Keeping Your Attendees Engaged: 4 Virtual Event Ideas
In the past 18 months, virtual events have skyrocketed in popularity because of their safety, convenience, flexibility and lower overhead costs. With the continued uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, many nonprofit leaders are continuing to offer virtual events to keep their supporters involved.
Many fundraisers worry that virtual events don’t drive engagement and supporters are getting burned out on online events, but with the right virtual event strategies, you can deliver a fun and exciting experience. I’ve seen these virtual fundraising ideas work throughout 2021 and, with the busy year-end giving season approaching, they can help you also finish the year strong. These tested virtual event ideas are sure to help you connect with your supporters and raise awareness about your cause. Here are my top four virtual event ideas to add to your fundraising calendar.
Auctions are a common event among nonprofits, and for good reason — they’re very effective! When you imagine an auction, you probably think of clamoring voices, tables displaying high ticket items or paper bid sheets, but in today’s digital world, you can easily fundraise from any device and in any location.
Whether your nonprofit is new to auctions or you’re a seasoned pro, these execution tips can help your virtual auction run smoothly:
- Clearly define your rules. Be sure your attendees have access to your auction rules before the auction starts. Send your rules ahead of time or briefly review them before you open bidding.
- Use mobile bidding software. Invest in mobile bidding software, which allows attendees to bid on items directly from their phones — anytime, anywhere.
- Make your auction part of another event. An auction is an ideal way to add variety and revenue generation to a larger event, such as a virtual gala. Look for opportunities to include an auction, and then scale your item offerings accordingly.
- Preview the items you’ll be auctioning. As you market your event, give potential attendees a glimpse into the items you’ll be auctioning off. You can even include the initial bidding price so that supporters know what to expect.
Be sure to stress that the funds attendees put toward your auction items will directly support the cause they care about. With the right virtual tools, clear communication, and effective marketing, you can run an effective virtual auction.
2. Virtual Walks or Runs
If you want to get your supporters outside and moving, then a virtual walk or run might be the perfect option for you. Walks or runs provide a common goal that can unite your supporters around your cause, can be easily pivoted to virtual, and have the potential to attract new supporters.
For example, virtual walks or runs present a great opportunity to include peer-to-peer elements in your fundraising efforts, which is a very effective way to bring in new supporters.
Encourage your supporters to reach out to their networks to get friends and family members to support them or participate themselves. Leveraging your supporters' social connections is an easy and fun way to broaden your reach and attract new followers to your mission.
Although your walk or run won’t be happening in-person, you can still bring people together virtually. Host a virtual kickoff or closing event where everyone can share their experiences, and organizers can provide prizes to the fastest runners or most effective fundraisers. You can also use strong visuals, such as a fundraising thermometer, to show the progress of your virtual fundraising event. These visuals can help keep everyone invested as the event goes on.
Finally, encourage participants to share updates about their progress on social media. Be sure to interact with these posts, and share words of gratitude and encouragement. Taking the time to like, share, and/or celebrate milestone achievements can forge stronger connections with your supporters and motivate them till the end.
3. Online Challenges
Everyone loves a challenge, especially if it means supporting a worthwhile cause. Online challenges are a fun and motivating way to get supporters involved, both during and outside of a virtual event.
There are lots of online challenges to choose from, but here are some favorites:
- Peer-to-peer fundraising. See which of your supporters can raise the most money for your nonprofit with peer-to-peer fundraising. For instance, you could encourage your peer-to-peer ambassadors to reach out to their networks and urge them to donate to your cause.
- Social media posts. Stretch your supporters’ creative muscles by challenging them to create their best social media post to represent your cause or share their stories. Use likes and reshares to determine a winner!
- Corporate giving. Make deeper connections with businesses in your community. Consider partnering with different companies to design a corporate giving challenge.
- Dance-a-thons. Create a viral dance for your supporters to perform and post online. This way, you can connect with donors and increase your nonprofit’s visibility online. Remind them to tag you!
Whatever type of online challenge you choose, be sure to have an active presence online throughout the duration of the campaign. Because your online challenge will likely take up a longer period of time than a typical event, staying engaged online will keep your supporters engaged throughout the campaign.
It’s also highly recommended to use visuals to pump up participants. Whether it’s a live video, fun graphics or a gamification tool, like a fundraising thermometer, leaderboards, or activity rewards, visuals give your participants a touch point and virtual boost to keep them engaged.
If you want to host a smaller-scale or educational virtual event, consider offering a webinar to interested supporters. Webinars are a fantastic opportunity to involve important representatives of your nonprofit or community to directly speak with supporters, discuss their passion for the cause and inspire others to donate.
If you’re concerned that a webinar might not keep your attendees interested, don’t worry! Webinars can be a lot more engaging if you include interactive activities. These activities not only get supporters more invested in the event, but they can also help to sustain engagement over time. For example, throughout your webinar, you could include:
- Polls. Keep your attendees engaged by asking them for their opinions on different topics covered throughout the webinar.
- Quizzes. At the end of your webinar, quiz your attendees. You could reward the people who get every question right with a prize!
- Games. Play games throughout the webinar to help your attendees remember important information or to spur some healthy competition.
- Breakout rooms. If your webinar has a large number of attendees, divide everyone into smaller groups, which will make discussions feel more intimate.
It’s also essential to live-stream your event. A pre-recorded lecture won’t feel as worthwhile to a supporter, especially if they cannot ask questions to the speaker. Live-streaming gives the impression of the event being in-person, which will encourage attendees to pay better attention. Be sure to use the right software to avoid technical issues, which might cause viewers to leave.
Virtual events are here to stay, so get creative to fill up your calendar with a range of event offerings. With the busy year-end giving season approaching, create plenty of opportunities for supporters to feel connected. Whether that’s through your annual gala, a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or a more casual virtual gathering, a dynamic and interactive virtual event will keep attendees engaged.
Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and marketing experience to her role as the director of content marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors to raise more funds for their causes.