Staying Connected for Virtual Event Success
In-person events gather your supporters, volunteers and clients together to rally around the mission of your nonprofit organization. As the leaders overseeing events and programs, you are responsible for creating this conduit to bring people together to further your organization’s mission.
In a pandemic world, the idea of “togetherness” has evolved in amazing ways. We’ve learned through social distancing that technology can bring us together without requiring us to physically be in the same place. Our new reality is that even as the world begins to reopen and people can leave their homes for work, school and social activities, there will likely be some hesitancy to want to congregate together.
Fortunately, the shifts that we are required to make today to build more engaging online experiences will prepare us to be more inclusive and successful in virtual events in the future.
Whether your organization plans to pivot to a 100% virtual event experience or delay your events until a later date, you are not alone in making these critical decisions and executing on those decisions for your event. If you’ve gone through the decision-making process and decided to host your event virtually, here are a few key steps to keep in mind.
Define Goals and Budget
Are you trying to recruit as many people as possible or recover the fundraising that typically comes in from your fundraising event? These goals will help you to determine what type of technology will be needed to execute a successful virtual event. Work in partnership with your finance team to understand how budget and goals should be adjusted to match the latest needs and opportunities your organization has.
When you are reviewing your budget, consider whether you can reduce costs as a result of the cancellation of your event. If we are congregating online, traditional event costs — like facility rental, food, street closures, etc. — are no longer needed. This cost savings could help mitigate decreases in fundraising and could also allow you to invest in additional technology or digital advertising.
Create Your Virtual Experience
A virtual event doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You might decide that you are going to ask all of your participants to engage with your organization through Facebook Live. That experience could include having speakers, who would have normally participated in your in-person event, speak live from their home or send in a video.If your event is a fundraising event, you can post a link to your donation form in the chat regularly to remind people to give. Bring together staff from across different departments, as well as leadership volunteers, to brainstorm ideas and possibilities.
Build a Community Around Your Event
Community-building can happen at any time, not just on event day. Now more than ever, people are looking for community. Leading up to your virtual event, be active on social media, both listening and responding to your constituents. Ask your supporters questions or post a silly video or message to their social media account. Ask those who have one to wear a past event t-shirt on the same day, and post a photo. This sort of community-building activity increases loyalty to your organization and your event because it brings people together.
This is an unusual time. While some people find themselves working from home with a steady paycheck, others are dealing with layoffs or furloughs, and some find themselves sick or caring for their sick loved ones.
Community-building activities help relieve the stresses brought on by different challenges and offer people alternatives to participate, even if they are not able to make a donation or fundraise at this moment.
By allowing them to be part of your community, regardless of their ability to donate, these same individuals will feel a sense of appreciation and loyalty to your organization.
Pandemic or not, there is work that goes into hosting a successful event. Even though you have pivoted online, sincere gratitude is always appreciated for those who help make decisions and execute on your revised plans. Be sure to thoughtfully develop your strategy to offer gratitude to those who helped make the pivot to a virtual program.
A simple handwritten note or personal email goes a long way to acknowledge the time and effort that goes into making major changes to your event plan. Consider involving your programs team to send thank-you notes from the people serving on the front lines of your organization.
One thing is for certain: It is more critical than ever before that we stay connected across our organizations to embrace the new normal and successfully engage constituents. As we share in the newly revised edition of “The Connected Office” from the Blackbaud Institute, it’s time to do away with operational silos and radically rethink how our teams collaborate to truly create a better world. When it comes to virtual events, you can unleash the power of collaboration to help you find success through current uncertainty and far into the future, too.
Editor's Note: This Techtalk column was originally published in the 2020 May/June print issue of NonProfit PRO. Click here to see the original article.
Robyn Mendez is a peer-to-peer fundraising rock star. Over the last 15 years, she’s done everything from setting up pop-up tents in the rain to deploying multi-national fundraising websites. She has a passion for using technology to raise money and believes that the collective few have the power to change the world. Robyn lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, two kids and French bulldog.