Spring and early summer are when many non-profits host major events like galas, auctions, dinners and/or races to communicate and engage with their partners, updating them on developments and generating financial support. But gathering in groups during the COVID-19 outbreak is still prohibited and even unsafe, depending on your state of residence. This presents a host of challenges for donation dependent non-profits. Do you choose to cancel, reschedule, or get creative? Caring Network recently went through this dilemma when our live auction event was no longer possible opting to “get creative,” and go virtual. We’re here to share our top five tips for success.
Caring Network, a pro-life faith-based organization that has been offering spiritual counsel, emotional support, and practical help to Chicagoland women facing unplanned pregnancies for almost four decades. By coming alongside women at a critical time of need, we are able to be the hands and feet of Christ. Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, we have continued to provide free, vital services with the safety of our staff members and the women we serve in mind. None of this is possible without the dedication and support of our partners. If you’d like to learn how Caring Network has adapted to continue serving women and families, contact us today for more information!
1. Communication is Critical – Create a Plan
Putting together a plan for your virtual event cannot be emphasized enough. It’s important to outline communications, strategy, and role responsibilities. Often making the decision to shift to a virtual event can occur during a tight timeline. So developing a plan of who does what, when and exactly what the message will be – is critical.
The first step is to notify the donors, or potential guests, of the change. Due to so many other adaptations that have occurred as a result of COVID-19, most will not be surprised. But notification to potential attendees, to get the new date or changes on calendars as soon as possible is important.
Utilize a communications schedule that provides updates and information consistently. In our experience, we created a targeted email campaign to start almost immediately that mapped out dates and exact content. We dribbled out details on the event little by little to generate enthusiasm and draw interest. Consider spreading out content and employing “teasers” for the event.
While these emails are being created, you can get the content of the “night of” outlined and established. Some of this may already be set if you are moving from an in-person event to virtual, and can easily be transferred. Keep the nature of the new “venue” in mind – attendees will not be together in a banquet hall eating a meal, or in the middle of a race with you, and they won’t be planning to spend 3 or 4 hours sitting. They will be watching from their laptops, tablets or phones and can walk away or log-off any time. So, keep it simple, short and light/entertaining. Instruct the speakers and scripts to be brief and pithy; give them a time limit. This information will be communicated to attendees in the emails, it must be firmed up promptly.
2. Video: The Entertaining & Engaging Tool
As previously mentioned, because attention spans are limited, and distractions are many, use video to tell a story, educate the viewers, and explain your mission. Utilize personal stories from previous clients or staff members. There is no better way to generate understanding and empathy than to let your supporters hear what you do directly from those who rely on it. Keep videos brief — 3-5 minutes. This way you can include a few different stories and keep the evening interesting and engaging. It is both “show” and “tell.” It’s great for supporters to “meet” the people who are directly impacted by the services or are working behind the scenes to fulfill your mission and vision.
3. Add Action to Attract Interest
In our case, the main “attraction” of our event was an auction. For others, it may be an activity, well-known speaker, or live entertainment. Whatever it is, make sure it’s engaging. Again, there are many distractions that can take a viewer away from a virtual event. It’s your job to keep them interested.
If planning an auction, you may find some of the following tips helpful.
- “Support local”—Generate packages that support local businesses and give attendees something to look forward to as the state opens up.
- Have a live auctioneer. This provides entertainment and a sense of excitement.
- Use a platform that allows the items to be displayed in advance so attendees can plan their bidding.
- Consider ending the event with a paddle raise. This is an effective way to fundraise with limited time in a fast-paced, energetic way.
If you don’t have plans for a live auction, there are many platforms out there that accommodate silent auction items and these packages can be made available for bidding before the actual event. It’s an additional way to generate funds. Note: you will need staff to generate ideas, track down, locate, assemble and then write descriptions for the auction items, so allow yourself ample time to get this done. We chose to assemble and offer just eight larger auction packages that had significant value, to maximize the energy of our team. If you have a good-size event committee, the sky is the limit.
4. Select a Reliable Software Platform
As more events “go virtual,” more options become available for hosting the event online. Take your time, do some research, and find a platform that works well for your agency. Some things to keep in mind: User-friendliness: Pick a platform that is accessible to those who are not technologically savvy.
- Consider your typical attendee base and make sure that the software program you choose is easy for them to navigate.
- Donation ease: Chat with staff members at your organization that process donations. What information do they need from a platform in order to accept and fully process any monetary items that are submitted?
- Reliability: Has another organization you partner with used this platform before? Are there online reviews from previous events? How is their customer service? Can you participate in a demo prior to the event?
5. Follow-Up/Wrap Up: Thanking Those Who Participated
It’s over and you’re feeling great that a first-ever virtual event is in the books. You created interest in your mission and generated funding for a cause that is worthy, one that people-in-need rely on. And this was presented in a new way that you may have never used before. You learned something new! But you are not quite done. Consider the invitation list you used, there will likely be many who could not or chose not to be with you due to other commitments. You can still reach them. If your event is live, plan ahead to record it so you can send it out. By posting the recap video on your website, Vimeo or YouTube, your partners and supporters who could not be with you – can see what they missed! They can experience the events of the evening and be impacted, despite not being able to “attend.”
Email this out with an invitation to contribute to the fundraiser. It provides one more chance to donate and be part of the cause of your ministry or mission, to support your efforts. This video can also serve as a helpful staff training source for future virtual events.
Lastly and most importantly, never forget to thank all those who supported you with their generosity! You were not there, with them, to thank them in person. It’s this wonderful team who allows us all to serve and do what we love. So thank them and most of all, thank God for the blessing they are!
Caring Network is a faith-based non-profit agency in the Chicagoland area that has been serving women facing unplanned pregnancy since 1981. Through the generous support of individual donors, companies, and churches in the community, we are able to reach more women and save more lives. If you’d like to learn more about our mission, or view our virtual fundraising event, contact us today!