6 Mistakes That Can Wreck Your Virtual Event

Avoid these mistakes when launching your organization's next virtual event.

Everyone is having a virtual fundraising event these days. Going virtual is a necessity if you want to host your annual event in some way, shape, or form and still comply with laws or recommendations about public gatherings and social distancing.

Running a successful virtual fundraising event requires you to prepare for things you may not have ever had to think about before. And that means you need a little extra time for planning the details.

While virtual events are still new to most nonprofits, there ARE some common mistakes that will wreck your event before you even get started. Before you go live with that virtual fundraiser that you’ve worked so hard to create, make sure you watch out for these 6 mistakes. 

Mistake 1: No dry run or rehearsal.

One quick way to ruin your virtual event is to “wing it.” Now is not the time to improvise as you go or just deal with whatever comes. Every single moment, every single step, and every single activity should be planned, scheduled, and carefully orchestrated. Nobody wants to attend a virtual event and listen to the leader or host say “hang on, let me see if I can fix this.” 

So, create and test a Run of Show for your virtual event. A Run of Show is basically a detailed agenda for exactly what will happen and when, down to the tiniest detail in your event. You should go over your Run of Show with your tech team a couple of times so that everyone is prepared and always knows what’s happening next, even if your tech team has done virtual events many times.

For example, let’s say you’re hosting an Ask event and moving it to a virtual platform. A local church offers to handle the live broadcast for you. They livestream their services each week and know exactly how to do it. But you don’t. This is new to you and working with you is new to them, so take the time to walk through the entire Run of Show together just to make sure everyone is ready. 

Mistake 2: No Plan B.

Before your virtual event begins, test everything. Twice. Then be ready with Plan B in case you lose your internet connection. Or your online payment system fails and no one can enter their credit card information. Or the auction site is frozen and no one can bid.

These kinds of things can happen and it’s best to be prepared, just in case. Talk through Plan B and even Plan C with your tech team so you know what to do if things go wrong. 

Test and prepare for ANY possible technology failure. Have a couple of Wi-Fi hotspots ready to activate if you need them. Test your payment systems over and over again. Do a trial run-through of your auction site from a laptop, tablet, and phone. And above all else, have tech support people at the ready for the entire event to help if any of these glitches do arise despite your best planning efforts.

Mistake 3: Overlooking the virtual event attendee experience.

There is much more to a successful virtual event than just livestreaming what you used to do in person. Think about the event’s activities and how they will be experienced by your attendees. A smooth event with no hiccups means people can focus on the reason they’re there and will likely be more engaged. When people are enjoying themselves, they will give more. So, plan for the attendee experience from start to finish. 

Think through the event from the attendee’s point of view and proactively answer ANY questions they might have. Provide tech support for those that need it (and you’ll probably have some). Send clear and easy-to-follow instructions on logging into the event. Provide them a schedule so they know what to expect. Think about meals, auctions, programs, and all other pieces of your virtual event and how those will be experienced, especially anything that is a revenue-generating activity. Again, the smoother everything goes and the more you can surprise and delight people, the better the event overall will go which means a bigger bottom line for you.

Mistake 4: No variety in the program.

People have a very short attention span online and that means you have to mix things up to keep people engaged. It’s best to have multiple speakers, featuring people who are articulate, engaging, and high energy so they come across the screen well. No one person should speak for more than about 10 minutes at a time. Break up the talking heads with a virtual tour of your program or facility, a client testimonial video, or a volunteer interview. Nothing is worse and more dull than looking at the same face and hearing the same voice for hours (or what seems like hours!). Changing up the content and how it’s delivered keeps things interesting and keeps people tuned in. 

Mistake 5: No opportunity for guest interaction.

At a live event, guests can mix and mingle with other attendees, engaging in conversation. This is harder to facilitate in a virtual event, but it can be done. If interaction is appropriate for your virtual event, provide ways for people to see and chat with each other. Zoom offers breakout rooms that can give people the feel of sitting at a table together. Or encourage people to use the chat feature to engage with you and other attendees.

The important thing here is to remember that your guests aren’t there to watch a show, they’re there to attend an event so find a way to give them that experience.

Mistake 6: Poorly-done visuals.

Visuals are critical with a virtual event. Your guests won’t be able to experience the vibe or the feel of the room like they would if they’re attending in person. All they will have is what they see and hear on-screen. So make sure all visuals are on brand, from the images they see on screen to the background behind you on camera. Use colors and color combinations that are easy to see. Make sure your “set” is well lit with no shadows on anyone’s face. During your dry-run, double-check all the visuals to make sure everything looks great and is ready to go.

With dozens of different virtual event ideas out there for raising money online, there’s sure to be something that will work for you. Just plan new virtual fundraising ideas and avoid these 6 common mistakes so your virtual event is the best it can be.

Sandy Rees

Sandy Rees is the Founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at Get Fully Funded. She shows leaders of new and small nonprofits how to fully fund their dream so they can make the difference they want to make in the world. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to adding 6 figures to their bottom line. As a trainer, she shows her students how to find ideal donors, connect through authentic messaging, and build relationships that stand the test of time, so that fundraising becomes easy and predictable. Find out more at

Sandy Rees
Sandy Rees
Sandy Rees

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