Nonprofits are no strangers to crises, and that’s never been clearer than during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite all the difficulties, we’ve been excited to see an immense amount of creativity within the nonprofit community. Almost every day, we’re seeing new, refreshing, and powerfully mission-driven fundraising ideas.
7 Questions to Ask Before Postponing, Canceling, or Holding a Virtual Event
We’ve watched so many nonprofits handle the coronavirus with grace, adapting and evolving their programs to the new normal. Still, we know it’s not always easy to know what action to take to get the best results. That’s why we’ve come up with seven questions you should ask before your next fundraising event.
Our goal is to help you determine if you should postpone, cancel, or transform your event into a virtual event. It all depends on your goals, your audience, and your organization.
1. Who will attend my event?
Take a hard look at who historically attends your event. Although 56% of donors attend fundraising events regularly, according to Double the Donation, that doesn’t mean every attendee offers the same value. The makeup of your attendees could have a significant impact on the donations you’ll earn.
I broke this down into four types of event attendees:
Volunteers/Board Members/Engaged Followers
These individuals have already proven that they are interested in your nonprofit and your mission.
They are more likely to donate and participate in an online auction.
These individuals are personally connected to your charity and thus the fundraiser.
They are more likely to donate time and money, and they are also likely to participate in an online auction.
While it may be unfortunate, the reality is that some event attendees are just looking for a good time, delicious food, and a night out.
These individuals are less likely to donate or participate in an online auction.
Corporate Sponsor Guests
Corporate sponsored tables are typically something offered to employees, but giving amounts are lower because they may not be directly interested or engaged in your particular mission.
They are less likely to donate or participate in an online auction.
2. Are ticket sales critical to profit?
When it comes to fundraising events, there are typically two ways to earn money above and beyond donations and silent auctions: ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. You should postpone or shift your event to virtual depending on how you expect to earn the greatest profit.
Postpone if in person ticket sales make a significant portion of your profit. Taking the event online will likely result in lower attendance, however, the costs to do so will also be lower. You will need to evaluate if you can make the same profit revenue given those two considerations. Either way, you will need strong programming to make it worth of attending.
Shift to virtual if you only use ticket sales to cover the cost of someone attending your event. A virtual event has lower overhead costs, so you can decrease the cost of your tickets. Or you can make the event free and focus all your attention on earning money through the auction or ask.
3. Are there any vendor deposits that cannot be recouped?
Hosting fundraising events is not cheap. On average, it costs $0.24 to raise $1. So, if you’ve already put $20,000 in non-refundable down payments for the venue, food, waiters, and entertainment, then canceling or shifting online doesn’t make sense.
Postpone your event to avoid losing any deposits you have already made. During the pandemic, many event industry businesses have been happy to offer free postponements to a later date—saving you money.
4. Do you have enough items for your silent auction?
For a variety of reasons, some possibly due in part due to the current financial situation, there may not be enough items available for a full auction.
Postpone or cancel your event if you do not have enough auction items lined up. The reality is that soliciting auction items during a pandemic is not easy. It’s a tough time to ask people to give, so instead of forcing the issue, consider bundling all the items you have and doing an online raffle for those bundles.
5. Have you already secured corporate sponsors?
Last year, corporations donated $20 billion to nonprofit organizations. When it comes to corporate sponsorship, they’re typically looking for exposure and recognition.
Postpone your event if you have already secured corporate sponsors who are not willing to turn their sponsorship into a donation. Keeping their donation while taking away the benefit of the fundraiser is not the best idea. Instead, recognize your sponsors online while waiting for the new event to take place.
If you do choose to go virtual, keep open lines of communication with your corporate sponsors so that you can work together to identify creative ways to get them the same level of exposure and recognition.
6. What is my profit margin on the event?
Before any fundraising event, you should calculate your profit margin. Your goal should be to make the same profit margin as last year. Start with that number, and then work backwards determine what you need to do to get there. This might be fairly difficult to achieve during coronavirus, especially depending on your attendees.
So, you have to ask yourself a hard question, “Can we make the same profit margin we did last year?” If the answer is “no,” that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up. Instead, take a close look at ways you can increase profit margins, or consider combining events to make the outcome more worthwhile. You can also choose to move the event online to decrease your overhead costs and increase profits.
7. Is this a signature event?
Canceling your signature event could hurt your brand or, at the very least, severely disappoint your biggest donors, attendees, and influencers.
If you choose to postpone, be prepared to disappoint some donors and expect lower attendance. To decrease the negative outcomes, it’s important to reach out to your attendees as soon as possible. Communication is critical, and so is feedback.
Consider asking your supporters to vote on the best new date or to give their opinion on switching to virtual or postponing for another time. By bringing your supporters into the conversation, you show them that you care and that you’re willing to take their needs and wants into consideration.
5 Tips to Host a Successful Virtual Fundraising Event
So, what happens if you decide a virtual event is the best option? Good news, it can be wildly successful. With online giving as the most popular method for donors—54% of whom prefer giving online via debit or credit card, donors are clearly comfortable with online transactions.
The key is to tackle your virtual fundraising event just like you would an in-person fundraiser—through careful planning and creativity. A successful virtual event is one that not only helps you raise money but build relationships with your donors.
To bridge the gap between offline and online events, there are a few things to consider.
1. Build hype and community with strong pre-event communication.
Prepare to spend time, energy, and a portion of your marketing budget on pre-event communications to build hype online. Your ultimate goal should be to a sense of community for your event that brings awareness to your mission while raising funds.
First, you need to directly communicate with your supporters, sponsors, attendees, and exhibitors to let them know about the change to virtual and what it means for them.
- Send an email to all supporters with critical information about your virtual event, as well as an email or phone number that they can use to ask questions and get clarification.
- Create an event landing page connected to your website that provides all pertinent event details.
- Call specific donors, sponsors, or exhibitors who will be most affected by the switch to online to explain the update personally.
You also need to take advantage of digital marketing opportunities that can help you reach a broader audience.
- Advertise Your Event via Video: U.S. adults spend nearly six hours a day watching video content, and video content is 39% more likely to be shared than other mediums. By creating a marketing video focused on your event, you’ll reach more potential supporters. Encourage board members to participate in this as well.
- Post About Your Event on Social Media: 29 percent of donors say that social media is the communication tool that most inspires them to give. In addition, social media drives 57% of traffic to fundraising campaign pages.
Facebook: Facebook is a powerful tool for showcasing your organization’s work, raising money, and reaching out to supporters.
Twitter: Twitter is a great platform for sharing news and live updates about what’s happening within your organization.
Instagram: Images and videos on Instagram can help compel your audience to learn more about what you do and what you offer.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn is a great way to reach corporate sponsors and business professionals who may be interested in your nonprofit.
2. Try to find the sweet spot between ticket sales and auction items.
You should know and understand your audience and the price points that are acceptable to them for attending an event of your size. Also, consider the estimated pricing points of the items that they will be bidding on, and try to find that sweet spot that balances these well.
When it comes to virtual events, it can be tempting to try to earn extra dollars by selling tickets to your event and hosting a virtual auction. However, this can backfire and reduce your overall donations.
Think of it this way, if you make the tickets expensive to raise money through ticket sales, you can expect to have fewer attendees because the tickets will price out some individuals. If you then try to hold an auction with fewer supporters who have already spent a portion of their budget just to attend, there’s a higher chance your auction won’t be very successful.
On the other hand, if you make event attendance free, or very low cost, then you’ll have more attendees, and they will be much more likely to spend money on the auction.
With all of this said, never forget how fundamentally important it is for the programming to be of value to the attendees as it is this experience that drives true success.
3. Come up with compelling programming and an engaging experience.
Donor fatigue is real. Donors get tired of the same appeal over and over again. This is especially true in the realm of virtual events, which is why it’s important to take your event to the next level with compelling programming. Don’t just hold a virtual auction and expect people to be excited. Instead, bring on a speaker or partner with other organizations to help build a sense of excitement and community. Engagement doesn’t always mean direct participation. For example, a food bank can put on a cooking class, while a museum can conduct a virtual tour or a new currently relevant exhibit.
Compelling programming also refers to the format of your virtual event.
- You can host a time-limited online fundraising campaign on a landing page that encourages content sharing.
- Or you can set up a live stream event, which is just like a physical event except hosted online. Live stream events are ideal for recreating a physical experience like a gala, auction, day of service, virtual walk, virtual ride, or dance marathon.
The key to hosting a successful live stream event is to choose the appropriate platform. There are a few you should consider:
- Facebook Live: This free platform is great for beginners and allows access to anyone within minutes.
- YouTube Live: Similar to Facebook Live, YouTube Live is also free and easy to use. The only difference is it requires account verification.
- Zoom: If you’re already using Zoom for video conferencing, using it for a free live stream event is a great option. Not only can you stream Zoom directly to YouTube Live and Facebook Live, but Zoom offers additional functionality, flexibility, and reliability.
4. Be mindful of silent auction item expiration dates in a post-coronavirus world.
Because of all the complexities surrounding the global pandemic, your supporters are going to need more time to claim their winning items, especially if they won something that’s experience-based. The last thing you want is to offer a really amazing prize, but the winner can’t take advantage of it because of coronavirus. This is especially true if one of your items is a vacation or travel experience.
Make sure you’re aware of these expiration dates, and whenever possible, request an extension to the timeframe an auction winner has to claim their prize.
5. Implement fundraising software.
Finally, to successfully host a virtual event, you need to plan out all the logistics, and that means implementing fundraising software. An all-in-one platform with tools and features like mobile bidding, Totem helps you develop and execute virtual fundraising strategies is critical to gaining donors and event attendees.
With Totem, not only will you have a hub for all your digital fundraising efforts, but training and data migration are included with every subscription. This way, you can ensure that you have everything you need for successful outreach. From developing a fundraising strategy to managing your events and communication, Totem can help.
Take Your Virtual Fundraising Events to the Next Level
The coronavirus pandemic offers an excellent opportunity to get creative with your fundraising efforts. Your donors and supporters are more open to new ways of communication and engagement than ever before. Lean on your mission and then try fundraising in creative ways you’ve never tried before.
Everyone needs a pick me up right now. We’re all looking for a sense of community. Your nonprofit can leverage that desire in a way that no other industry can. Learn how Totem can help.
Wishing you lots of fundraising success!
This blog post was based on a webinar Q&A session with Megan and NPlace.org. A recording of the webinar is available for you to view.
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