The coronavirus pandemic is sweeping across the globe.
Human behavior itself is shifting towards online and digital as we social distance to slow the spread and save lives.
People are staying inside, working remotely, and as a result, the in-person events and fundraisers that nonprofits count on have to change.
While we can pine away for the times of yesterday, all signs point to the fact that the coronavirus crisis and it’s far-reaching effects are not going away anytime soon.
How do we as nonprofit professionals start thinking about raising money and connecting with supporters in a different way, in this new environment?
Nikki Garvey, Events Marketing at Google, puts it best:
“At their core, professional events are shared experiences.
They remind us that we’re humans bringing our unique personalities, talents, and relationships to work with us to build businesses every day.
But until we can reinstate them, I’m excited to see how we rethink them for our current times.”
I have 25 ideas for nonprofit virtual events that can raise money and build community.
But first I want to check in with you as people, and give you some advice to help you navigate through this new reality.
Here are five tips for adapting to the seismic shift in donor behavior and nonprofit fundraising brought on by coronavirus.
Know that your donors will accept this shift.
They are resilient, and they expect and want you to be as well. If you are taking an existing event virtual, people were already planning to go to the live event to support you. They are rooting for you and want you to succeed, and hopefully many of them will be there right beside you in this journey.
Start from a place of compassion.
We are shifting to virtual and away from in-person, IRL (in real life) events because we are concerned about the safety and health of our donors and supporters. Don’t appear angry or bitter (even though you have every right to be). Talk to your supporters as you would your friends and family. Make sure they understand that their safety and health are your very first priority when planning events.
Use the existing script.
You have an Events Committee. You have a plan, a protocol – bring them in! You will still need to solicit auction items, get sponsors excited, sell “tickets” and more. Many things will need to adapt and change, but a lot of what you have already created can still be used to plan and promote a virtual event.
Create a Special Events Steering Committee.
Don’t try to do this entirely by yourself! Find staff, volunteers, Board members, clients that are willing to help you brainstorm, troubleshoot, and adapt your events to go virtual.
Don’t overwhelm yourself.
Do not bite off more than you can chew. If you have never run an event on Facebook Live or Zoom, I wouldn’t recommend trying to bring in 50 people from 50 different locations to do a livestream concert or educational event.
Need ideas for your next event, or ways to take your current event virtual?
Here are 25 ideas for taking a nonprofit event virtual or creating one from scratch:
1) Virtual conference
I’ve been seeing a lot of my favorite conferences shift to virtual lately, as nonprofit organizations from the Association of Fundraising Professionals to smaller organizations like my local community foundation, the Essex County Community Foundation, take their signature conferences online.
Make sure you play up the fact that there is a lot of value added from going virtual – moving to a virtual conference means attendees can now have access to all the educational content instead of only a handful of sessions.
Claire Axelrad highlighted the Gateway Public Schools in San Francisco when they changed their event into a virtual disco telethon.
The entire five hour event is available now on YouTube:
The agenda breaks down like this:
3 PM: We’re live! All auctions and raffles are open for bidding.
5 PM: Gateway staff 70s karaoke challenge and silent auction showcase
6 PM: Vintage recipe demonstration and raffle drawings — find out live on-air if you won!
7 PM: Auctions close, Fund A Need begins
8 PM: ~Grand Finale~
3) Educational content
Susan G. Komen Florida is committed to helping its clients and supporters navigate this turbulent time by providing educational content via Facebook Live.
4) Virtual Arts Market
I got this idea from a member of the Nonprofit Social Media Storytelling Group.
One member’s monthly Arts Market was forced to go virtual, and said they have been getting more engagement than usual because of it.
Check it out if you’d like to see what a virtual arts market looks like.
Participating artists are posting their work on the event page and studio tours. They also have pre-recorded content (puppet show, music performance, etc.).
5) Virtual Summit
The world’s largest virtual HR conference attracts over 30,000 attendees ever year – the HR Virtual Summit.
All sessions are virtual, including keynotes and breakouts. Chat features support audience participation and attendees are rewarded with industry professional credits for free.
If you want to organize your own virtual summit, I have heard great things about the platform HeySummit.
They give you templates for the registration page, built in payment options, speaker page templates, email reminder templates, and more.
HeySummit has also created a detailed coronavirus virtual event guide.
6) Virtual walks
In early March, the March of Dimes went from expecting to hold 257 in-person spring fundraising walks, to having to pivot the entire program to virtual.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has to cancel it’s biggest fundraising program PurpleStrides, that occurs March through May.
It’s now directing supporters to channel their fundraising into their new Virtual Strider program where they ask people to start Facebook fundraisers.
GivePanel has released a brand new e-book: How to Get More People Fundraising for you on Facebook: The new Virtual Events model that is raising millions for Non-Profits on Facebook. Get your free copy on their website.
8) Leverage Facebook advertising
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation relies on supporters and volunteers to raise money by getting pledges to shave their heads to fight childhood cancer.
Due to social distancing, many of these live, in-person events could not go on as planned.
St. Baldrick’s turned to Facebook ads to encourage people to organize virtual shave-a-thons and still raise money and awareness for their mission.
Volunteers of America didn’t stop fundraising in the face of coronavirus, instead using Facebook ads to drive donations:
Every night at 9 PM, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performs “Bedtime with Bach” – videos of the members performing on Facebook, all from the safety of their individual homes in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra played Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” from their homes and broadcast live on YouTube.
10) Giving days
#GiveSTL day is scheduled for May 7, 2020, with a robust website explaining why the need now is greater than ever.
I love the countdown timer on the home page!
11) Flash Fundraising event
If you can secure a matching gift, have a “flash fundraising event” where you aim to raise a certain amount in a short amount of time, ideally 24 hours.
12) Live stream fundraising on Twitch
It’s easy to understand the appeal of live stream fundraising.
Streaming has redefined how people consume content and interact, and it’s making a huge impact on charity fundraising.
The most well-known platform, but also the most misunderstood by fundraisers, is Twitch.
On Twitch, creators spend hours outside of their live stream perfecting their craft and analyzing data to make business decisions.
It is important to know that playing a game on stream is just a content decision, not the entire identity of the Twitch creator.
Also, while gaming is the most prevalent thing streamed on Twitch it is not the only type of content.
People are streaming their interests, hobbies, and passions.
Since 2011 Twitch Creators have amassed over $150 million for charities around the world.
13) Social media takeover
Have staff, interns, volunteers take over your social media sites and add donation buttons, raising money for you for 24 hours or more.
14) Story contest
Road Scholar held a “Story in Six” contest to celebrate the year of the grandparent:
15) Virtual scavenger hunt
While we can’t go out and about in our towns right now, we can conduct scavenger hunts in our houses and backyards!
Watson Adventures organizes museum virtual scavenger hunts, trivia slam games, and virtual murder mystery games for teams and organizations.
16) Virtual FunDay
The Animal Welfare Association of New Jersey typically hosts its annual FunDay, where owners and pets join together for a Paws and Feet walk.
Since they can’t bring the full community together, AWANJ switched the event to a Virtual FunDay, in which participants can do the walk at any time, and then take photos to share with the community.
17) Virtual gala
The Camphill Foundation in New York City transitioned their annual gala to a Virtual Gala online fundraising campaign.
They are planning eight days of digital festivities, including an online auction, raffle,d and other giving opportunities.
Upaya Social Ventures in Seattle, WA counts on their annual Upaya Gala as their largest source of individual donations.
This year they are taking their Gala online, with a live auction held via YouTube, and the ability to support a “table” and create individual fundraising campaigns.
18) Virtual sale
The Edible Plant Sale, which has been running for more than 30 years and is considered by many to be a “rite of spring” in Seattle, attracts more than 4,000 attendees over the weekend.
When the Tilth Alliance realized that its May 2020 in-person Edible Plant Sale needed to be reimagined due to the coronavirus, the team went to work quickly to formulate a new strategy.
19) Talent show, spirit week, camp out, art show
Use Zoom or Google Hangouts and get people to register to show off their talents!
SkyView Academy, a PK-12 public charter school in Colorado, is hosting it’s first Virtual Talent Show on Facebook:
Getting seriously creative, SkyView Academy has also hosted:
A Virtual Art Show, featuring over 85 pieces of original student art;
A Virtual Camp Out, where people can post photos of how they are camping inside (or in their backyards);
Virtual Spirit Week with themed days.
20) Meditation Mondays and Wellness Wednesdays
Amirah Inc. is hosting Meditation Mondays to “add some positivity and calm” to our social media feeds.
Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC) has been hosting live Wellness Wednesdays, with meditation and other activities: 21) Social media task force
Create a COVID-19 Task Force, like Second Story did via an email request and a page on their website with simple instructions:
22) Facebook Live Q&A session
An example from Susan G. Komen Florida again, with their Facebook Live lunch and learn featuring tips and tools that help reduce anxiety and promote self-care and mental well-being.
23) Virtual Press Briefing
If you have an important announcement or timely, relevant news to share, consider organizing a virtual press briefing on Facebook, YouTube, or via Zoom/Google Hangout.
24) Virtual Happy Hour
This one is popular, and easy to organize!
Choose a platform and invite people to join with their beverage of choice.
Providing beverage ideas is always fun, as Lynne Wester of Donor Relations Guru does for her virtual happy hour events on Facebook”
Planned Parenthood of Utah had planned their 50th anniversary gala, HERSTORY, for March 28.
In a video email, President & CEO Karrie Galloway let people know that the event will go on at a later date, but invited people to have a virtual cheers with her online:
25) Direct appeal
Consider not having an event at all but just asking for help to support your emergency fund.
Many nonprofits have sent out emergency appeals via social media, email, and posted on their websites so that donors can easily find the information
3 Tools for Virtual Events
My number one tool for recording, sharing my screen, webinars, and conference calls is Zoom.
I can livestream to Facebook and YouTube simultaneously and save the recording to send out to participants.
When people register, I collect their email address so I can follow up.
Vmix allows streaming to multiple platforms simultaneously.
They offer a 60-day free trial.
Mevo is an all-in-one live streaming camera, controlled through your phone.
Go live to Facebook, Periscope, Twitter, YouTube, or any destinations that support RTMP.
Unlock simultaneous streaming to multiple social destinations with the Vimeo Producer and Vimeo Premium plans.
Getting ready to dive into Facebook Live video? You need this checklist!
If you are exploring using Facebook Live for your nonprofit, you need my Essential Facebook Live Checklist for Nonprofits!
In this freebie download, I cover exactly what you need to do to plan, prepare, go live, and follow up afterwards.
Enter your email and then keep an eye on your inbox!