Digitizing Fundraising Events and Galas
Top 10 List: 6 Must-haves + 4 Nice to Haves
Galas and events have been a little bit different this year — to say the least. As we faced a global pandemic, organizations all over the world surveyed their events calendar and grappled with a real-time decision: “Do we go digital?”.
For many nonprofits, this notion was understandably intimidating. Perhaps you were one of the many who asked, “How can I move my tremendously successful in-person event online and see the same return … or at least close to it?”
Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen organizations diligently pivot and execute a successful digital fundraising event or gala.
Here are a few tips and tricks from our team that outline what your digital event must have to land a virtual event — and what may be nice to have, if you have some space to “think big”.
Let’s start with your “Must Haves”:
Goal – First and foremost, the digital event you’re planning to host must have a goal. This will determine what the programming should be, who your potential audience is, and what mechanics for registration and technology are needed. For example, perhaps you want to expand your typical gala audience, so you reduce the price of admission (or make ‘a ticket’ an ‘optional donation’). Or, your Gala-turned-digital still has big revenue goals, and you need to find potential invitees that have greater capacity to give.
Vision – “A horse by committee is a camel.” When a digital event comes together well, it typically has one or two people that “own the vision” for the proposed experience. Let them own it! And if you’re the true visionary, then you’ll already know how to delegate the various pieces of your plan and empower your team to use their unique skills accordingly.
Technology – Your goal and vision will determine your technological needs. Do you have video production needs? What about a digital auction? Perhaps you want digital breakout rooms so program staff can engage with attendees in small groups. Not to mention ticketing and donations. Is this simply a one-way monologue experience, or will there be a need for interactivity during the event? The goal of the event coupled with the vision will answer these for you.
Having the right technology in place can make or break your event. Here are a few budget-conscious platforms and a few more sophisticated options.
- Zoom – Video Streaming
- Facebook Live
- YouTube Live
Internal and External Champions – Just like your in-person event or gala, this event needs champions, both within your leadership, your team, and the wider organization. That includes champions who sit a little further out from your organization (for some orgs, that may or may not include your board; wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Consider the sponsor who historically supported your in-person event and brought dozens of employees to fill those tables — how can you approach them differently this year so they can equal or exceed last year’s turnout? Maybe a completely reimagined sponsorship benefits grid? Maybe bring them into the problem you are trying to solve for this year and see if they can help.
Promotion (and follow up) Plan – Emphasis on the “and follow up,” because if your event has a goal, there should be a follow-up. There should be at least three tracks of people in how you frame your follow up after the event: Attendees, RSVP’d but did not attend, Invited but did not attend. In the lead up to the event, during the promotional period, your “normal” audience treatments might not quite apply. For example, instead of “is or isn’t a mid-level donor” it’s “attended last year’s event as an invitee” and “attended last year’s event as a guest.” Consider that you might have to promote the event “more heavily” than last year’s, so maybe a more granular audience treatment plan, plus a more robust digital strategy, is in order.
Run of the Show – You’ve made it to the big night, and to your great disbelief people have registered and are sitting down in front of their screens. Now is certainly not the time to make a mistake. But you might! And that’s ok. We’re living in a pandemic and people are likely more forgiving. Still, you and your team are pros. Pin down every detail and be sure to have contingency plans if you need them. Practice. Consider pre-recording some elements to rotate into your livestream.
Ready to think big? Consider these “Nice-to-Haves”:
Star Power – Obviously, some star power to go along with your event is a “nice to have.” And this is where pre-recorded elements could come in. If your organization has a connection, leverage it. In fact, leverage many connections if you have them. Hopefully the abundance of free time and passion for your cause will garner participation.
A Hook – The in-person event was a lot easier to keep people at the event once they were there. Now people can simply unplug from your digital event at any time. How can you keep people engaged during the event, but also anticipating the finale?
Entertainment – Remember: There can be a thin line between a run-of-the-mill webinar and a digital gala. Much of it, of course, is branding — but you still need to ask yourself: What makes this an event? Think live music from local ensembles, rousing games of trivia, live Q&As, slideshows, cameos, and unexpected reveals! Keep it interesting and varied. And remember: Much like an in-person event, it should be fun!
Tangible, mailed keepsake – Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be memorable! One way to ensure people RSVP and actually show up is to offer a tangible, mailed, keepsake to your participants. Consider something small, and one-size-fits all, such as pins, stickers, or magnets. Feeling ambitious? A T-shirt, water bottle, or baseball cap are all easy to customize with your event’s brand, time, and place — and what better way to remember events in 2020?
We might wish we could gather in person (we at Media Cause sure do!). But with the right planning, flourishes, and branding, your 2020 virtual events can be so much more than your average webinar. You might even learn valuable lessons about your audience, their interests, and how to host engaging online fora for years to come.
So go forth and plan — and remember: 2020 can’t last forever. Let’s make the most of it, together.