a virtual event even look like? Will all of our supporters still participate? Is this our only option? Do I need to decide now? Help!

With all of these swirling questions, it’s easy to understand why nonprofit leaders are struggling to commit to decisions about fall events. To get to an answer, it’s best to simply put pen to paper and turn as many of these “unknowns” into “knowns” so you can try to compare apples to apples.

What does a virtual event even look like?

You can reimagine your event for the virtual environment in countless ways. What’s most important is making sure it stays true to your event and organization.

Is your event driven by team camaraderie? Empower team captains to host an at-home version for their teammates. They can tune in together to a virtual opening ceremony, walk around the neighborhood and share photos on social media. Supporters might not be comfortable coming out to an event with 5,000 people, but come fall, they might feel completely okay around their own team of 10 people.

Is the event focused on individual achievement? Turn it into a 30-day physical challenge. Participants can set their own goals for miles run or days of exercise and use that as a motivator while they continue to fundraise.

Was your event started as a way to bring survivors together? Invite supporters to tune into a special Zoom call where survivors can share their stories and connect with each other. What a simple way to inspire others to give or fundraise.

Are your fundraisers motivated by competition? Make it a Team Week on steroids, full of daily fundraising challenges, prizes and lots of recognition. Motivated by a sense of community? Push your fundraisers to a singular crowd-funding goal they can reach together.

Ultimately, you want to make the virtual event as unique to your mission as possible. What makes your virtual event different from another organization’s? Does asking people to post videos of themselves walking on their treadmill connect at all to your mission? If so, great, but if not, think harder. 

Ask people to run a quarter marathon in honor of the one in four women who suffer a miscarriage. Send participants on a neighborhood scavenger hunt to find symbols that connect to your cause. Tying the event concept back to your mission will keep your participants tied back to your organization.

Will all of our supporters participate?

Ah, the magic question! First of all, and quite simply, what are your participants telling you about how they want to engage with your event? (Ahem, have you asked them?) Hit the phones and start talking to key past participants one-on-one to seek their direct feedback. For the masses, launch a quick two to three-question survey to get a pulse check on how likely they are to participate.

Then, dig into your data. Take a look at your top fundraisers and top teams. How many of them can you count on to fundraise no matter what the event looks like? How much of your revenue could you retain if just those fundraisers engaged with the reimagined event? Many events typically only see 35% to 40% fundraiser activation, meaning you could still hit your fundraising goals by focusing on a smaller group of highly engaged fundraisers as opposed to worrying about all supporters returning.

Finally, how well do you know these top fundraisers? How committed are they to your cause? How active are they on social media? If you are going to count on them to help drive success with a virtual event, you need to know that they will know how to show up for you online. If you’re not sure about this, repeat step one — pick up the phone and ask!

Is “virtual” our only option?

Local governments might be making this part of the decision for you with many reopening plans capping out at groups of 50 or fewer people. I highly suspect that many communities are going to restrict large group events with more than 250 people until further notice. Some venues are also holding off on new contracts and some cities aren’t processing new permits until they know more. These are all key data points needed to help with your decision and they’ll vary by community.

Another critical consideration is your service population. Does your mission serve a constituent base that is at a higher risk for COVID-19 infection? If your organization serves cancer patients, people living with heart disease or diabetes, the elderly or another at-risk group, an in-person event, even if allowed by local guidelines, might be a non-starter for now.

The other alternative would be to postpone indefinitely, which could present even greater cash flow implications. Can your organization afford to wait? Do you have the liquidity to skip an event season completely? Are there other revenue lines that can pull double duty and make up for the gap left by an event?

Do we need to decide now?

If you’ve reached the point where your lack of a decision is stopping you from recruiting or engaging your supporters, it’s time to decide. Otherwise, for every day you wait, you are losing money, momentum and relationships with your key supporters.

If you are comfortable telling your supporters that you are continuing to monitor the guidance coming from local officials, and in the meantime, you still need their fundraising support, then by all means, keep going. Just make sure you’re not kicking the can too far down the road. Identify the key decisions points and dates — what has to happen to make it okay or not okay to have the event and by when — and stick to it.


The good news is you don’t have to figure out all of these answers alone. Charity Dynamics is here to help in a variety of ways:

  • Be an objective voice as you figure out your path forward.
  • Help you dig into your data to identify where you can have the greatest impact.
  • Rethink and design your program’s web presence to help market and communicate your plan or new virtual offering.
  • Identify technology tools like Boundless Fundraising and Boundless Motion that can help with your new reimagined event.
  • Revamp your e-communications strategy to make sure your supporters stay on track with fundraising.
  • Outline a strategy for building your online audience to extend your reach on social media.
  • Implement frictionless user flows for maximizing fundraising with matching gift and donor-advised fund giving options.
Wondering how we can help craft a stellar virtual fundraising event for your organization?