The following is guest post from Meagan Downey, CRFE, Senior VP at Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt, a leading nonprofit consulting firm specialized in senior-level fundraising and development.
When COVID-19 hit, one of the most urgent needs we saw in the nonprofit community was the need to transition longstanding, in-person fundraising events to a virtual platform. Many organizations had to pivot quickly, including one of our clients, who converted their gala to a virtual event in less than a week and netted over $250,000 using OneCause.
As we’ve seen more and more organizations execute new virtual fundraising and cultivation events, it’s become abundantly clear to us that virtual events – or at least hybrid events – are here to stay. Here’s why:
Accessibility is more than just a buzzword. It’s a value.
Nonprofits that value accessibility are finding that creating a virtual component for fundraising events makes it possible for donors to engage in the mission without having to find a babysitter or leave the house. Donors don’t have to worry about the menu not working with their diet or the A/V not working with their hearing aids.
Instead, they can simply log on and enjoy the content you’ve made to showcase your work and the importance of their gift. Even as some organizations return to in-person events, hybrid events offering a virtual option will continue to be essential for organizations to engage a broader audience, regardless of an individual’s ability or comfort level with leaving the house.
Back when I worked for homeless services organizations in Chicago, we tried the ‘ungala’ (some coined it “stay home for the homeless”), but in those days, we simply couldn’t afford the advanced technology that is widely available and affordable today.
Platforms like OneCause now allow you to livestream your Executive Director or Board Chair, host live or silent auctions, and even launch large, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns that are not limited by location.
One of our clients used a TW&B OneCause package to renew gifts from lapsed donors and capture contact information without cumbersome emails or paper forms. They learned that their donors genuinely wanted more virtual engagement, and the beauty of OneCause is that a one-time annual subscription fee covers an unlimited number of virtual events throughout the year.
Prior to the pandemic, many nonprofits struggled to define and execute solid digital engagement strategies. Many organizations simply could not afford the expertise, staffing, or video and digital content production to executive a highly effective web presence.
If there is one silver lining for the nonprofit sector in these times, it’s that necessity has sharply accelerated creativity and investment to develop compelling, engaging digital content to reach new and important audiences.
And unlike an in-person event, that content can be targeted to reach your stakeholders over a longer period of time. Organizations that have seen a return on their investments in digital are likely going to continue to build out their online presence, even when in-person events are safe again.
In addition to all of the above, experts in the event industry cite increased value for sponsors in digital vs. physical signage and recognition. Jennifer Best, the Head of Marketing All Entertainment writes in Forbes about a benefit of virtual events that may be of particular interest to nonprofits for the long-term.
“Virtual events are budget-friendly…Not only are virtual events less expensive to produce, but virtual event speakers typically offer virtual speaking fees at discounted rates to offset the lack of travel needed.”
Given the myriad advantages of virtual events and the increased knowledge we have gained about the virtual fundraising space, it’s hard to imagine the sector going purely analog again.