5 Keys to Balance Hybrid, Live, and Virtual Fundraising Events
The pandemic undoubtedly caused a lot of pain and challenges for nonprofit organizations. Trying to process the past two years, along with the impact of inflation and continued uncertainty, might have left you feeling more than just a little bit stressed about how to thrive, and not just survive, in this new world.
Nonprofits previously dependent on fundraising auctions, galas and events suddenly found themselves without their major source of funding as social distancing impacted every aspect of our professional and personal lives. How could nonprofits raise money, engage with donors, leverage volunteers, serve constituents and staff, and run their operations? In the blink of an eye, offices were empty, and organizations were faced with the challenge of finding ways to keep their staff, donors, board members, volunteers and supporters connected while fulfilling their missions in an almost immediately transformed virtual world.
All of that being said though, there is definitely a lot to celebrate in how nonprofits rose to these tremendous challenges. That adversity has a way of spurring innovation and transformation, and creating new opportunities. This was certainly the case for many nonprofits that discovered and embraced new approaches for virtual fundraising, auctions and events.
And supporters rewarded those nonprofits that refused to pause their fundraising. The great news is that, in many ways, the challenges we’ve all faced have served as a catalyst for much needed digital transformation and innovation. For those nonprofits that truly understand how the world — and the fundraising landscape — have forever changed, the opportunity ahead is actually greater than ever.
With that in mind, here are five keys I’d put at the top of any list for not just surviving, but thriving like never before in a post-pandemic fundraising world filled with live, virtual and hybrid options for events.
1. Embrace Live Fundraising Events But Leverage Hybrid Models, Too
The return of live, on-site auctions and fundraising events is well underway. Nonprofits are discovering that in-person events are more popular than ever. For many donors, nothing beats the fun, energy and good times of a gala with hundreds of other supporters. Donors are not only showing up by being there, but also giving generously filled with gratitude to be back at a live events and connecting with your cause.
Of course, we have all become accustomed to virtual, and there is now an expectation for a virtual option or component for those unable or in willing to attend in-person. The same is true for fundraisers, like galas, auctions and golf events, so be sure to leverage hybrid models with your events when possible going forward.
Regardless of the road ahead, planning your events as hybrid events gives you the ability to adjust your blend of live and virtual elements as needed. In addition to flexibility and adaptability, there are other tremendous benefits to virtual events (or at least virtual elements in live events). These include:
- Greater inclusivity and accessibility for those who are not able or prefer not to attend live events.
- Expanded reach and engagement, and hence more fundraising opportunities, as you’re no longer limited by geography, the size of your venue or room, etc.
- Greater efficiencies and better data and insights through the inclusion of technology.
- Elimination and/or reduction in operating and venue expenses, allowing more of the money raised to fall to the bottom line and contribute to fulfillment of your mission.
2. Think Digital- and Mobile-First
There was a time when it was very common to hear from nonprofits that donors, especially older donors, were simply not comfortable or willing to use technology. Regardless of how accurate that assumption was, the pandemic has served as a powerful catalyst for incredible digital transformation across all industries and generations. We all learned how to be masters at using Zoom and other virtual technologies, and relied on our smartphones like never before to shop, learn, communicate, and engage with supporters, colleagues and everyone else. Think about how quickly people became comfortable with virtual technologies and phones when there was no other way to see their children and grandchildren.
There is now great comfort and expectation around using our phones to engage with and support our favorite causes and organizations through everything from digital bidding, to registering for events, to SMS text messaging on the day of the event. Text communications are just one example of how important, timely information can be shared with donors, constituents and board members.
3. Remove Silos
Many nonprofit organizations that entered the pandemic using desktop software solutions, siloed software applications or a combination of spreadsheets and manila folders found themselves ill-prepared for socially distanced operations with an inability to access and leverage the information, data and processes needed for fundraising.
The pandemic truly underscored how essential it is to have cloud-based fundraising and donor relationship technology that is accessible anywhere.
An all-in-one approach to digital fundraising, donor relationship management, auctions and fundraising events provides you distinctive advantages. Full integration of all of your digital fundraising applications with a single, unified database provides you with a 24/7, 360-degree view of donors, supporters and relationships for highly valuable, actionable insights to guide best practice strategies now and as you scale.
Your online applications should automatically flow all relevant information into your donor relationship management system, which should allow you to automatically send a custom, thank-you acknowledgement and receipt to the donor, automatically capture all relevant information into the database, and automatically send a notification to you and/or your entire staff about the specific donor and their transaction.
4. Utilize Innovative Year-Round Best Practices
Just like those organizations that hit the pause button on their fundraising during the pandemic and unintentionally sent the message to donors that they didn’t need their help or money, those that hesitate to innovate by integrating new ways of fundraising year-round are unlikely to realize their full fundraising potential.
Make it easy for donors to give to you in many ways with greater frequency through best practices, like multiple fundraising events throughout the year with online event registration, peer-to-peer fundraising and team fundraising. Also, leverage fundraising yield enhancers, like covering the processing fees and matching giving. The list is endless, but never stop learning and trying, that’s where the growth is.
5. Understand Your Donors to Retain Them
Understanding your donors and retaining them is fundamental to your success, especially when considering how to do auctions and fundraising events. It costs significantly more to acquire a new donor than it does to retain existing donors, and even if you double down on acquiring new donors, what’s the point if you don’t retain them? Galas, auctions, golf outings and other fundraising events are key donor retention strategies — just one more reason to feel optimistic about the live, virtual and hybrid opportunities ahead.
David Blyer is co-founder, CEO and president of Arreva, a digital fundraising, donor relationship management, health care hospitality and auction software that has been serving the nonprofit industry for more than three decades.
David founded DonorCommunity in 1999, the first all-in-one fundraising software, and co-founded Arreva with Susan Packard Orr, through a merger with her company, Telosa, in 2017. Since forming Arreva, David merged two companies, acquired two companies, and integrated all technologies into one unified online platform and expanded the organization's account base in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
In 1994, he co-founded Vento Software, a provider of packaged vertical business intelligence applications, and served as CEO and president until November 1999, when Vento was acquired. After the acquisition, he served as president of the company's Enabling Technologies Division, opened offices in the U.S., Latin America and South Africa, and built a distribution partnership to expand globally and participated in acquiring 40-plus companies in a roll-up strategy.
Prior to Vento, Blyer held executive management and sales positions with Tandem, NCR and other leading technology/consulting firms.
David remains active in community affairs, serving as a member of the Entrepreneurs Council at Nova Southeastern University since September 2006, and the university's Blue Ribbon Scholarship Committee. He received the Nova Southeastern University Student Lifetime Achievement Award for 2013 Alumnus of the Year. He is actively involved with Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Florida and Davie Police Athletic League.
David received his MBA in finance from Nova Southeastern University, and his Bachelor’s of Arts in business management from the University of South Florida.