Since March, we have all become Zoom masters. Depending on our line of work, and connectivity with our family/friends, Zoom is now something we say and do daily. I know some in the corporate sector who have no fewer than five to seven Zoom calls per day, and that does not include personal Zooms with family and friends! We have also seen the advent of virtual life events. Zoom weddings, bar mitzvahs, and even funerals. 

Let’s do a quick recap. Anything that happened before March 2020, happened literally in a different world. It was a different time. Words don’t seem to do it justice. Much of what we knew BC (before Corona) is no longer true. If experts and psychologists are correct, how we live our lives from here on out will never be the same. 

In regards to nonprofit events, over the last few months, those on the planning side went through a range of emotions (fear to worry) and actions (multiple postponements). In my previous article, we discussed what you can do NOW as we are in a bit of a “watch and wait” phase. Many nonprofits are past the postponement phase. Signature annual events, such as galas, have large attendee numbers, and likely will not happen in 2020 in most places, specifically in California where my clients are located. Also, consideration for the development/fundraising calendar is key. The event cannot be postponed that late into 2020, as that jeopardizes your fundraising abilities for the 2021 event.

Virtual Fundraising Events: Now What?

As the planner, you are at the “my event cannot happen anytime soon” phase. Now what? After the shock wears off, the next question is: does a virtual fundraising event make sense? In the nonprofit space, there are certainly pros and cons to a virtual event. 

Pros:

-Visibility in front of your fans/stakeholders/donors

-You can raise money

-To celebrate what you (and the organization) do have, even in these tough times

Cons:

-Lack of resources (staffing and/or money)

-Lack of know-how

The other option is to postpone the event (yet again) or to cancel the event altogether. Both options come with their own set of challenges. 

Pros:

-The org can focus on staying solvent NOW and re-focus LATER for an event (when safe)

-Save money NOW (the struggle to stay solvent is real)

Cons:

-Missed donation opportunities

-Lack of visibility while people are captive (due to SIP)

There is no right or wrong answer here. Each organization has to take a good look at their financials, staff, and resources to decide which path is best for them. I do strongly encourage any organization to consider a virtual event. They CAN be done successfully on small budgets. Virtual events are not like live events. You do not HAVE to spend money to make money.  There have been many examples of virtual events produced on a shoestring that were entertaining while also bringing to life the mission of the organization.  Those two elements are key. 

Bottom Line

There is a lot going on in the world. The news cycle is never-ending. Between COVID, political divisiveness, and racial unrest, people are mentally exhausted and fragile. How can your virtual event contribute to the conversation? How can it help bring people joy? I encourage all organizations to roll their sleeves up and do the work to decide what is best for them.

If you decide to go virtual with your fundraising event, here are four things to consider in your initial planning:

  1. Live or pre-recorded? A live element adds excitement and relevance, BUT only consider live segments if it is integral for what you want to accomplish. I have seen more organizations fail at the live piece than succeed. 
  2. Self-Produced or Outsourced? See above! If you are including live segment(s), I strongly urge you to consider outsourcing to a producer or someone with experience. If you decide to self-produce, platforms such as StreamLabs, OBS, or StreamYard are good ones to consider. 
  3. How and when to ask for money. This is key. People are hurting. Events that are ALL about raising money and asking for donations are not working. The event has to entertain and captivate while also asking for money. 
  4. Where to broadcast? YouTube, Facebook, and/or your website. List the pros and cons of each and chose which option(s) accomplish your goals. 

Stay tuned for next week as we discuss how to produce a live event post-COVID.