Essential Tips for Your First Virtual Fundraising Event

So, you want to plan a virtual event? Digital fundraising is an efficient and cost-effective way to deliver content to a broad audience and connect with partners and donors. And, surely, planning something that takes place online has to be easier than organizing an in-person affair, right? Well, not quite.

Some event organizers are surprised to learn that planning a virtual event isn’t the “piece of cake” they initially envisioned. With that said, we think it’s well worth the effort. The pros of hosting an online event far outweigh the cons, and with proper direction, you can do it! The following information will guide you through the process.

Types of Virtual Events

Organizations worldwide have made the shift to virtual fundraising and online giving. While some have found ways to add online components to their existing campaigns, others have taken the plunge into fully online events.

There are countless ways to use the power of the Internet to attract donors and maximize returns. Imagine opening up your online auction to vendors and bidders across all seven continents. Today, it’s entirely possible!

Are you motivated yet?

Virtual fundraising events come in all shapes and sizes. Before you begin brainstorming, you’ll have to decide which type of virtual event you want to produce. Let’s dive in!

1. Fully Virtual Events

A virtual fundraiser is a campaign or event that takes place entirely online and allows supporters to engage with your cause from anywhere. Because the fundraising takes place entirely online, nonprofits use technology to promote, engage, and execute their fundraising activities.

As virtual events are well, virtual, they can be executed quickly and opened up to a wide audience. Virtual events can absolutely increase your nonprofit’s reach. Virtual fundraisers are also highly flexible – so the options are limitless for what your nonprofit can spin-up and execute.

2. Hybrid Events

Think of hybrid events as the “best of both worlds,” blending fundraising best practices and technology to create seamless giving experiences.

A hybrid fundraising event takes place both online and in-person. There are two audiences engaged in your fundraising, at the same time, just from different locations. You can reach those who want to engage in-person and include those who’d rather engage virtually, by connecting them to your events through a livestream.

Why Host a Virtual Event?

Whether you opt for a virtual or hybrid event, there are many potential benefits, like higher visibility of your mission and increased content availability. Other incentives include cost-effectiveness, eco-friendliness, and measurability.

Wider Reach

When you opt to host a virtual or hybrid event, you can expand your audience and increase the likelihood that someone will connect with and donate to your mission. Instead of hosting only local attendees and people willing to travel, your charitable event will be open to people all over the country or, if you prefer, the world!

Long-Term Accessibility

You might have heard the saying, “the Internet is forever.” It’s true!

Hosting a virtual or hybrid event means you’ll have a recording of your entire program. You can share the entire video or re-purpose the content to create smaller snippets and highlights.


A venue, decor, food, beverages, and entertainment adds up quickly. A virtual event can be more cost-effective than a hybrid or in-person event because of the reduced or eliminated overhead costs.

Admittedly, hybrid events can cost more than strictly online or in-person events, but with the increase in the cost of planning comes an expected increase in the return on investment.

Even better, attendance doesn’t cost your guests as much! They stand to save money on gas, rental vehicles, airline flights, hotel stays, meals, and any other expenditures that frequently come with traveling to a venue. Some of that savings could translate to larger donations.

Environmental Factors

There’s an element to online event planning that is often overlooked but, for eco-conscious organizers, it just might top the list of pros! Virtual events are usually more eco-friendly. By eliminating or lessening the need for travel, you are likely reducing the carbon footprint of your event.

Quantifiable Data

A key draw of virtual and hybrid events is that they enable the collection of a myriad of metrics that can’t be measured at in-person affairs. From pertinent data about the audience to opinions on the attendee experience, comprehensive information can be gathered and analyzed.

Virtual Event Planning

Note that we didn’t mention simplicity as one of the benefits of hosting a virtual event. Although a small and straightforward online function might be easier to organize than an in-person gathering, putting together a more complicated digital event can be just as involved.

There are many steps to the process and roles that need to be filled. The technical aspects alone could deter organizations without a strong IT staff, but don’t throw in the towel just yet!

The following steps will help you stay on track. They outline the ideal procedure and have been tested with even the most complicated scenarios.

Step 1 – Establish clear goals.

Determining your goals early in the process will keep your plans focused from start to finish. Begin by setting specific revenue and engagement goals for your virtual event.

Step 2 – Do your research.

Find examples of the types of events you’re considering, review virtual fundraising success stories, and identify key components to your success.

Step 3 – Strategize!

Based on your findings, establish a vision that includes details such as: budget, target audience, date/time, theme, format, cost of attendance, planning timeline, and key performance indicators.

Step 4 – Create a master task list.

Create a list of all of the individual jobs associated with your strategy. It will serve as a guide and enable you to monitor your progress.

Step 5 – Assign teams and roles.

Depending on the complexity of your function, you may or may not need all of the teams and roles listed below. In any case, this index should give you an indication of the individual categories and duties associated with hybrid and virtual event planning.

If you’re filling roles with volunteers, begin targeted outreach. Once you’ve gathered your event staff, share your vision with the people who will help you bring it to fruition!

  • Budget
    • Set financial expectations early, and revisit them often. This team will keep track of the multitude of factors associated with expense tracking and donations.
  • Logistics
    • You might not have expected to see logistics on this list, but addressing requirements associated with a locale is necessary if you’ve chosen a hybrid model. It will be important to iron out details related to venue and transportation.
  • Technology
    • Adequate technical preparations are a must. Do your best to ensure that qualified individuals carefully evaluate the platform(s) you will use for online connections, interaction, donations, feedback, moderation, and analytics. Expect to make decisions on software, audio/video equipment, bandwidth, redundancy, and security.
  • Branding
    • Keeping your materials and messaging consistent with your brand is crucial, especially when it comes to fundraising. The trust factor is key, so you’ll want to ensure that participants can immediately associate the event with your organization. Pay particular attention to look and feel.
  • Sponsorship
    • If you are planning to seek financial assistance or solicit material donations from other individuals or organizations, create a position or group that manages partnerships, giveaways, and advertising agreements.
  • Marketing
    • The popular line from Field of Dreams applies here, with one caveat—”If you build it, they will come,” as long as they know about it! Assign a person or team to advertise your event using all available channels, including:
      • Traditional: print ads/articles, press releases, billboards, community boards, mailings, and media.
      • Virtual: website content (event site, main site banner(s), blog posts), online press releases, organizational newsletter, digital ads, and social media.
  • Program
    • To generate momentum and energy for virtual or hybrid audiences, you’ll need a team dedicated to creating a fully flushed out program and timeline. Create and publish your program and timeline on your fundraising site (Giving Center for OneCause customers). You can also post it on social media, your website, and other communication platforms you are using.
  • Participant Experience
    • The quality of the guest experience is paramount to the success of any event, consider creating a team that’s entirely focused on your participants. Have them think through ways to make engaging with your mission easy and enjoyable.


Step 6 – Set expectations.

Remember that master task list we mentioned? Use it to create individual checklists you can distribute to each individual or team. Utilizing a digital platform for project management will allow you to stay on top of what’s been done and what needs doing.

Step 7 – Manage your event staff.

Without micromanaging, keep a close watch on the progress of your teams. Remember that certain tasks will require collaboration between individuals or groups, so communication is key!

Step 8 – Begin marketing.

When planning is in full swing and most of the crucial elements have been set in stone, it’s time to begin letting the public know what you’ve got in store.

Step 9 – Prepare the venue.

If you plan on using an event space for your program, you’ll need to focus on the optics. Concentrate on aspects like stage, sound, and backdrop(s).

Step 10 – Run through the program.

At least one test run is encouraged so you can identify potential problems with technical components and timing.

Step 11 – Launch!

The time of your event has arrived and it’s time to go live! It’s been a long road, but your job isn’t done yet. There are a few more items on your agenda.

Depending on your campaign and the fundraising technology you choose, execute your launch plan. Be sure to:

  • Turn off ticketing options. If you are selling tickets online, be sure to have a cut off date/time, and clearly communicate when ticket sales will close for all attendees.
  • Start the bidding. We recommend opening up bidding at least one week before your event. But if you did not do pre-bidding, be sure to open your auction early on event day.
  • Turn on your online donations, fixed price items, and any other online fundraising activities.
  • Clearly explain the bidding and donation process to your attendees. Provide instructions on a custom page, have an FAQ page, or supply a quick training video on your site.
  • Send frequent communications and updates to your supporters to keep the momentum going and sustain bidding leading up to your event.

Step 12 – Conclude the event.

The clock is ticking, and the end of your virtual fundraiser is almost here.

Conclude your fundraising event with a grand finale, and close out all fundraising activities.

Step 13 – Thank your donors

Congrats on making it through your virtual fundraising event! After any fundraising event, following up is critical.

To drive long-term engagement, immediately follow-up with donors and express your gratitude to everyone who attended and donated. Thank them for their support, talk specifically about the impact of their gifts, and offer additional ways to stay engaged with your cause.

You might even take the opportunity to invite them to a virtual tour, educational session, or volunteer activity! Consider sending a post-event survey, to generate more insights on your event’s strengths and areas for improvement.

Step 14 – Discuss the results.

Evaluate the success of your event by tracking your performance and using the reporting/analytics in your fundraising software.

Tracking your results with mobile bidding software will save everything in a centralized location for your team to success and analyze.

Be sure to follow up with teams, review the outcome of the event, and get people’s perspectives. Your next event is dependent on the success of this one, so analyze your data, celebrate wins, and learn from mistakes.

Tips for a Successful Virtual Event

We hope that these steps enable you to capitalize on the talents of your staff and the functionality of your chosen tools. Before you head off to begin laying the groundwork for your event, we have ten tips for you to keep in mind.

1. Don’t try to create an online version of an in-person event.

In-person and virtual events are similar, but they are not the same. If you simply try to put a live in-person event online, you will forego some of the key benefits associated with the digital medium. Concentrate on the experience, and take full advantage of your technology—don’t just upload digital versions of an in-person program and call it a day. Allow all attendees to participate!

2. Consider using a virtual event management platform instead of a basic video conferencing tool.

Just as not all formats are created equal, online communication tools can be significantly different. It might be tempting to use your existing video conferencing software for an event, but that’s not always the best decision. When you evaluate your needs and goals, you might find that your trusty team meeting app doesn’t cut it when it comes to presentations, donations, engagement, and monitoring.

Luckily, software like the OneCause Virtual Fundraising Software is designed to take virtual experiences to the next level! With fundraising at the forefront, these tools focus on the key elements that go into creating your vision, telling your story, delivering quality content, and motivating donors.

3. Make your event interactive.

The last thing anyone wants to do is sit and listen to speakers for hours on end. After a while, even the most interesting content becomes white noise. So how do you keep your audience engaged? Generally speaking, for every 15 minutes of presentation time, there should be at least 5 minutes of attendee interaction.

The extra effort to keep attendees engaged is sure to pay off!

4. Allow ample time for planning and testing.

Most virtual event roadmaps suggest allowing at least three to four months for event planning and production. By thoughtfully assessing the time it should take to see your steps through, you’ll avoid the headaches that come with miscalculating your timeline. Above all, don’t neglect the testing phase.

5. If you’re on a tight timeline, simplify your event.

The success of an event matters more than its bells and whistles. People might not notice that something nonessential is missing, but they will probably detect when unnecessary “extras” have gone wrong. If you’re short on time, scale back.

6. Redundancy and security are critical.

All of the planning in the world won’t save your event if your technology fails. Explore redundancy and backup options, and try not to leave any single point of failure.

Security is also a primary concern, so put your attendees at ease by following these “7 Practices to Make Your Virtual Fundraising Event Secure & Private.”

7. Use gamification tools.

Gamification is an extremely effective way to ensure donors stay excited throughout the event. Fundraising thermometers, auction leaderboards, and ambassador contests and awards ceremonies can all boost your event’s energy and drive stronger fundraising results.

8. Request donations of goods and services.

Before purchasing items to give away, raffle off, or add to your online auction, try to find companies willing to donate services and tangible items. You might be surprised what organizations are willing to contribute, especially if they support your cause. For example, the Let’s Roam Foundation offers highly-rated adventure books and scavenger hunts, and partners with eligible organizations to give people access to exciting experiences.

9. Be prepared to pivot.

During the planning process or, at times, while a function is ongoing, it might be necessary to quickly come up with ideas to address unforeseen circumstances. Carefully monitor all aspects of your strategy and execution, and be prepared to make changes on the fly.

10. When in doubt, rely on the experts.

If you find the experience of planning a virtual event overwhelming, don’t be afraid (or too proud) to seek guidance or outsource tasks to experts. One of the strengths of a good leader is the ability to recognize and work around their own shortcomings.

There are companies that specialize in customizing virtual events, and their services are available at a reasonable cost. When all is said and done, the expense will be well worth achieving your objectives!

About the Author

Jordan Stella is the Senior SEO Manager at Let’s Roam, an adventure and tour company committed to helping curious explorers discover new things and connect with others. He’s spent the last decade helping early to mid stage startups streamline their content strategy, outrank their competition on Google, and build highly scalable and profitable businesses.