Planning Successful Virtual Events
Virtual events have become a necessity for nonprofits to consider during COVID-19 due to the need for social distancing and health concerns. If you are in the process of planning a virtual event, there are some key ways that technology can help with fundraising and engagement. This year has been a rollercoaster for nonprofit organizations, who have been forced to improvise in every way because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Think back to January: your organization probably had plans in place for your major fundraising events, communications, and programs and services. Chances are your plans have changed dramatically, and many nonprofits are now in uncharted territory in planning and executing virtual fundraising events.
By holding major fundraising events in person, nonprofits tended to focus outreach and marketing to in-person attendees. With a virtual event, you have access to a larger audience and likely have lower direct event costs (no venue rental, food costs, etc.). If you’re holding a virtual event, investing in the right platform and technology is crucial – here’s a few do’s and dont’s:
- DO make sure that you have invested in good (not necessarily expensive!) audio and video equipment for your presenters. Audio is especially important – we’ve all been on calls (or have been the guilty culprit) where we can’t hear or understand the speaker/presenter and get frustrated pretty quickly. Virtual events make this more important because you’re pretty much “on stage” the entire time and any major hiccups will cause people to check out.
- DO have a coordinated plan for your event: a clear cue-to-cue plan for who is responsible for speaking and presenting, the order of presenters, and any videos/photo slideshows that will be a part of the event.
- DO plan on having a rehearsal for any virtual events. We’re all new to living life in a mostly remote world, so assume that things that may be simple in person (e.g. transitioning between speakers) are a bit more complicated in a virtual setting. Technology is great but also can fail; your plan should assume the best and plan for the worst – have backup speakers or content ready (pre-recorded videos are one example) in case someone’s internet drops or other unexpected issues arise.
- DON’T try to replicate the format for your in person event. While virtual events can’t replace every aspect of your in person event, there are opportunities for growth. Virtual events also allow for you to broadcast the event on live streaming platforms, which can help you get more people to attend. A recording of the event also can be shared with people who aren’t able to attend live. Finally, you can always edit highlights from speakers and presentations to use as social media posts or to create clips to feature on your website. Just because we may go back to “normal” at some point doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate a virtual option for your event into your future planning and have the best of both worlds!
- DON’T plan a virtual event that is too focused on speaking at participants without much of an opportunity for interaction and networking. Virtual events can feature interpersonal connection just like in person events – you just need to be intentional in your planning setup. Breakout rooms, using emojis, having an active chat moderator to engage with guests, or using a whiteboard/notes app like Jamboard can give people a variety of ways to stay engaged, network with others, and be fully present.
Here are some useful guides and articles that highlight the points mentioned above that can help you plan for success with your virtual event:
- SalsaLabs Blog: How Nonprofits are Succeeding with Virtual Fundraising Events
- NPEngage: A Hack to Dramatically Improve Your Virtual Events
- The Enterprisers Project: How to Plan Engaging Virtual Events
- GiveForms Blog: 20 Simple Virtual Fundraising Ideas for Nonprofits
Jeff Key is a consultant with Nfinity Enterprises, providing website design and technology consulting services to small and mid-sized nonprofits and businesses. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with him on LinkedIn.