When it comes to planning in-person galas, award ceremonies, and fundraising events for your organization, you probably have your go-to playbook and set of best practices.
But as events have shifted to digital formats, nonprofit and membership groups are facing the new challenge of developing virtual fundraising ideas for the first time.
If you’re just starting this pivot, you might be stuck on how to incorporate online content as part of your planning process. We’re here to get you up to speed on successful virtual fundraising ideas for nonprofits with these five must-haves.
1. Bring on the entertainment.
One important virtual fundraising idea for nonprofit organizations is to create a unique experience for guests. The ILEA (International Live Events Association) Gala achieved this by incorporating silk performers, a live jazz band, cooking demos, a cocktail class, and a magic show at their virtual gala.
The Hollywood-themed, two-hour event, chaired by Madeline Raithel of Entire Productions, who has organized over 60 virtual events in the last six months, went virtual for the first time and had a 90% attendee turnout rate. This achieved their goals of both fundraising and presenting chapter awards in an engaging new way.
When coming up with online fundraiser ideas, keep in mind that you no longer have to pay for a physical event venue or worry about barriers such as guest parking. So virtual gala event planners can shift focus to high-quality audio and video. Leveraging platforms like StreamYard lets you produce professional live and pre-recorded video content for your virtual event.
While event planners have experienced their own virtual pivot, so have A/V companies. Partnering with a production studio can bring that next level of creativity to your event. For entertainers and speakers, virtual fundraising events offer a huge draw because they can walk away with high-quality marketing videos after the event.
2. Incorporate a "Fund-A-Need."
Another fundraising idea for nonprofits hosting online gala events is adding a “fund-a-need,” where you ask attendees to make a live donation at the event.
Make sure to include an inspirational mission moment (pre-recorded video, live speech, or testimonial) that reminds attendees why they’re participating in your virtual fundraiser and what they are supporting.
We’ve seen nonprofits do this really well at virtual events by sharing their donation progress graphic (usually a thermometer or donor board) on their Hopin Stage using StreamYard.
Here’s a short list of best practices when making a fundraising ask to drive the best results:
- Set and share a fundraising goal with your attendees. This step acts as a motivation tool and is mission-critical to help the organization garner as much funding as possible.
- Make it extremely clear how to give. For organizers using a platform like GiveSmart, giving is as easy as texting the keyword to a designated contact number. Emphasize where to donate verbally and visually to attendees, and pin a message with those details in the Hopin chat, so it’s always top-of-mind and accessible.
- Thank your donors. Have your MC call out specific donor names to thank them, and also take the time to thank donors again via the Hopin chat. For instance, Potlatch Fund had their drag entertainer MC calling out donors with a physical donation meter on their stage. Various team members engaged in the chat thanking the large donations coming in that helped them reach (and surpass) their fundraising goal of $70,000. This is a great way to engage and recognize donors at the event. We also love how the buildOn Gala (below) had a scrolling screen that featured donor names while entertainer Andy Grammar performed.
- Set clear donor levels for guests to choose from. Share at least five recommended donation levels to cater to both small and large donors: for example, $10k, $5k, $1k, $500, $250, $100, $50. Otherwise, it’s likely donors will give smaller amounts because there isn’t a clear expectation or ask.
- Show the impact. Tie suggested donation amounts to how those amounts will be used (e.g., a $2,500 donation funds a service project), rather than just asking for general donations. This encourages donors to give specifically and motivates them to give at higher levels.
3. Create space to engage.
A virtual event venue allows for many opportunities for your attendees to interact with one another and engage with the event.
Make sure to leverage engagement tools like chat and polls, and incorporate live audience Q&A and networking.
Don’t limit your event to transitioning directly from one speaker to the next. Rather, open up opportunities for your attendees to engage throughout the programming with regular breaks and creative ways to “gamify” the event experience.
One nonprofit that builds schools in developing countries, buildOn, leverages their Sessions in Hopin to host small group discussions between donors and Student Ambassadors. Topics for the group discussions include themes like what leadership should look like as we work to build a more just and inclusive society.
This works well for buildOn because it demonstrates first-hand the impactful work their Student Ambassadors are doing directly with the folks who are contributing toward their projects.
4. Approach your virtual gala as an opportunity for a wider reach.
With online events, you’re no longer limited by your attendee’s location.
Speakers you once couldn't afford (because you had to pay for their travel and lodging) might be within budget for the first time. Moreover, think about ways to expand fundraising with a global audience.
The Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) hosted two virtual expos on Hopin. These events allowed presenters and attendees from around the world to participate. One conservationist team was able to present from a scenic overlook in Kenya, and the event also included a session with the renowned chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall.
Moving their event to an online venue like Hopin provided an opportunity for conservationists and donors to still meet face-to-face, in an environment that closely mirrored an in-person event.
5. Seek feedback.
Pay close attention to the chat to see who is engaging and wPay close attention to the chat to see who is engaging and what they like. Also, make sure to send a post-event survey to collect feedback and learn what you might want to tweak for the next event.
One of the biggest advantages of organizing an online event is the access to data you can get from your attendees. This can help you shape your next virtual or hybrid event, leading to even greater efficiencies and successes.
Event managers know how much goes into producing an event, and virtual events are no different.
When considering fundraising ideas for your nonprofit organization, remember that virtual events have the power to share your mission and achieve fundraising impact via a worldwide audience.
Many event professionals and production teams have been able to survive and thrive in the new digital sphere of events thanks to the virtual fundraiser ideas and opportunities that open up when you have global reach.