9 Lessons Learned from Hosting Virtual Fundraising Events – Nonprofit Tech for Good

By Matthew Burnell, Founder of ClickBid, a mobile bidding provider for online auctions, virtual galas, and in-person events.

Fundraising has not stopped during these uncertain times. Since March, we have seen organizations take their annual fundraisers online and go virtual. At ClickBid we have been fortunate to assist and be a part of these transitions. We have seen incredible examples of creativity and uses of online technologies. 

An in-person event can seem like a challenge to take online. Should we charge admission for the online auction? How do we auction off our live items through the website? Can we create the same energy with the paddle-raise? How do our attendees feel connected to our organization and how do we motivate them to give and participate?

ClickBid has helped many nonprofits answer these questions and move from an in-person auction to an online auction. To help you get the same results, we’ve compiled a list of real examples from our experience with virtual events. 

1) Make it easy to buy virtual tickets.

Ticket sales are a large part of your event’s income. Many times the revenue generated from ticket sales covers the event costs. The good news is that your virtual event can cost a fraction of the in-person event. Additionally, we have seen organizations cover those costs with virtual tickets. Here’s how it works.

In order to bid on the silent auction and in order to view the live event, each participant buys a single virtual ticket. These tickets can be anywhere from $10 to $50 depending on what you may include (t-shirt, gift bag, delivered meal, etc.). Explain that the only way to see the live program is to buy a ticket for the one-time presentation. In addition, you can give “door prizes” which are awarded in real-time during the event using your mass messaging tools.

2) Make a communications plan to promote your event.

One of our charities shared an incredible strategy plan which consisted of a date-based communication checklist. They scheduled every form of communication sent to all their constituents. You have lots of ways to reach your donors including social media, email, text message, handwritten letters, radio, YouTube ads, etc. It can feel overwhelming but take it one step at a time and make a list. Then, execute the list. Start with a Facebook or Instagram post of your save the date. Pick a common hashtag and encourage people to use it. Then, reply to anyone who uses it. The key is to have a plan and stick to it.

3) Pre-record your virtual fundraising event.

Many of our charities quickly learned that it doesn’t matter if your event is live or pre-recorded. The results look the same when your donors watch it. You can remove significant technical challenges by having a single video with all your elements combined – even your “live” host. This allows you to hit play on a single video when it’s crunch time. You know exactly how long the show is and you’ve done your best to keep it well-paced and entertaining which is critical with online viewers (it’s easy to lose focus when you’re watching something online). For example, watch the 2020 Raise the Region Gala from the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia:

4) Live chat with your viewers.

Have one or two of your team log into the available live chat and moderate it. They can answer questions that come up and even pose questions to audience members. Having fast and real responses add to the value of being at the event live. Promote the chat service when sending emails and using social media before the event.

5) Offer a phone line during your event.

In addition to offering chat, make a local phone number available to your viewers during the program. Have your staff or volunteers available to answer calls from your viewers. You can add the phone number to the broadcast using a “lower third”. This also adds value to the viewer so they can ask questions if they are having trouble viewing the program.

6) Teach your viewers how to bid.

Don’t miss the chance to show your donors how to bid and how to donate. Add this as a segment in your broadcast and include this in your kickoff video (more on this later) so people know how to use the software. It’s also wise to create a social media graphic that explains how your supporters can bid in advance of the live event. For example, 21st Century Leaders on Twitter:

7) End your recorded event with a brief live interview.

One of our organizations created a pre-recorded fundraising event, but also featured a live interview afterward. The live interview consisted of questions that came up during the program via chat or phone calls. The guests in the interview were featured in the video and it added a wonderful continuity to the whole event.

8) Add a short live auction and fund-a-need to the end of your event.

Many of our organizations have added live auctions and fund-a-need to the end of their pre-recorded programs. Put it at the end so it is more technically manageable (you won’t have to hop between live and pre-recorded elements that way).

9) Create a multi-day fundraising event.

Several organizations have embraced the ability to take their event above and beyond a single room or evening. The experience is online and that means it is easy and free to extend the event over several days. Start on Monday with a live video kickoff from the auction chairs. Continue to a Wednesday signature cocktail demonstration. Keep the energy going with a Friday night teaser live video. Culminate with the signature event on Saturday. Each video can feature a giveaway to entice donors to be a part of the event.

In summary, here at ClickBid we have learned that the most successful events were those that kept things well organized and planned. While it’s important to be unique and exciting, you always need to remember that your virtual event has many moving parts. It is critical to keep them all organized and well planned out to make sure everything runs smoothly for you. Our hope is that these examples will find their way into your virtual event and that we can help.

Founded in 2002, ClickBid serves as the hosting platform for 2,000+ online events each year. Their product offerings include online auctionsvirtual galastext-to-giveraise-the-paddle, and online ticketing.

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