Best Practices to Increase Virtual Participation Events

By Scott Jones, CFRE, CAI, BAS  

As we continue planning for fundraising special events, there are still so many unknowns.  Many non-profits successfully executed their first virtual event and are setting their sights on the potential second.  We have witnessed the transition from the basic Zoom webinar gala to incredible award winning level productions.  With vaccinations occurring on a daily basis, there is a heightened sense of hope of returning to live in-person events, something we are all very excited over.  However, there still remains a large number of organizations refraining from hosting live events in 2021 and understandably so.

Having made the decision to host a 2021 virtual event, many are wondering how do we get our constituents to “tune-in” to another virtual event.  Ticket sales remain constant, donations are holding on strongly, but attendance and participation during the broadcast is diminishing.

Here are a few suggestions to consider in the attempt to have increased or maximum virtual participation.  

  1. We have great success sending actual calendar invites to major donors and ticket purchasers so it’s on their calendar WITH all of the needed info/links to join embedded in the copy so they don’t have to search for it!
  2. We also recommend using a 90-day marketing and communication calendar to push relevant content daily for three months leading up to the event.
  3. Pre-event participation strategies. Attendees submit something (picture, video, etc.) and then that thing is featured and/or part of a competition at the event. If people take the time to submit, they usually take the time to show up to see themselves and/or see if they won (and donate!).
  4. A key strategy is a well-planned text and phone call campaign the day before and day of the gala with results of almost 100% participation being reported.  Then you can request the submission mentioned above.
  5. Raffle off “insert special item here” for online participants that are currently watching. Adding to the strategy: we’ve had great success with pre-event party packs (food, wine, etc) that included games that will be played during the livestream.

Example: A recent event offered $150 “Gala in a Box” packs that included a poker chip with a unique number on it, a scratcher that revealed a number on a roulette wheel, and a playing card. At three different points during the event the non-profit had opportunities for viewers to win prizes based on those three games. This resulted in all of the participants eagerly tuning in for the event and made the night-of event feel more interactive.

The core of fundraising is relationship building, fostering new ones and strengthening existing ones.  The ideas above are all based on the mindset of “what is important to our donors?” and “how do we involve them more?”  

Keep in mind, successful fundraising is based on the donor’s values, needs and what motivates them to participate.  Selling a ticket and not taking any further actions is an organizational need.  Find ways to communicate with your donors and create meaningful dialogue by determining what’s important to them.