our blog

Planning A Nonprofit Virtual Event: How to Cover Your Bases

by Charity Dynamics

As nonprofit leaders, we’ve faced tough decisions about fundraising events over the past few years. With the onset of the pandemic, organizations had to rethink how they engage donors, and for many, that meant moving opportunities to the virtual space. Now, the pandemic is over , according to the director-general of the World Health Organization. Social distancing is no longer a concern, and many people have grown comfortable removing their masks. However, virtual events aren’t going anywhere. Organizations that thrived on live events pre-pandemic will see more success by sticking to online engagement. Whether going entirely online or sticking to a hybrid format, today’s nonprofits will flourish by integrating online elements into their events. With your 2023/24 fundraising plans underway, you may wonder how to launch an event that lends itself well to the digital landscape. To help, we’ll cover the fundamentals of planning a virtual event, so you can plan an immersive experience that gets supporters buzzing.

Why Should We Host a Virtual Event?

For a good reason, virtual events are a mainstay in the nonprofit world. They unite people in support of your cause, no matter where they’re located. Forming connections and supporting worthwhile causes has never been easier for supporters!

Still trying to convince that your team should plan a virtual event? Here are some key reasons why online events will remain wildly popular:

  • Increased Reach: Virtual events can reach a wider audience than in-person events. Participation isn’t limited by geographic location or venue capacity. Attendees can participate from anywhere, making it convenient and accessible for people with busy schedules or mobility limitations.
  • Cost-Effective: Virtual events are often more cost-effective than in-person events. Eliminate the need for overhead expenses, like venue, travel, and catering costs.
  • Flexibility: You can pre-record or live-stream your event, allowing attendees to participate at a time that works best for them.
  • Interactive: Depending on your technology, you can include interactive elements such as live chat, Q&A sessions, polls, and networking opportunities.
  • Data Collection: Since you’ll depend on technology, you can collect data on attendee engagement and behavior, helping your organization understand its audience and improve future events.

Even if you’re not going entirely virtual, you can still take a hybrid approach and open up the event to non-local supporters. Know that these events depend on you getting creative with your marketing approach since you’ll need to reach a broad audience and openly communicate how to participate in making it a success, though.

What Does a Virtual Event Look Like?

More than likely, you had the chance to host a virtual event when social distancing guidelines were in place. If not, you can reimagine any event for the virtual environment. Let’s take a look at a few examples of basing your virtual event on your audience’s motivations to raise more:

  • Team Camaraderie: Does team camaraderie drive your supporters? 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.
  • Individual Achievement: Does individual achievement motivate your supporters? Turn it into a 30-day physical challenge. Participants can set goals for completing a certain number of miles or days of exercise. Then, they’ll use that to motivate themselves.
  • Connection: Are you planning an event to bring survivors together? Invite supporters to join a special Zoom call where survivors can share their stories and connect with everyone. What a simple way to inspire others to give or fundraise.
  • Competition or Teamwork: Are your fundraisers motivated by competition? Host a team week on steroids full of daily fundraising challenges, prizes, and recognition. Are they motivated by a sense of community? Push your fundraisers to a singular crowdfunding goal they can reach together.

Ultimately, your virtual event should be unique to your mission. What makes your virtual event different from another organization’s? Does asking people to post videos of themselves walking on their treadmill connect to your mission? If so, great, but if not, think harder.

Ask people to run a quarter marathon to honor 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 to your mission will keep your participants tied back to your organization.

Will All Of Our Supporters Participate In Our Virtual Event?

Ah, the magic question! You don’t want to spend time hashing out the logistics of your virtual event just to wind up with zero participants. To gauge whether your virtual event will be a hit, take some precautionary steps, such as:

  • Survey Your Donors: MemberClicks’ event planning guide explains that you should seek feedback before you start planning. Hit the phones and talk to past participants one-on-one to seek their feedback. For the masses, launch a quick survey to gauge whether they’re interested in attending an all-online or hybrid event and what topics they’d like addressed. You’ll never know if you don’t ask!
  • Dig Into Your Data: Take a look at your top fundraisers and teams. How many can you count on to fundraise no matter what the event looks like? How much of your revenue could you retain if only those fundraisers engaged with your 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 instead of worrying about all supporters returning.
  • Consider Timing: Timing is everything! Certain times of the year are busier, so schedule your event when your target audience will be available. Consider relevant factors that may impact attendance, such as competing events, school breaks, or holidays. Consider time zones, too. Either choose a time that works for most of your audience or offer multiple sessions to accommodate different time zones.
Maximizing participation requires plenty of forethought. Before jumping into preparation, take some time to see how many people will attend, so you can plan accordingly.

What Do We Need To Pull Off a Virtual Event For Our Nonprofit?

While incredibly beneficial, there are several moving parts to a virtual event. Planning for the digital space requires a hands-on approach. As you nail down the logistics, consider the following:
  • The Technology You’ll Use: This depends on the type of event you’re hosting. For conferences, choose the right equipment for streaming, ensure adequate lighting and sound, and provide technical support during the event. Will you host a virtual or hybrid race? Make sure you have activity-tracking equipment, such as an app, that participants can use. For online auctions, you’ll need a good auction bidding site. Your technology powers your event, so choose the right tools.
  • Your Event’s Content and Programming: Will you have speakers? If so, enable interactive elements like Q&A sessions, polls, and live chat. If you’re leaning into the networking aspect, schedule breakout sessions. If you’re hosting a virtual race, your event should offer other engagement opportunities, such as race swag bags and a celebratory afterparty online.
  • Marketing Materials: You want people to know about your event. While we’ll dive into specifics in the next section, know that nonprofit marketing is essential to the success of your virtual event. During planning, create plenty of materials you can adapt to fit your chosen platforms. For example, maybe you’ll create event flyers and draft messages you can adapt to feature campaign updates.
Your virtual event’s success rides on your marketing strategies. Spend time determining which channels to use, crafting materials, and hashing out your publication schedule.

How Can We Market Our Nonprofit’s Virtual Event?

With your event happening in the virtual space, it only makes sense to market it primarily online. You can reach a local audience via direct mail and community bulletin boards, but the online space will drastically expand your reach.

Getting Attention’s guide to digital marketing for nonprofits dives into several platforms you can use to promote your cause, such as:

  • Your Website: This will be the primary resource for your event promotion. Create a landing page with logistical details, like the date, schedule, and other participatory information. Then, drive traffic to it across all event promotion.
  • Google Ads: Once you’ve created event-specific content on your website, promote it using Google search ads. Write compelling ads targeting keywords prospective attendees might search, and use geotargeting to narrow down your audience if you’ll offer an in-person option. Best of all, you can use the Google Grant to cover your advertising costs. After applying, you’ll receive up to $329 a day to spend on promoting your website’s content, including your event pages!
  • Social Media: Social media allows you to connect with your supporters more personally. Post multiple times about your upcoming event, linking to your registration page. Then, ask your followers to share your virtual events’ announcements, encouraging their networks to do the same.
  • Email: This channel is perfect for engaging your existing supporters. Send out mass emails announcing your virtual event. Then, you can target past event attendees using segmentation, encouraging those who are most likely to attend.

Your virtual event’s success rides on your marketing strategies. Spend time determining which channels to use, crafting materials, and hashing out your publication schedule.

How Can We Get Started?

Once you’ve decided to host a virtual event, it’s time to dive straight in! Otherwise, you’ll lose money, momentum, and relationships with key supporters every day you wait. Start by gauging your audience’s interest in attending, using one of the tips we covered earlier.

Simply launch a poll on social media, asking if people are interested in attending and what event they’d like to see your organization launch. If a virtual event seems promising, pick the type of event you’ll host, purchase the necessary equipment, and market the opportunity to supporters. In no time, your audience will unite in the virtual space to support your cause.

Learn more about how Charity Dynamics can help you cover your bases on a Virtual Event