This is a guest post by Taryn Crowder, senior manager of events at Classy.
One of today’s biggest challenges is successfully engaging a virtual audience. Every organization and individual putting on any kind of virtual event is asking themselves the same questions: how do we break out of the ordinary, how do we avoid Zoom fatigue, and how do we actually engage our audience?
Before you dive into engagement tactics, though, your first step to creating an engaging virtual fundraising event is to put yourself into your audience’s shoes. Who are they? Are there different cohorts who all need and want something different? What do they want? You have to get to know your audience intimately to understand how to design an event for them in the first place, much less add engagement to the mix.
The second piece to understand is that you can’t simply replicate your in-person experience into a virtual one. Your goal with this event shouldn’t be about simply changing its format or focusing on its type (e.g. 5K, gala, etc.). Your goal is to fundraise, educate, network, engage, raise awareness, or other objectives. The key is to create goals and objectives associated with who your audience is, and what they want. You then pair it with the specific event type as a conduit to reach those goals and objectives.
That piece, coupled with the first, is crucial in moving into the next stage where you can start to explore how you can drive for engagement.
Recently, I sat down with Brandt Krueger—technical producer, consultant, and educator for the meeting and events industry—to pick his brain and learn even more about these topics. I originally met Brandt when I participated in the Virtual Event & Meeting Management Certificate Course put on by the Event Leadership Institute. Brandt was our course instructor, leading us along in our virtual event educational journey, and I knew from our very first lesson that I was going to learn a lot from him.
As stated on their website, “in today’s changing world, we are expected to have the skills necessary to plan and execute both live and virtual events.” Despite many of us never having flexed these muscles before in our careers, this is what is now expected of us. So how do we rise to the occasion? Or, more importantly, how do we keep rising to the occasion?
I’m excited to share some of the details from my conversations with Brandt about how organizations can start to think about virtual fundraising events in a new and unique way.
Taryn: Brandt, what are some fresh perspectives on virtual fundraising strategies given this new climate? How do you suggest nonprofits combat Zoom fatigue and provide their donors an enhanced and engaging experience to learn more about their organization and ultimately donate?
Brandt: Fundraising in the best of times is difficult, so today’s climate is certainly a challenge. But across any situation, it’s almost always those events that can provide unique experiences that seem to draw the most donations. Something new, something different, something other than just “can we please have your money?”
Even the simplest forms of fundraising offer an element of return or delight for the supporter. The average consumer might think on any given day, “I wasn’t planning on buying muffins today, but those do look delicious—and the money goes to a good cause? Well, OK.” There’s a reason Girl Scout Cookies have been around for a hundred years. People want a win-win. They want something they might not normally get for themselves, or to experience something they might not otherwise—and raising money for a cause they support gives them the justification.
So if all you’re providing people is a Zoom call and a bottle of wine, it’s not going to cut it. Zoom fatigue is real, and you can’t just move your in-person agenda online. You still need to provide an experience that they wouldn’t ordinarily have, not the same thing they’ve been doing at work for nine months.
Taryn: Those are great points, Brandt. So, what works?
Brandt: If you’re gathering via video chat, make it feel as less like a video chat as possible. I always say the best way to battle Zoom fatigue is to make it not look like a Zoom call.
Increase your production values, and provide an experience worth donating for. Hire an MC who doesn’t appear to be broadcasting from their bedroom, and equip them with quality microphones, cameras, and lighting.
Celebrity appearances, online auctions, and raffles are great elements that can elevate the event. But keep in mind, you have to make the most of the experience. Don’t just have a celebrity come on and talk for an hour. We can watch that on YouTube. It has to be interactive.
Part of the allure of galas and banquets is the ability to chat with folks you don’t ordinarily get to. Try organizing smaller groups of attendees, and raffle or auction off even smaller (or private) experiences. Imagine listening to a celebrity speak and then being given the chance to donate for a chance to hop in a breakout with only them and five other attendees for an intimate chat.
Taryn: What if you can’t afford a celebrity? Do you have any other suggestions for fun, creative ways to deliver what donors really want?
Brandt: Absolutely. There are a lot of options for different types of events that fit the goals and objectives of your audience. For instance, if you normally hold a silent auction, freshen things up. Instead of raffling off the same donated silent auction items, why not offer items people really want?
Stores can’t keep the latest Playstation and Xbox consoles in stock, but you can get them online at a premium. If you can get 200 people to buy a $25 chance to win, purchasing it for $1,000 on eBay can be worth it because you just cleared $4,000. Take what you would have spent on centerpieces at the annual gala and grab some desirable items people really want.
Then, there’s the raffling of hope. We can’t go to Cabo right now, but it’s nice to fantasize about it. Maybe raffle off those trips to exotic locations “to be determined,” so that people can go when life begins to return to normal. Just paint that picture of what it will be like vividly and clearly, and maybe even send the winner something physical to look at and dream about in the meantime—like a seashell necklace or jar full of sand.
Taryn: These are really great tips that have certainly got my wheels turning about thinking outside the box. Do you have any final words you’d like to leave with our audience?
Brandt: Fundraising online, at its core, isn’t that different from what it has been in-person for decades. You need to 1) find out what your core demographic wants, then 2) provide it. Engage your target audience more effectively than ever, and find out what they want. Which, I can guarantee, isn’t a Zoom call and a bottle of wine.
Taryn Crowder, CMP is a Certified Meeting Professional and Certified Virtual Event & Meeting Manager with over 12 years of experience in event planning and management. She has planned and managed award shows, large-scale conferences and exhibitions, and galas ranging in size from 10,000 to 14,000 people, and most recently a 10,000 person virtual event with her team at Classy. In 2015, she was awarded Connect Association’s “Top 40 Under 40” in the event planning industry.
Brandt Krueger is a technical producer and consultant based in Minneapolis, MN, and is the highly acclaimed instructor for the Event Leadership Institute’s Virtual Event and Meeting Management certificate course. He has over 20 years of experience in the industry, has spoken at events and conferences all over the world, been published in numerous magazines and websites, and is ranked among the most influential people in the events industry.