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Planning a Virtual Fundraiser For Your Nonprofit

Pivoting to a Virtual Fundraising Event

Fundraising events have always been a huge revenue earner for many nonprofits. They are a staple for fundraising plans and a key engagement tool. The event itself raises money and often times major gift conversations stem from an event or fundraiser. The pandemic has created many challenges and difficulties for charitable fundraising efforts, virtual fundraisingand especially for in-person or live events. There are still ways and plenty of time to pivot 2020 fundraising to an online format. Going virtual to raise money could really help nonprofits reach their fundraising goals before the end of year.

Housekeeping Notes for a Virtual World

Before planning the event, first, check that all bases are covered to attract and process online donations. Online fundraising will naturally push more viewers to the website’s donate page and to the organization’s various social media pages. A good practice in general, but now more important than ever, is to conduct regular updates and user audits on websites, donation pages, and social media pages.

To start, make sure all pages have updated logos and language. Then click on all links, ensuring they work and take the user where they need to go. Go through and evaluate if the colors and text font and size are all friendly for the most amount of people. Ask internally if the language is easily understandable and clearly describes the nonprofit and what people can do to support its mission and programs.

The most important audit will be for the donation page and the donation process in general. Have a nonprofit staff or volunteer test this experience by making a donation and going the full process. If it is confusing and frustrating for someone that works for the organization, it will definitely be confusing and frustrating for those simply trying to support the organization. Finding the donation page should be simple and a prompt and heartfelt thank you should also accompany the gift. Donating should be a positive experience from start to finish.

Having all the right mechanisms and tools in place will make or break any virtual fundraising efforts. Depending on the nonprofit’s capacity and future fundraising plans, it might be good to have a conversation about investing in different tools like Zoom or GoTo. The right online tools allow as many virtual fundraising options as possible. TechFunnel has a pretty comprehensive list of the different platforms out there. The right one will be the best and easiest one for the nonprofit’s users.

Using current donor demographics to inform which tools to use will help with planning different fundraising ideas. Each nonprofit will have different types of donors and therefore different needs in an online experience. For example, one nonprofit’s support base might be more likely to use a web-based platform over an app-based platform. Software reviews should be used to make sure the platform works on all devices. Apple products have different requirements from developers and so some platforms might not be as Apple device friendly as others or vice versa.

Previously Established Virtual Fundraisers

The nonprofit sector has already witnessed successful online fundraising in action. Through social media, peer to peer fundraising, crowdfunding, direct email marketing for a fundraising campaign, etc,  nonprofit organizations have been able to raise funds online for years.

Social Media has become not just a great place to connect with friends and family, but also a great place to connect with charitable missions. Crowdfunding has been around for a while now if this Forbes top ten articles from seven years ago is any indicator. At its very basics, crowdfunding is the act of raising funds in minimal amounts from a large number of people, or in other words, a crowd. Platforms such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter became popular tools for individuals and some groups to raise funds for different projects or causes. It is simple to create a page or campaign and share it with friends and family in the hopes that it will also resonate with strangers wishing to spend a few dollars on a cause. While asking for $5 from people on Facebook doesn’t seem like a lot, if enough people share and chip in it really starts to add up. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, “Now, crowdfunding is projected to become a $90-96 billion dollar industry by 2025, and is being touted as a valuable tool for fundraising for charitable nonprofits. The largest crowdfunding effort in the US, as of August 2018, raised $41.6 million to assist people affected by Hurricane Harvey.” This is probably why Facebook invested so much time and effort in creating their charitable fundraising platform where nonprofits can create and share fundraising campaigns directly through Facebook itself. Crowdfunding is great for any nonprofit that already has a large online presence.

A similarly cost-effective tool for nonprofits in the age of online fundraising is peer to peer fundraising. This can be a bit more intimate than general crowdfunding but follows the same principle. The nonprofit uses a platform or creates their own materials and system to ask more personal connections to share materials from their social media. So rather than a general campaign page that is quickly shared, with overall campaign goals and language displayed, each “peer” has a personalized page that is shared on their personal platforms. Usually, the individual’s page has its own fundraising goals displayed along with the overall organization’s goal. Peer to Peer can really help build more meaningful relationships with new donors through already existing relationships. Peer to peer fundraising can also be used with other fundraisers. So why use peer to peer fundraising over crowdfunding? CauseVox noted, “We typically see organizations raise twice as much with peer-to-peer fundraising than they do with traditional or crowdfunding techniques.”

From Silent Auction to Online Auction

Auctions are one of those traditional fundraisers that can easily switch from an in-person event to a virtual event. In fact, many nonprofits moved their silent auctions to an online format prior to the pandemic as a cost-saving measure. Without the hassle of venue management or moving auction items from place to place, an online auction engages more people than a physical event could.

The first step to planning an online auction is deciding the fundraising software. An online auction would be extremely difficult to create, host, and maintain completely in house due to the complex nature of the auction experience. And if the nonprofit really wants to engage its donors in a fun experience through an auction, seamless interactions through the right fundraising software is vital. DonorSearch put together a breakdown and pretty comprehensive online auction software list with eighteen different vendors to consider. Some are going to be more expensive than others, while some will increase in price the more that is asked of the software by way of backend setup and maintaining the full experience. While shopping for the right fit, feel free to browse through any blogs or articles the platform publishes before asking for a demo. Groups that are going to care about putting on the best experience possible for a nonprofit will also have blogs filled with helpful hints and tools that nonprofit professionals can reference for free.

Soliciting auction donations for an online auction is similar to an in-person auction. Staff or board members still ask supporters or the community to donate various items and services. A donation form can also be created through Google Forms or other form building software to collect donation items. This might be good for collecting all the information needed at one time, rather than over the course of multiple emails. For physical items, the donor can keep the item with them and then ship directly to the winning bidder rather than shipping to an auction site or to the auction manager, cutting costs in terms of shipping. Keep in mind current restrictions for popular auction items such as travel experiences or anything that might be more difficult due to COVID-19. Using internal knowledge on what supporters might like, perhaps ask for physical items that can be shipped, online memberships or subscriptions, or gifts cards.

An online auction can happen on one specific day, as a physical event turned virtual during a specific date and time. Use a meeting software or something like Facebook live for live streaming to create a fully facilitated experience for attendees, encouraging fun competition between different bidders and highlighting hot items. On the other hand, the auction can also be facilitated fully online over the course of multiple days or weeks, with administrators pushing out notifications and messages to create that competitive spirit.

Virtual Runs or Step Challenges

One physical event that is easy to keep physical and maintain social distancing to protect attendees from the coronavirus is virtual runs or step challenges. Virtual runs walks, or step challenges are great fundraisers for nonprofits that have either a strong corporate donor base or are looking to grow theirs out. This virtual fundraiser is an opportunity to attract both individual and company donors. Individuals fundraise on the nonprofit’s behalf through peer to peer fundraising, inviting their peers to sponsor a step or a mile as they compete for various prizes with physical and fundraising challenges. Companies can either sponsor the full event, be one of many sponsors for the event, or agree to match their employees’ fundraising or steps up to a certain dollar amount. Most fundraising platforms have team capabilities so people or companies can form and compete as teams.

In addition, a virtual run or step challenge brings value to companies as a wellness and philanthropic engagement tool for their employees. Solidifying a true partnership between the nonprofit and the company that benefits both. The success and ease of this type of fundraiser unfortunately will also heavily depend on the fundraising platform chosen.  Some platforms simply build out the campaign’s fundraising page and a way to track the physical activity. Others build out social systems and individual fundraising pages for each participant and all the peer to peer materials needed, while syncing seamlessly with multiple devices. Since this fundraising type is best for people that already count their steps or physical activity, or are looking to start, finding the right platform that works with as many different devices as possible is important. Some platforms even create virtual walks through popular destinations or in fun and creative shapes.

A Virtual run or step challenge is a great fit for any nonprofits looking for a really engaging virtual fundraiser that can also be easily facilitated by an outside vendor.

The More Complicated Virtual Events

Event planning is already tough. More planning and thought is needed to replicate certain events into an online event. There’s just more energy at a physical event when everyone is there around each other and excited about supporting the same cause together. Also free snacks and drinks typically go a long way for a memorable event. For example, switching from an in-person gala to a virtual gala requires the planner to creatively capture all the different layers to the experience that makes a gala so special. While it might be infinitely more cost-effective to host the event online, it still requires more thought and planning in making it a “wow-factor” experience for attendees. And the average adult attention span makes the planning that much harder. Larger scale events are still possible through the right platforms and various facilitation techniques. It just will be more costly and take more staff time.

Breaking down larger-scale events into smaller, more numerous online experiences might be more enjoyable for supporters and easier for staff. Nonprofit fundraising is successful when the donor enjoys the experience and feels personally connected to the mission and the nonprofit’s work. Smaller, more numerous online fundraising events such as virtual happy hours or webinars gives the nonprofit more chances to get in front of the donor than one big gala. Virtual events are also more accessible since people do not have to travel to a location. That alone could potentially bring more participants to the event.

In an article focused on virtual event planning, VentureBeat points out that many distractions that virtual events compete with for participant attention, so the more engaging the better! A key tip is to find fun and personal ways to take advantage of live streaming and live video, raising funds as someone plays a concert in their home. A comedic puppet show, live reading between all participants, or facilitated and themed happy hours gives supporters an easy, fun, and unique experience. Get a brainstorming or planning team together and include donors and volunteers. Some of the best ideas will most likely come from the very people being asked to pay for the event.

Getting Creative Always Pays Off

Finding the right type fundraiser and the right tools to go along with it depends on each different nonprofit’s internal capacity, fundraising goals, and donor demographics. Meeting the donors where they already are could help with planning and engaging. Do not be afraid of using Google to search for platforms and reviews and ideas match your internal research. Decide success metrics at the start of the planning process to compare fundraising goals against and track any frustrations and difficulties. This will be a learning process for all and an opportunity to grow possible future fundraising programs.

Once the right fundraiser is chosen, use everything out there to engage with current and prospective supporters. Advertise the fundraiser on all social media channels and make it as easy as possible for followers and supporters to engage and share. Create a specific hashtag for the nonprofit’s fundraiser that can be tracked and used widely.

2020 has been a challenging year for all, and especially nonprofits. The charitable sector is resilient though and knows how to adapt and rise to the challenges of the times. People in this world depend on the good work that nonprofits do every day. Getting creative with fundraising strategy is one way to meet today’s challenges.

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