Resiliency has been the guiding force of the nonprofit industry since the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 social distancing norms and the cancellation of in-person events sent supporters from the ballroom into their living rooms and nonprofit professionals back to the drawing board on how to sustain their missions.
As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, nonprofits and their supporters are headed back to the ballroom! It’s an exciting time, but it has created the immediate need to re-examine our event strategies. This move back to in-person fundraising has emphasized the need for bringing people back together in comfortable and engaging ways, with guest safety top of mind.
With this guide, you can plan a safe, socially distanced fundraising event. We’re here to help make the process smooth as possible with expert advice and top strategies to help your nonprofit engage in a safe environment for your supporters through every step of the process.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Until life fully returns to “normal,” social distancing will be a critical component of going back to in-person events. Remember, your fundraising event is about spreading the joy of your mission – not germs!
This means your team needs to rethink the flow of your event and master the art of social distancing.
It seems like every country, state, and local municipality has different guidelines for hosting safe in-person events, but there are basic steps every nonprofit should incorporate into the plans to put guests at ease and protect your cause.
It’s more important than ever to open a direct line of communication with your attendees. Your top priorities are safety and communication while planning your event. Show them much you care about their well-being while also reducing risks at your event.
Another way to ensure the safety of your guests is by implementing a contactless process for exchanging or verifying items like tickets or identification, eliminating paper bid sheets, and having electronic payments at the event. Let mobile bidding software do the work for you!
OneCause recently surveyed 1,026 Social Donors who had donated to a fundraising event within the last 12 months.
The survey was designed to capture the shifting attitudes, motivators, and future intentions of these donors – including if and when they’d be ready to return to in-person fundraising events.
Almost 6-in-10 donors surveyed said they will feel comfortable attending an in-person fundraising event by Summer 2021, and 71% by the end of the year. The biggest factors impacting their decision to attend an in-person event center around vaccinations.
Important factors for in-person events included:
Boomer and Mature donors are more likely to need additional safeguards, with a higher percentage of respondents from those generations more comfortable if there were low transmission rates/hospital rates in their area, the CDC.
The most important thing to know is what’s important to your donors as you’re bringing them back into the ballroom. Ask your supporters in your next email communication what their preference is or add it as a question to your donation form. Or call a small group of VIP donors and ask them where they are with in-person events.
A strong promotion and communication plan leading up to your event assures attendees that you take their safety seriously and tells them you’re following health guidelines. It will also help your team feel more confident welcoming people back to your events!
First, create a transparent plan that tells your supporters what to expect from the event and answers questions they might have about attending. Be sure to coordinate with local health officials, follow the current CDC guidelines, and reach out to meeting spaces, hotels, and venues to confirm their regulations and guidelines.
Your organization’s preparedness plan should include:
Once your preparedness plan is created, appoint a single person or dedicated team (for larger events) to oversee the communication of the plan before, during, and after your event.
Use multiple channels to spread the word about your nonprofit’s event and your team’s preparedness plan (website, social media, email, text message). We recommend establishing your Giving Center or fundraising site as a single source of truth for your attendees.
It’s best to keep an updated log as things continue to change and evolve leading up to your event. Add the date and timestamp to your updates so attendees know you are actively monitoring the situation.
While most of your marketing efforts will remain the same as before, it’s important to be sure that your mission and your guests’ safety are at the forefront of your messaging. Here are best practices when marketing your in-person event:
Tap into the power of social influence to market your fundraising event. Identify your most engaged supporters (board members, top donors, and volunteers) and have them share why your mission and your event is important to them. Even better – have them create a video sharing their ‘why’ and promote it on your website and social channels for all supporters to see!
Now that we’ve covered the importance of social distancing, let’s break down what that looks like at each stage of your event.
While you can’t ensure a virus-free environment, reducing contact and keeping guests distanced will help guest feel comfortable and safe. That way, during your event, they can focus on what matters most – supporting your mission!
Many nonprofits are getting creative with how they can check supporters in, and do so fast, while maintaining social distance guidelines. Check out these creative ideas to get your supporters seamlessly and safely checked in.
Taking time to plan out your registration flow, maximize contactless practices, and incorporating technology creates a seamless guest experience and sets the tone for the rest of your event.
For OneCause Customers, use your Mobile Bidding software to look up your supporters, check them in, and text them a one-click login link to your Giving Center.
There’s no question that food and beverage remains an important part of the in-person event experience. However, until we are fully past the pandemic, we still need to take safety precautions when it comes to in-event eating and drinking.
Don’t worry! That doesn’t mean it needs to be eliminated. It just means you need to add a little creativity and logistical planning to your process.
Just like other parts of the event, clearly informing attendees of safety measures and closely following current health guidelines is key. Be sure to follow WHO and/or the U.S Food & Drug Administration (depending on your event’s location) recommendations for COVID-19 food safety. Remember to clearly communicate plans and precautions to guests at key points throughout the event journey (e.g., at ticket purchase, in pre-event communications, check-in, and in line.)
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how nonprofits are getting creative with food and drink options! Here are our favorites:
When thinking through options at your event, the golden rule is low-touch, high-taste. Serve food that has minimal exposure and tastes delicious.
While an event’s schedule, venue, and food play a major role in determining the guests’ experience and ensuring their safety, the event’s seating is just as important.
When it comes to seating and flow here are a few recommended best practices:
While guests will be eager to connect and socialize, it’s important to keep the event flow and foot traffic top of mind.
Signs with reminders about social distancing and safety best practices are also helpful. And the more you can control where they mingle and how long they mingle, the better! Your run of show will help with that.
Silent auctions are extremely engaging for guests and can be adapted for all types of audiences. They can be easily added to events like live auctions, galas, and banquets. However, silent auctions do require planning and careful strategy to generate revenue for your cause while keeping guests safe.
In order to have a seamless and smooth experience for your guests, your team will need to be organized and plan ahead. We’ll spend some time in this section breaking down which silent auction items to display and how to display them.
Paper bidding and silent auction bid sheets have been the traditional way of managing silent auctions, but the rise of mobile bidding & the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the auction landscape as we once knew it.
Mobile bidding allows your nonprofit to put the auction in the palm of every donor’s hand instead of your guests touching the same pens and paper. This makes it so much easier for your nonprofit to track and record auction winners and keeps your donors safe.
Different functions and features of mobile bidding have resulted in significant improvements for nonprofits that move from paper bid sheets to mobile bidding. These include:
Although they get the job done, silent auction bid sheets may be holding you back from new donors, more revenue, and better donor experience.
The benefits of flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and the ability to reach wide audiences make mobile bidding a no-brainer.
Picture this: you’ve just procured the latest and greatest items for your silent auction. You know your donors are going to love them and the bids will be flying in. Now, how do you choose which ones to bring onsite?
If there is one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic: less is more. Less auction items and reducing the number of physical items you bring to the event is important. Remember, a portion of your donor base may still choose to participate remotely in your fundraising. Rely on your mobile bidding technology and online auction software to display items online, making it easy for attendees to find and bid on your auction!
So, keeping the less is more strategy in mind, the items that you should bring onsite include:
Items to not bring onsite include:
Now that you know which items to bring onsite, the next step is figuring out how to arrange them. When doing so, keep in mind:
Your guests still love the excitement and suspense of winning auction items, and they’ll take comfort in the fact that they are safely bidding while supporting a cause they care about.
For your donors, the giving experience plays a large factor in turning one-time donors into lifetime supporters. If your donors can give easily, they’re more likely to have a favorable opinion of your nonprofit and engage in the future.
Make sure you have the right software to manage your charity auction. Without the right tools, you’ll risk losing out on your donors’ support. The best technology allows you to easily register your guests, track their information, encourage bidding early and often, and execute a flawless check-out experience – more on that next.
By following these best practices, your silent auction is sure to be a success.
After the bidding, the most important aspect of your silent auction is checkout. Often times check out can be even more crowded than registration because your guests are leaving at once versus arriving at staggered times.
Here are a few options to choose from to make checkout safe and efficient:
Keep in mind, your guests’ happiness and satisfaction can affect the success rate of future events, so you’ll want to be sure your checkout process is perfected to be quick and painless.
Now that you’ve mastered the art of social distancing at every step, let’s dive the art of engaging your donor base at your event, developing the perfect programming, and finally, fundraising for your cause.
In a recent survey of 1,026 Social Donors, we found that in order to engage today’s donors, you have to tap into their core motivators.
Social Donors are motivated to donate to a cause for these top reasons:
Ease, mission, and impact – your secret formula to engaging your donors. Let’s break it down to see how you can tap into motivators to, well, motivate giving!
Remember to create a mix of motivators to drive engagement for your guests and revenue for your organization – maximizing your in-person fundraising.
You have the power to bring your mission to life – it all comes down to how you plan your event programming. Here are some ideas and best practices to get you started:
The best event programming will leave your supporters feeling empowered, inspired, and motivated to give. Rock it out!
Fundraising activities at your in-person event can come in many shapes and sizes – so the sky’s the limit in what your nonprofit can spin-up and execute. Find what fits your mission and your donor landscape.
For OneCause customers, turning your mobile bidding Giving Center into your central online auction, donation, fixed price catalog, and sales portal is as simple as a few clicks. (If you’re not currently a OneCause customer, we can get you up and running in no time. Feel free to take a tour and see for yourself.)
Our fundraising experts at OneCause shared their top advice for driving bids and fundraising dollars at your next event. Check them out!
As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s as important as ever to connect your donors to your mission with fundraising activities that make giving easy and fun. It keeps your recurring donors engaged and helps turn first-time donors into life-long donors.
Explore our complete list of silent auction strategies for more tips, like gamification techniques and how to close your auction to maximize bids.
Getting back in-person with your donors has been a long time coming. With this planning guide, you and your team should be well-equipped to create a safe and fun event for your team and your donors.
As with any fundraising event, thorough planning plays an important role in guaranteeing a return on all the hard work and resources you’ve invested. Get started early, stay organized, and have fun! You’ll be back to the ballroom in no time.