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Expert Guest Author: Hi, I’m Sara Hoshooley, founder of Charity Shift, a fundraising consulting company based in Vancouver, Canada. I’m on a mission to help charities and nonprofits raise more money for their causes and one of the best ways to do that is through virtual fundraising events. In fact, organizations who have moved their in person fundraising events to virtual overwhelmingly saw a reduction in expenses and an increase in revenue raised and number of guests attending! I want to share with you some tips to help your virtual fundraiser raise as much money as possible by engaging and exciting your donors and guests. 

Like an in-person event, virtual fundraisers require lots of planning, however in a virtual space this looks slightly different. Your guests are being asked to engage in your event in a different format – virtually! This poses greater risk that your guests won’t come prepared to bid, donate, or engage with your event because of the added technology barrier. 

Your donor’s experience is THE MOST important element to consider when planning your next virtual event. To make sure your guests of all ages and tech abilities are ready to engage in your event, I’ve made a list of The 4 Pillars of Virtual Event Engagement.

Come prepared in all four areas, and your virtual event is sure to engage all of your guests and donors. 

Program Design

How will you make every minute count? Research shows, people start to lose focus after about 30 minutes and with virtual events, guests really start to drop off at around the 60 minute mark. Ideally, all of your most important content, including your Fund-A-Need or fundraising ask should happen within the first 30 minutes.

Consider, what kind of content guests will not be able to look away from? How can people feel engaged in every moment and part of the story? Whether it’s pre-recorded content or live content, your event should take your guests on a journey that ultimately leads them to feeling connected to your cause and excited to donate.

Tech Accessibility

Next, you’ll want to consider accessibility. Engaging all of your donors and guests means making sure that their needs and abilities are taken into consideration at every level of planning. Sending out an email or FAQ document prior to your event that outlines how to use the system will ensure your guests have a great experience. For example, you may want to send out instructions of how to connect a laptop to a TV for a better viewing experience, or instructions on the basic functions of Zoom such as how to mute, raise your hand, pin the speaker view, or how to use the chat function. Having a staff person or volunteer who is readily accessible by chat or phone to answer any IT questions that come up can also be a huge help. The staff or volunteer can have a pre-written list of common answers to questions ready to go to provide quick support to guests. 

Using broadcasting options that include closed captioning or live translation services will provide an additional layer of accessibility for your guests. Unlike in person events, your guests may be joining from around the world and have various language and accessibility requirements that you need to be prepared for. 

Production Value 

Now that we’re in the second year of COVID impacted virtual meetings and events, your guests have a certain level of expectation of your production value. Regardless of your budget, your event should feel professional including the cameras being used, your lighting and your sound. The sound quality for your event is absolutely the most important piece. Any visual issues can easily be corrected but if your guest can’t clearly hear your message, you’ve lost them. Investing in professional production support and event planning is an important investment for a flawless event.

This includes things like the speakers and the content you decide to share. Pre-recorded speakers and additional content do not need to be professionally produced (in fact, videos shot at home on an iPhone are sometimes even MORE impactful!) but should at least be clear, well edited, easy to understand, and well-lit.

Make sure to have at least one tech rehearsal to review your recorded content, test all of your technical aspects, and ensure your volunteer staff and all behind-the-scenes elements are running smoothly. You’ll also want to make sure that your slides and any visuals appear correctly and exactly the way that you want them to look.

Tech Expectations

Anticipating any tech issues that may come up in advance and prepare your guests by setting expectations for the tech involved in your virtual event. Something that works very well is to have a countdown clock along with some visuals before the event starts on the broadcast stream. That way as people are joining in, getting set up at home, and settling in for an exciting event, they know exactly how many minutes they have until the event starts. This is also a great time to get your guests to say hello to each other in the chat function and to get excited about the event coming up. It provides ample time for those who are having tech issues to get them resolved before the official program starts.

One of the ways to get people engaged with your event and feeling comfortable within the system is to do somewhat of a practice run. This might include asking everyone to put in the chat where they’re joining from, doing a poll or asking people to raise their hands in the chat, or to wave their hand when they hear the emcee say hello. 

You can also do a practice run with your donation process. For example, you can let people know “in a few minutes we will be asking you to consider making a donation, here is how you can do that” and then show instructions on screen. You can also have instructions running across the bottom of your screen throughout the event, with a reminder on how to contact tech support if needed.

If you’re doing a live auction, you can do a practice run, perhaps with a $10 gift card or something small to get everyone familiar with how to bid. This can be a fun and silly way to get people engaged who may be unfamiliar with the tools.

As for your Fund-A-Need or donation portion of your event, you should have multiple options for ways people can donate. Make sure the instructions are clear on how to do so. This might include a button on screen or second device that requires a link or QR code. Consider your audience and what might be most familiar to them. Regardless of how donors make their gift, make sure your emcee is recognizing them and showing excitement as the donations grow and grow. 


Want even more fundraising tips and a template to help you prepare for your Virtual Fundraiser? 

Charity Shift

Click this link to download Charity Shift’s Virtual Event Timeline Planner. If you want more information about how to plan for a successful virtual fundraising event you can Connect with Sara directly. 

Or check out our webinar, presented by Sara, on Reimagining Your Donor Experience in the Virtual Landscape.