Implications of Social Distancing: Ways to pivot from live auction, galas, walks and other events to accommodate new societal norms

Over the past 2-3 weeks, much of American culture has shifted.  The term ‘social distancing’ was a vague phrase very seldom used (or understood)– and yet today, it is commonplace in our dialogue, along with other newfound favorites like ‘flatten the curve’ and #stayhome.  And while the literal translations of this new lingo have transformed much of our daily lives, very particular aspects of fundraising streams are among the norms affected.


Many organizations rely heavily on face-to-face, in person events to generate engagement, awareness and revenue.  As this is written, much of the country is in some aspect of ‘lockdown’ – and it is probably safe to assume that even after those are lifted, some element(s) of social distancing will remain.  Thus, in-person events and fundraising opportunities are likely on hiatus for an unspecified period of time.  Organizations who had planned live events have two options in this unprecedented time:

  • Reschedule your event for a time later in the Fall/Winter. Even if the world resets on the earlier end of the current projections, donors might be reluctant to foray into large crowds immediately.  In addition, the recent economic volatility has left many with 10%-20% less wealth than 4 weeks ago. The extra time and space could significantly change this projection (for the better) which could of course, benefit fundraising.
  • Pivot and create virtual fundraising opportunities. It is important to note that this option is not meant to replace an in-person gala, but rather subsidize revenue losses from a canceled or postponed in-person event.  NonProfit PRO wrote more about this here.  We are in uncertain times and creating opportunities to interact with constituents in a virtual capacity will help offset revenue losses.   If there is a silver lining here, the technology available today enables organizations to turn to digital channels to create virtual events to connect and engage event participants and sponsors.  Read more about this concept here.


As a growing number of organizations are faced with decisions around how, if and when to reschedule/cancel/adjust live events, we wanted to share some thoughts on ‘must haves’ in any virtual event. Our friends at M+R have expanded on these (and other ideas) in this fantastic article.

  • BE AUTHENTIC: The success of a virtual event depends, in great part, to an organization’s ability to leverage an authentic engagement opportunity. For example, having keynote speakers and planned entertainment available as part of the virtual experience will help avoid the ‘blah factor’, and work to create a rich experience for participants. Consider the learnings from Microsoft shared in this article.
  • ENGAGEMENT IS KEY: Just because the event is not live anymore doesn’t mean that it has to be flat. Provide opportunities for donors to get involved.  Keeping these virtual events ‘live’ with livestream content and interactive ‘audience’ dialogue will result in a better outcome.  Ideas include:
    • Donation goals, like; ‘if we raise $5k in the next 30 minutes, I will do the macarena live’. NOTE: having a thermometer and count-down clock are added bonuses to help fuel the excitement.
  • BE COMPETITIVE: people love to compete with others for all kinds of things as evident in our sports-dominant culture. Allow for virtual events to include elements of competition with peer to peer interaction.  Using gaming platforms, non profits can create engagement opportunities where the more interactions the person makes with the platform (either individually or by sending to friends to interact) the farther along in the ‘game’ the person can get.
    • The key to this strategy is creating engagements that are fun and easy – and at first, might have little to do with the organization. Ultimately, however, the more engaged the person is with the format, the more likely they are to be committed to the organization, which will benefit giving in the long-term.
  • GET CREATIVE: One of the most significant impacts of canceled live events is lost ‘sponsorship’ revenue. Provide participants with the opportunity to be a ‘micro-match’ for potential supporters in order to raise revenue.  EXAMPLE: if the donor was planning on donating $200 and raising $500, leverage an opportunity for participants to leverage a ‘micro-match’ where donors’ gifts will be matched dollar for dollar by the participant, up to a given amount.  This tactic may even generate more money.
  • CONTENT FOR PAY: In our subscriber-dominant culture, with the popularity of things like Netflix, Stitch Fix, etc. – creating content for pay is another way to drive revenue. Under this umbrella, organizations promote monthly content for a fee (i.e. a monthly giving program as fee for content provided).  This strategy is another way to routinize revenue and create a reliable income stream to help offset revenue losses from canceled live events, major gift declines, etc.


As we all know – these are unprecedented times, and things are changing by the minute, if not quicker.  And one thing is for sure – pivoting takes a lot of work.  Changing the way we do things isn’t easy, or comfortable. But we are fortunate to be working in an era that technology is our friend.  With a steady focus, creative mind, and nimble approach, the opportunities for organizations to maintain (if not grow) revenue is abound! Fundraisers are a talented group – and we have no doubt that this current state will test us all – but also enable some terrific new innovations that will pave the way for future fundraising best practices!


If you have any questions, or there is anything additional that the MINDset team can do for you, please reach out to us by contacting either Candice Briddell at or Erica O’Brien at

Candice Briddell

Candice Briddell, Managing Partner and Co-Owner, has worked within the fundraising and marketing industry for nearly twenty years and has been a part of the MINDset team for over a decade. Prior to that, she was integral in the retention marketing program at AOL.