13 Virtual Fundraising Event Takeaways From 4 Marketing Professionals

8 min
virtual fundraising event planning
Korrin Bishop

The best way to learn about virtual fundraising events is to hear from those who’ve experienced them. We recently wrapped up our 2021 Collaborative: Virtual Sessions event here at Classy. The event brought together over 50 speakers and thousands of nonprofit professionals from across the social sector. As part of our debrief of the event, we wanted to share some insights from the Classy staff who organized it. Get to know their top insights and learning moments to accelerate the impact of your nonprofit’s next virtual fundraising event.

Experience Our Nonprofit Event On-Demand

classy marketing professionals

Below, they’ll dive into:

  • What really matters to plan a successful virtual event
  • How you can apply what our team learned to your next event
  • Ways to measure your efficiency and success within each 

13 Virtual Fundraising Event Takeaways from Four Marketing Professionals

Virtual Fundraising Event Planning and Execution

Virtual Event Tips

The Collaborative’s logistics were owned by Alexa. She was more than happy to share what her and her team learned about the planning and execution of a large virtual conference, and how you can apply these lessons to your nonprofit’s next event.

1. Be Mindful of Your Participants’ Time

Supporters of your nonprofit have busy schedules, so you want to ensure your event offers them value that is worth their investment of time. 

The Classy team created engaging content that Collaborative participants could use in their professional lives. After the event, the team also assessed whether the length of the event was appropriate. They identified some ways to shorten it without sacrificing quality in the future.

As you organize your nonprofit virtual fundraising event, you’ll also want to ask yourself questions during planning, execution, and follow-up on whether your schedule is respectful of your participants’ time. This is especially true during a period when people are feeling some burnout in regard to online activity.

Zoom fatigue is real, so it’s important when creating a virtual fundraising event to be mindful of duration and timing, as well as ensuring that all content offered within your event provides value and actionable takeaways. Our event this year was four days, which, in retrospect, is a lot of time to ask people to dedicate.

Looking ahead at future events, we will likely shorten the duration to ensure we’re not pulling our audience away from the important work they do for too long.

2. Make Your Content Accessible to Varying Audiences

People absorb content differently, so it’s important to organize your virtual fundraising event in a way that is accessible to a variety of learning styles and schedules.

A key strategy we used at Classy was to include closed captioning in our live sessions and our session recordings for participants to watch later.

You’ll also want to consider the design of your materials, leaning into visuals over heavy text and keeping messaging digestible. You can always provide post-presentation handouts with links for your audience if they want to dive further into the weeds on a particular topic.

It’s important to create an experience that is accessible for everyone, meaning virtually in real-time, as well as on-demand post-event. Not everyone can dedicate hours of their day to tune in to a virtual event, so having any recordings available post-event is key. Also, we’ve found that in a virtual setting, presentations that are short, dynamic, and include more visuals than text perform best in keeping the audience present and engaged.

How to Measure Success

Alexa shared a variety of ways her team evaluated the success of their planning and execution of the Collaborative event. You can easily adapt these for your nonprofit’s event, and review them before, during, and after your event to gauge your success.

  1. Registrants: Classy aims to increase the total number of registrants for the Collaborative year over year, so Alexa’s team reviews this metric first. They also measure retention to see how many return each year and what factors could play into increases or decreases. 
  2. Engagement: As Alexa explained, discrepancies between registrants and attendees tend to be larger for virtual events than in-person. Someone traveling to an in-person event who has purchased a ticket, accommodations, and travel is less likely to not show up than someone who is tuning in from home. The Classy team focuses on engagement metrics during the virtual event to encourage continued participation and see how invested the virtual audience is. The Collaborative used virtual networking happy hours, gamification and contests, and attendee-to-attendee live chat to facilitate this.
  3. Feedback: Many virtual conference platforms offer features that allow for sending participants surveys both after specific sessions, as well as about the event as a whole. Alexa’s team reviews post-session and post-event feedback surveys from attendees to get direct insight into the attendees’ personal experiences. They use this to improve future content and the event as a whole.

Set specific goals for your event that can easily be measured and attained within the scope of your event. Track those goals week by week to see how you are trending and make adjustments along the way to help reach your final goals. Attend similar events in your industry to see what resonates well and what can be improved upon.

Virtual Fundraising Event Production and Technology

JP helped with efforts related to the Collaborative’s use of different communication technologies and digital flow. We asked him what his team learned about how nonprofits can prepare for smooth virtual fundraising events that encourage participant engagement.

1. Have an Emcee

A key strategy JP’s team used for the production of the Collaborative event was using emcees. 

Virtual events can feel less cohesive than in-person events since there isn’t a physical place to which participants return throughout the event. Having an emcee guides participants through the sessions and speakers to create that familiar “gathering” point.

An emcee can also help your nonprofit facilitate smoother transitions with the technology, as that person can remind your audience about important features for engaging during the sessions.

It’s important to create an experience that is accessible for everyone, meaning virtually in real-time, as well as on-demand post-event. Not everyone can dedicate hours of their day to tune in to a virtual event, so having any recordings available post-event is key. Also, we’ve found that in a virtual setting, presentations that are short, dynamic, and include more visuals than text perform best in keeping the audience present and engaged.

2. Establish Communication Channels for Engagement

Our production and technology team for the Collaborative found that it was useful to have pre-arranged channels for participants to be able to communicate with each other during and after sessions.

While the Classy team used Slack for this, your nonprofit doesn’t have to have that specific software connected to your event experience to be successful. The main goal is to create an experience where people can engage with one another. This can be through email groups, digital breakout rooms, or other chat board software.

We created Slack channels for every session we had, so our attendees could continue chatting after the session ended or ask questions to our guest speakers if they agreed to spend time on Slack after their sessions.

3. Spend Time in Pre-Production

JP’s top advice for a successful virtual event production? Start in pre-production. You can think of pre-production as a big dress rehearsal.

The first half of pre-production focuses on preparing your technology. Some of the tasks you’ll want to cover during this portion of pre-production include:

  • Proper testing of the virtual platform you will be using to make sure your team is comfortable with it, and that you avoid day-of surprises by discovering bugs or workarounds in advance. Do a simulated virtual event with a few people to make sure everything runs smoothly.
  • Create a backup plan for everything. JP recommends nonprofits:
    • Have another streaming platform ready to go just in case.
    • Have a strategy in place in case your internet goes out, such as a mobile hotspot or another host who can take over from a different location.
    • Ensure you have active, agreed-upon communication tools with your remote guest speakers, such as phone, instant messaging, or email.
    • Determine next steps you’ll take in case a remote guest speaker doesn’t show up, or has internet issues.
  • Create a “run of show” document that you will send to each remote guest speaker. This contains things like technical information, event details and schedule, general tips, and team contact info. This helps remote guest speakers feel prepared and know what to expect.

The second half of pre-production involves preparing your people. Schedule tech checks with each of your guest speakers once they are confirmed. It may be time-intensive, but it’s worth the effort to ensure your event runs smoothly. During this phase:

  • Check audio to make sure speakers sound loud and clear. If multiple people are speaking in the same session, ensure they all wear headphones to prevent audio feedback.
  • Check lighting to make sure speakers’ faces are well lit. Facing a window (that doesn’t have sun rays coming in) gives your subject the best light.
  • Make sure speakers’ cameras are at eye level to create a natural look.
  • Test any slides your remote speakers plan to present, as sometimes the computer or browser will require updates to security permissions.
  • Monitor presenters’ internet connections during the tech check. If they drop or freeze a lot, ask them to move closer to their WiFi access point or to hardwire.
  • Run through the flow of the event to ensure your remote guests know exactly what to expect.

If your event has multiple remote guest speakers, have a staff member dedicated to run a green room (preparation room). This is where you do the final tech checks before your guest speakers go live. For our event, we asked our speakers to connect 30 minutes before their scheduled live appearance. Our staff was there to welcome them, do the final tech check, and answer any questions or concerns. You preferably do this on the same streaming platform as the event but as a private session.

How to Measure Success

Measuring the success of your production and technology for a virtual event can happen before, during, and after its implementation. Beforehand, look for whether you have established backup options, a fully trained and tested team, and established communication channels. During the event, keep track of any technology glitches that arrive and how quickly your team is able to resolve them. 

After sessions and the entire event, send out feedback surveys to participants that ask questions about the user-friendliness of the event platform and overall experience from a technology standpoint. You’ll also want to debrief with your team and speakers on how smoothly they were able to move through the event’s material.

Get a Free Virtual Fundraising Event Toolkit

Virtual Fundraising Event Email Promotion

Maddie planned the email promotion of the Collaborative event. She was excited to tell us what the event showed her about email marketing for virtual events and how your nonprofit can use it to increase attendance.

1. Lean Into Email

The first takeaway Maddie shared about email promotion for virtual events was pretty straightforward: Do it.

Email marketing drove nearly half of the Collaborative’s registrations, and Maddie believes it will continue to be a powerful way of connecting to your audience. If you’re looking for where to begin, check out the resource How to Start and Manage Your Nonprofit’s Email Marketing Calendar.

The top takeaway or learning moment from an email marketing perspective was that email is, and will most likely continue to be, the number one way to get information out to your donor base and promote the event. For the Collaborative, email marketing drove almost half of all registrants, and 43% of registrants stated that they heard about the event from an email from Classy.

This just proves the importance of building up your email subscribers, which will allow you to target and segment this audience for future fundraising events, direct donations, asking them to become members of your recurring giving program, and so much more.

2. Show Why People Should Attend

Emails about your event need to go beyond telling your supporters that you’re having one. Especially during a time where there are multiple virtual events going on, you need to be able to demonstrate the value of your event and why people should make time for it over another.

You can include key learning goals for different sessions, quotes from past speakers or participants, and background information on your different speakers and why they’re worth hearing.

Always include the why behind why people should attend your event. Some of the things we included were not just highlighting notable speakers, but letting our audience know what they’re speaking about and what types of takeaways they can expect to get after the session.

3. Map Out Your Email Strategy in Advance

We relied on a variety of outlets to market the Collaborative event in addition to email. Taking time to map out how your email marketing fits in with these other methods, such as blog posts or social media, makes for a more robust communications plan.

As you’re planning your nonprofit’s virtual fundraising event, know ahead of time when you want to send emails, what type of information you’ll want to include in them, and how that will complement other marketing strategies.

Ahead of the event, we mapped out our email marketing strategy and made sure it coincided with our social media and blog strategy. This helped to keep all of our messaging about the event in sync. Once your email marketing strategy is mapped out, it makes it easier to work with the appropriate stakeholders to draft the email content and event details.

How to Measure Success

Maddie shared a variety of ways the Classy team measured success with its email marketing strategy for the Collaborative event. You can adapt these for your nonprofit to review progress before, during, and after your virtual fundraising event.

Before the Collaborative, Maddie’s team tracked the number of registrants per email promotion. This helped determine which emails performed the best in terms of getting people excited to register for the event. Leading up to the event, we also sent out weekly emails to registrants to notify them of important event announcements, like new speakers or how they could participate to earn prizes. These emails had much higher open and click-through rates than other email sends. Your nonprofit can also use these metrics to see how engaged your audience is leading up to your event. 

During the Collaborative, Maddie’s team continued to grow and track engagement through email. We would send out a morning email to registrants that highlighted the day’s sessions and important reminders, as well as a recap email at the end of the day that got people excited for the following day. If your nonprofit is planning to have a multi-day event, continuing to send and track emails can give you a sense for participant engagement in the event.

Research has shown that first-time donors who receive a personal thank-you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give again. Therefore, post-event emails are just as important. For the Collaborative, Maddie used them to send a thank you, remind participants to fill out the post-event survey, and direct them to other Classy resources. Keeping this engagement going keeps people involved with your brand and more likely to participate again in the future.

After every email send, take a look at your email KPIs, specifically open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribes. These metrics will tell you a lot about how your email marketing strategy for your virtual event is going. If any of these metrics seem like they are underperforming, try re-segmenting your audience, or re-evaluating your subject lines and content.

Virtual Fundraising Event Public Relations and Social Media Strategy

krista lamp marketing professional

Krista led efforts related to promoting the event’s speakers, sessions, and content. Her experience led to great takeaways to help your nonprofit leverage public relations efforts and social media strategy to reach and engage more people in an event.

1. Showcase Your Experts

When you’re planning a virtual fundraising event, it’s easy to see your event as being one-of-a-kind or something that everyone should want to hear about. However, media outlets hear from hundreds of public relations agencies each day, so it’s likely they’ve heard of something like your event before. 

One way to make your story and event stand out is to focus on your experts rather than simply your event. This will be more appealing to the media and also shares your event more organically rather than just trying to sell tickets.

Media will always want to hear from the experts. In the case of the Collaborative, the media weren’t interested in covering our nonprofit conference, but they did want to speak to one of our keynote speakers, renowned civil rights attorney, Ben Crump. We worked directly with their team to set up interviews.

If you’re a human trafficking organization, for example, instead of sharing information about your gala, you can offer up your CEO to talk about the rise of human trafficking in the area or tangible signs the audience can look out for if they think someone is at risk of being trafficked. Your event, as a way to support survivors, will be organically mentioned in the speaking points rather than the focus of the story. This is a lot more enticing to journalists.

2. Contact Local Media

While many organizations strive to have their events covered by national outlets like the Today Show or the New York Times, Krista encourages event planners to not overlook local newspapers and television and radio stations. This is particularly true if your nonprofit is making a difference directly in your community.

You can invite local media personalities to help emcee your event or get involved in some other way. You can also reach out to the news desk, local producer, journalists, or editors of local media outlets to share your event.

When you reach out, be sure to include all the relevant information about your local event, including the day, time, and why your cause is helping the local community. Also, if you’re pitching your event to a TV or radio show producer, be sure to include information on who your spokesperson would be. If they have on-camera experience, call that out and send a video, if possible. The media likes to know that who they are getting will be good on camera.

3. Continue Media Outreach Post-Event

Public relations is usually thought of as a pre-event task to drive ticket sales. However, Krista shares that these efforts shouldn’t stop when your event is over. You can use stories and data from the event to continue to share stories about your nonprofit, growing awareness for your cause and, potentially, new supporters.

Did your organization raise a record-breaking amount at the event? If so, share the news. What impact did the money raised at this event have on the community you serve? If your 5K run means that 1,000 underprivileged kids now have school supplies, share this.

It’s even better if you can tie it back to something timely. In this instance, sharing the results during back-to-school time adds an extra level of appeal to the media.

4. Highlight Value and Impact

When sharing about your event on social media, you’ll want to focus on the value of your work and the impact this event will have. If you’re hosting a fun run, you can highlight how the event is great for getting your friends together while also raising money for a good cause. You can frame your gala event as an opportunity to meet local city officials to advocate for positive change in the community.

Focus on messages that show value both for the individual and the cause. These come across as more enticing, as well as more genuine. No one wants to go on social media just to be bombarded with messages asking them to buy or do something, so frame it as a story.

Communicate impact. This is the number one rule of fundraising overall, but it’s also important not to lose sight of this on social media. Your followers want to know what impact their participation will have on the communities you serve.

For instance, some of our most engaging posts were the ones that talked about the impact attending the event would have on the individual, including what they would learn and the fact that we promised tangible tips that would create immediate impact for their organization.

5. Encourage Engagement

Social media posts shouldn’t be a one-way street. Create posts around your virtual fundraising event that engage your audience. 

You can ask your followers questions about why they want to attend, why they care about your cause, or what they want to see at the event. With their permission, you can even use some of their responses as additional content for your social media platforms. 

Make sure to ask your audience to use your specific hashtag to make finding and engaging with related content easy.

Get a Free Social Media Planner for Your Nonprofit

Don’t forget a hashtag. Hashtags serve as a great way to encourage continued conversation online. Attendees can use a hashtag to share the event with their network, interact with others who are attending, and generally be a part of the conversation. Plus, it acts as a way for you to view and measure the social chatter and online buzz around your event.

How to Measure Success

Leading up to your virtual fundraising event, you’ll want your public relations and social media efforts to ultimately drive registrations. 

Krista recommends tracking the amount of traffic coming from particular social media posts or public relations stories. If you can’t use specific tracking links, look for spikes in ticket sales after your posts or when news articles or other coverage comes out.

After the event, you can measure how successful your efforts were by looking at things like:

  • Number of registrants or ticket sales that were driven by social media and public relations efforts
  • Total number of press impressions (for online placements you can use a free resource like Similar Web to get the number of visitors to a website)
  • Engagement percentage on social posts about the event (add up likes, comments, and shares, and divide this by your total number of followers to get an engagement rate; averages vary by platform, but anything over 3% is considered good)
  • Hashtag use for your event to see how many participants were talking about your event online

There’s no magic wand for PR and social media. For social media, monitor your post engagement carefully and make sure you know your audience and how and what they like to see on your channels. Serving up content that you know they like will always help increase engagement. If your event posts aren’t performing well, try changing it up; change your visuals, reword your messaging, make sure you’re providing something of value. 

For PR, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. If your first round of outreach doesn’t garner any interest, try switching up email subject lines, the story angle, or offering an expert versus just talking about your event. You should also check your distribution list to make sure you have all relevant contacts at a publication. If email isn’t working, try calling or asking someone you’ve reached out to for better contact at the outlet. You never know who will latch onto your story or have an affinity for your cause.

Plan a Great Next Virtual Fundraising Event From Start to Finish

Big events are big learning opportunities. Our recent Collaborative virtual event at Classy left us with a lot of lessons learned on how to build and measure success for these types of programs. We hope you’re able to apply them to your next nonprofit virtual fundraising event.

If you’d like to watch recordings from our 2021 Collaborative: Virtual Sessions, you can watch all of the sessions now online.

Start Watchign On-Demand Today

Where social entrepreneurs go to learn and grow

Join over 60,000 leaders just like you who get their weekly dose of technology, innovation, fundraising ideas, and the latest industry trends.