10 Virtual Event Strategies that Create Community

Compared with physical events, a virtual event can be a lot more accessible. Meaning your supporters can participate from anywhere, at any time, with any device. Virtual events are also an easy way to tap into new donor bases, through the power of social media, social donors and Ambassador fundraisers.

However, the virtual marketplace is crowded with nonprofit organizations jockeying for awareness and supporters during the pandemic. There are many causes, events and real-life priorities vying for donor attention.

How do you not only stand out, but capture today’s donors? The key ingredient to event success is simple: building human connection and creating community. Truth is, that is easier said than done in today’s virtual world!

This means your virtual event success hinges on your ability to engage supporters and create virtual community. You need to find ways to bridge the digital void and shape your donor’s experiences, so that they understand your mission and want to be a part of it.

In this guide, we will cover best practices and real-life examples for capturing donor attention before, during, and after your virtual event.

Let’s dive in!

Engaging Supporters Before the Event
Engaging Supporters Before the Event

The Law of Attraction says we are what we create. As fundraisers, that means creating positive experiences and energy that attracts supporters, moving them to participate, and eventually donate.

The good news for today’s virtual world is there is more opportunity to grab attention. And the job of engaging supporters starts well before they hop online for our virtual fundraiser!

Here’s 10 easy steps to follow before your event, to start building connection.

1. Explain how to participate

Whether your virtual event is pre-planned or in response to unforeseen circumstances, your pre-event messaging should always include:

2. Message Matters

Remember, to create positive energy we have to give off positive energy. So what we say matters to our donors. Choose your language carefully. Here’s a few guidelines to positive communication that creates trust, and human connection:

  • Stay authentic to your mission. Talk about what matters, what you need, and why it’s important.
  • Don’t downplay the realities of the pandemic. You never know what your donors are going through. That said, don’t dwell on COVID-19, but make sure you acknowledge it, in your communications.
  • Use positive and hopeful language. If you are converting a physical event to an online one, use positive language to announce the change – stay away from “canceled” and other negative terminology.
  • Talk about the need and impact. What will you do with the funds? How will it drive change or help? Connecting supporters to the mission is a key motivator for today’s Social Donors.

3. Build a Marketing Team

The task of promoting your virtual event should not fall solely on your social media manager or communications person.

Expand your reach and add a personal touch to your marketing by involving key stakeholders.

You don’t need an army! Just a few passionate supporters, who can help refine your messaging and generate ways to spread the word. Easy places to look for your marketing warriors are:

4. Elevate your most generous supporters

Since virtual events have a larger audience than in-person events, they are a perfect opportunity to showcase your champions to the masses.

Find creative ways to share all the good work, passion, and impact driven by your supporters. People want to be involved with a positive and winning organization.”.

Be sure to talk and show why your cause is doing great work, and bring a human face to those that power its success.

Creating community can be easy, using social media. Use social posts to:

5. Make it fun

  • HASHTAGS: Create a unique event hashtag so they can join the online conversation and share photos of how they’re celebrating! If you’re converting an in-person event to an online one, try a hashtag that nods to this change – such as #PartyInPajamas, #ShopFromYourCouch, or #PartyAtHome.
  • MINI-VIEWING PARTIES: Encourage supporters to host their own virtual parties at home or online with family & friends. All they need from you is some inspiration and a suggested menu – along with the signature cocktail! Bonus points if they can support local businesses at the same time.
  • VIRTUAL ROOMS: No ballroom = no limit to the number of ways your supporters can connect! Make this easy and create virtual “rooms” where they can connect with others and with you in ways most meaningful to them.

Driving Engagement During the Event

Driving Engagement During the Event

Building connection doesn’t stop at on virtual event day! When it comes to the giving experience, you have to continue during the event, to capture their attention, motivate them to give and make them feel connected to what’s going on.

Here’s a few best practices to follow during your event, to deepen connection.

6. Provide regular progress updates

Frequent communication is key to maintaining momentum and keeping the auction top-of-mind with your supporters.

  • Invest in auction software that allows you to track bids for each item
  • Highlight your most popular items and recently-added ones
  • Showcase items without bids across social media and text messages
  • Have your auctioneer and volunteers record short videos with regular updates throughout the event
  • Post fundraising totals and percentage to goal regularly, throughout your event.

If your virtual event includes a raffle or other chance drawing, make your winners feel like rock stars and roll out the red carpet with a live drawing!

Finally, when it’s almost time to close the event, do so with a bang! Make sure everyone knows the specific close time and how close you are to reaching your goals.

7. Increase proceeds with gamification

By including a live stream with your event, you can use a scoreboard to showcase your top bidders and donors. Few things will excite your guests more than seeing their name flash across the big screen!

Do any of your staff, volunteer, or constituents have a special physical or artistic talent – such as dancing, playing a musical instrument, magic tricks, or stand-up comedy? If so, a virtual event is the perfect place to showcase them. Announce that this person will perform their talent live online for your community, but only if you meet or exceed your goals!

Your auction software should allow you to identify your event’s top contributors, such as bidders who place the most bids, donors who donate a certain amount or greater, and raffle ticket buyers who purchase a certain number of tickets. Be sure to reward them for their generosity with prizes like unique swag items, high-end electronics, entrance into an exclusive drawing, and anything else that would appeal to them and encourage maximum participation!

8. Recognize active participants

Your supporters are investing time and money to participate in your virtual event, and it’s your job to let them know how much you appreciate them.

Do this with targeted thank-you text messages and social posts as they make bids and donations, and don’t be surprised if their reaction is to bid and donate even more! Bonus points if your shout-outs match with your event’s theme!

Keep It Going After the Event

Keep It Going After the Event

9. Show Gratitude

Creating community and connection doesn’t stop with the last bid. In today’s virtual world, nonprofits are finding ways to keep the virtual afterglow going.

The key is to be prompt and to be sure you follow-up! In our recent Social Donor Study, 20% of all donors said they were never followed up with. That’s 1 in 5 that never heard from the nonprofit.

Don’t let that be your cause! Keep the positive vibes flowing. Be sure to:

  • Contact all the lucky winners (via text or email). Let them know how they’ll be receiving their items – i.e. if you will be shipping them to the winners or if you’ll be hosting contactless, curbside pickup.
  • Send thank you letters. Be sure to think beyond the standard form letter. Include impact of the event, share personal stories about how their contribution will help. Even handwriting a quick PS on a thank you letter can go a long way.
  • Pick up the Phone
  • Make a Video
  • Use your event website, social media, video to say thank you
  • Create honor roll lists to recognize all the awesome people who helped you succeed
  • Do post-event asks with encouragement if you’re still a little short of your goal.

10. Empower Supporters to Keep Connecting

Last – but certainly not least – empower your donors to strengthen their support and stay involved with your organization throughout the year. These tactics will vary from one nonprofit to the next but may include:

  • Send out a survey to gather feedback on this event and future events.
  • Invite them to attend other upcoming events.
  • Look for opportunities for them to conduct fundraising on your behalf.
  • Collect submissions for future award winners or honorees.
  • Share any current or future volunteer opportunities.
  • Invite them to sign a mission-relevant petition or pledge.

Guest Author:
Brandon Celentano
Brandon Celentano