A virtual fundraising event. It sounds easy right? There’s no need to physically show up somewhere on a specific day, at a specific time. It can be done from anywhere in the world. And, with the right publicity, it has the potential to reach a much wider audience of attendees, far beyond a limited geographic radius.
Yes. A virtual fundraising event sounds easy. But, if you’re looking to plan one, don’t be fooled. Although the benefits speak for themselves, it comes with its own set of challenges. I should know, I just organized one.
I, alongside Tiffany Wagner from CIVIC Entertainment Group, co-chaired Veterinarians International’s inaugural Healthy Steps For Healthy Pets walkathon. The virtual fundraising event invited people from all over the world to participate in a month-long initiative to raise monies and awareness for animals in need of veterinary care across the globe.
It launched in September with a brand new microsite and gave supporters a chance to order special walkathon swag. Then, on Saturday, October 3, the virtual fundraiser concluded as humans and their four-legged companions took to the sidewalks of their own neighborhoods as they walked 0.5 miles. Meanwhile, in East Hampton, an intimate group gathered at The Baker House 1650 for a celebratory, and CDC regulated, Healthy Steps For Healthy Steps in person event.
But, as with any first experience, there are lessons to be learned. Here are 4 things I learned about organizing a virtual fundraiser:
It’s Important To Set Boundaries
Now that the virtual fundraiser is over, I realize how much of my time I actually dedicated to it. All of it. Between working from home and everything being so easily accessible from my phone, I made myself available nearly 24/7. But it’s important, especially if you are volunteering, to block out designated time to plan the event.
Schedule virtual meetings on a calendar, prepare social media days in advance, and keep as much communication as possible to emails and calls. Maybe some people enjoy doing business via text but, personally, it makes me nervous. Mentally, I perceive text messages as a social interaction rather than a professional one. I can’t keep track of text chains and they often go unanswered for hours. But in order to avoid falling behind, I was constantly looking at my phone, quick to jump when new information came in.
I didn’t set boundaries, for myself or for others. It’s important to clearly define what mediums you’ll be communicating through and time frames you’ll be doing it. Otherwise, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and create a burnout feeling.
Images and Copy Matter
In person events leave little room for interpretation. When you’re speaking to a room you have numerous cues that aid in your message: your tone of voice, your body language, the decor, even the crowds energy. When you host a virtual fundraiser you only have two things—images and copy. And they are interdependent.
Images and copy go hand in hand to tell a compelling story. They help each other convey a message and act as the two most important tools to achieving a fundraising goal.
Think of images as the door to your event. They attract supporters to explore a website and learn more. You need visually appealing photos that are welcoming and accurately capture the organizations overall mission. Now, think of copy as the key to your door. It is what turns a potential supporter into an active participant and unlocks your fundraisers potential. Without the door and key, your supporters are left on the outside.
I wrote 95% of the copy for Healthy Steps For Healthy Pets. I write for a living, so it made sense to put most of my efforts there. While it was time consuming and tedious, all the editing and rewriting, it not only attracted new awareness but created a critical dialogue.
Engagement Is Key
Virtual fundraisers are just that, virtual. So, keeping participants engaged is perhaps the most important part. Since you don’t have the ability to go up to your supporters and thank them in person for “showing up” keeping a steady flow of communication goes a long way.
Social media is typically the first thing that comes to mind to engage a virtual audience. Post pics, create a hashtag, tag others, comment on everything. While that is a large part of it, do not underestimate the continued power of email blasts. When someone signs up for a fundraiser that means they are interested in a cause. Tap into that.
When our microsite launched on September 3 engagement was initially kept to social media. Then a lightbulb went off. Why not send a daily email to our supporters with fundraising tips, facts about where the money goes, and a personal story relating to the cause? So, I sent out one every day when the 10-day countdown arrived. It not only engaged our audience by connecting them to the organization on a heartfelt level but it encouraged them to go the extra mile with raising money.
Whether a participant is competing for the top prize or simply joining for fun, engaging an audience from the moment they sign-up to the event day itself can turn them into long-term supporters.
You’ll Never Regret Doing More
I truly believe I did all I could, and more, for the virtual fundraiser. But, a few weeks before October 3, an intimate, CDC regulated, in-person gathering was organized for event day. It took place at The Baker House 1650 in East Hampton where the local community and their pups enjoyed a much needed stroll to the beach and reception that followed. Originally, I was unable to attend. But as co-chair I made sure to be there. It was beautiful and well thought out.
It was here that I made my biggest, and perhaps only, mistake. Since I wasn’t part of the planning of the in person event, or the email correspondence that led up to it, I went from actively spearheading the initiative to being a passive participant. While the in person event was a success, I can still recall all the little ways I could have helped but didn’t think to in that moment. The attention is in the detail and I let my attention slip. As a professional, whether it is something I agreed to do or not, that should never happen.
And so, the biggest lesson learned here is actually the final one. Always follow up with anything and everything that your name is attached to. You might regret not doing enough for a fundraiser, but you will never regret doing more. Push beyond the exhaustion, physical or mental, until you cross the finish line.
Fundraising events act as a lifeline for many non-profits. They raise necessary financial support in order to carry out the organizations mission. Plus, they draw in new potential donors through entertainment, engagement, and live auctions. Although the pandemic has cancelled most to all in person events, fortunately, virtual fundraisers took their place.
Virtual fundraisers might be the new normal for a while, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. Get creative and get excited! The potential is literally endless with what you can do.
If you need help with your virtual fundraiser reach out to me on LinkedIn at Nicole Teitler or email me at NTeitler@gmail.com