This year we’ve seen everything from small team meetings to global awards nights go virtual as organisations re-think and transform the way they run meetings and events in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not surprisingly, fundraising is also going virtual as organisations look to raise money that, in many cases, has already been budgeted for.
Whether it be a gala event, a concert, walk-a-thon, running event, auction, telethon or singing contest, virtual fundraisers can be an effective and successful way to keep raising money and continue connecting with donors even if you can’t actually shake their hand.
With the popularity of online fundraising steadily increasing, there are a few things to keep in mind to help make your online fundraising campaign a success.
1. Establish what type of event you want to run
With the advantage of modern day webinar and video conferencing platforms, there are many different types of virtual fundraising events you can hold, including:
- Video conference trivia games, challenges, live or silent auctions, and even singing, dancing or juggling contests (to name a few)
- Virtual fun-runs or walk-a-thons, where participants track their own kilometres or minutes while raising funds. Participants can record and stream their walk or run to motivate others
- Live-streamed speeches, panel discussions or comedy events
- Video conference presentations, followed by a Q&A.
2. Determine your goal
Start by working out how much money you need to raise, and for whom you’re raising it.
When you determine your final target, break it down into the costs of all the actual ‘moving parts’. For example, if you’re raising money to get a small business off the ground, detail how much you’ll need for development costs or initial stock, bond and rent, wages and salary, travel and accommodation, building a website and marketing, and so on.
Donors that know how their money is going to be spent are more inclined to give, so clear definitions will help your cause.
3. Plan your event schedule
Map out the event timeline, which will help you determine what to include and what you might need to leave out.
Should you include a live stream, manage your fun-run remotely, or pre-record interviews?
You might want to live-stream a presentation from a key stakeholder, share a presentation, ask a program participant to pre-record a video of their speech, or run a live online auction from a studio.
4. Choose a video conferencing platform
When it comes to choosing a technology provider for your virtual fundraiser, your video conferencing options have come along in leaps and bounds thanks to the growth of the cloud, and advances in the quality and affordability of software and hardware.
Providers you may have heard of include companies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Google Meets, BlueJeans, Skype, GoToMeeting and Cisco Webex, as well as Redback Connect, which all offer video conferencing solutions.
The best online video conferencing services can be easily customised for different event formats, and use a suite of different functions depending on your requirements.
This should extend from basic options such as sharing files, to more sophisticated offerings such as multi-camera support.
Live chat and the ability to screen-share and vote can make virtual events more engaging and interactive.
Ensure you cater for the number of participants and video feeds you’ll need – while some platforms offer an unlimited amount, others can be restricted to as few as four participants.
The bigger the event, the more important reliable technology and support will be. It may be worth having live operator support, or you may wish to do your own tech troubleshooting if issues arise.
5. Choose an online fundraising platform
When it comes to deciding on an online fundraising platform, there are plenty to choose from.
A few key things to consider, include:
- Fees: Be aware of fee structures. These can include payment processing, which usually includes both a flat percentage plus a transaction fee, as well as platform fees. Some platforms charge only a payment processing fee while others charge both a processing and a platform fee. Some are free for the fundraiser, but ask donors for a donation when checking out to help cover platform expenses. Some platforms increase fees if you don’t meet your goal, while others will only let you receive the money if you meet (or beat) your target.
- Ease of use: If donors are going to the trouble of giving you their money, it’s critical to make it easy for them to donate. While most fundraising sites are pretty straight-forward, some encourage donors to spend time on their website by providing content about giving, and fundraising success stories that urge people to get involved. Test them out and if they seem too complex, move on.
- Support: Investigate the level of customer support available. Some platforms offer a phone helpline and live chat, while others only provide email.
- Access: Also check out how easy it will be for you to access the funds you raise. Some platforms won’t allow you to access donations before the campaign duration has expired, while others let you start withdrawing funds as soon as you start receiving them.
- Social sharing: Investigate the social networking tools the platform provides. The best platforms are integrated with tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email to make it easy to share your campaign.
6. Tell your story
A compelling story explaining why you’re raising money, and why it’s a cause worth supporting is critical to any fundraising effort. A good way to start is to break it down to the basics by addressing the questions most donors are likely to consider, such as:
- Who are the funds for?
- What is the cause you’re supporting?
- Why is it important?
- When will the funds be donated?
- How will they be used?
Write different versions of your story for different marketing and communications channels, such as a longer form article, a shorter news-style story, an email, and social posts for each of your social networks.
It’s also a good idea to plan for content for updates along the way, and to highlight milestones, including photos and videos, to raise awareness as your campaign progresses.
Video can be a powerful way to tell your story. Think about filming interviews with potential recipients or making a video that illustrates the problem you’re trying to solve.
7. Create a strategy for sharing
Make some noise. The more you raise awareness of your fundraiser, the more donations you’ll receive.
Create your own website landing page that links directly to your campaign.
Post several times during your campaign on every social channel you can. Vary the message to suit the channel and because the same people might be following you on more than one social network.
Include your campaign in email newsletters and send out a couple of emails in the lead-up to your fundraiser – but don’t annoy your potential donors with too many. A teaser, an update, and a thank you will most likely suffice.
Create a blog (or, even better, utilise one with a ready-made audience) and post about your fundraising campaign.
Depending on the profile of your target donor, you might also want to create flyers, set up a bulletin board or try and get your campaign into local or other relevant media.
8. Make it engaging and fun
When it comes to virtual events, it’s important to maintain a constant flow and include different elements to keep your audience engaged.
You could invite a sponsor or large donor to come along, discuss their support for the campaign and then hand over a ‘big cheque’ during a live broadcast or webinar.
You can also feature some recipients of your services live, or in pre-recorded videos.
Include interactive elements such as virtual chat rooms where people can donate or leave comments of support, or offer phone lines via a hybrid teleconferencing service that enables donors to call in.
It’s also a good idea to include some free things to give away such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, or key chains – a sponsor or donor might also be able to help with that.
Offer sponsors the chance to include small incentives that you can provide to donors who meet a certain requirement. For example, ‘Donate $50 and you’ll receive a $10 online voucher to spend’, or ‘Donate $100 and go into the draw to win a prize’.
Another way to incentivise donors is to ask a sponsor or a large donor to match every donation over a certain amount.
9. Say thanks
Building a good relationship with your donors will help spread the word, so make sure you send a heartfelt, genuine thank-you to everyone that gets involved.
A short, personalised email will do the trick.
You can also offer to keep donors up-to-date on the progress of your activities after the campaign has closed to maintain their interest. You never know when you might need to ask for their help again.