Well, it’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down and forced us into a more virtual way of life. At this time last year most, organizations were making difficult decisions around the status of their events … wondering if they would be cancelled completely, or if they would need to quickly pivot them into a virtual event.
Unfortunately, with COVID still a major concern, many organizations are continuing with virtual events this year, so we’re sharing some key steps we’ve learned over the last year.
So, whether you’ve been forced to make your ‘walk/run for a cause’ virtual, or you’re swapping out your gala for a streaming concert … we hope these tips will help ensure your next virtual event is a success!
Build on Past Learnings
If you pivoted to a virtual event last year, you likely identified some major do’s and don’ts. You may have even gotten feedback from participants on what they liked and disliked about the event. Surveys are a great tool to poll your prior participants and get their insights about past events. Use those learning and insights to build from when planning your next event. Some of this feedback may even be helpful when our events can resume in person!
Leverage Social Media
In this virtual world, we’ve become even more reliant on social media to help us connect with our friends and family when gathering in person isn’t an option. Utilizing both organic and paid social opportunities can be critical to the success of a virtual event. Be prepared to shift more budget to paid digital staples like search and social and also consider leveraging SMS, if you’re not already.
Develop social media challenges and host mini-interactive events prior to the actual event to help encourage engagement and participation. There are a wide variety of social media challenges that you can implement around fundraising incentives that have proven to be very successful. Utilizing social media tools like Facebook Fundraisers, social media frames and celebrity cameos can be a great way to generate awareness and increase fundraising revenue leading up to an event.
Engage Your Best People
Don’t lose sight of the importance of connecting with and motivating your best fundraisers, or team captains. These are some of your most dedicated resources and are the ones driving the signups and fundraising among their friends, family and coworkers. Special incentives, exclusive communications, and if appropriate, a private Facebook group, might all be part of the set of tactics to keep these people engaged.
Don’t Skip the Swag
Just because your event is virtual doesn’t mean that you should skip out on swag. Participants want to feel like they are a part of something, and swag is a great way to do that … and given our work from home attire … it’s probably more popular than ever! Offer a free shirt with every registration, if there’s a fee for your event. Or give out prizes for fundraisers who raise a certain amount. For virtual walks/runs, you can look at creating personalized, downloadable race bibs that can also be worn on the day of the event and shared across social media platforms.
Talk to event sponsors and partners to coordinate other event items that can be sent to participants or used as fundraising incentives.
Creative and Messaging
Switch the focus from the event experience to the mission. Show images of your mission in action, those who need help and those who have benefited from your mission in lieu of people at the event. Eliminate copy about the event experience and highlight why someone’s support is needed and where the money goes even more than you typically would. While not everyone who traditionally would attend the event will come when it’s virtual, it’s likely they still have a desire to support your mission – so don’t forget to ask!
Be honest with your donors and tell them that your events are some of your most critical fundraising efforts of the year and, without them, you would not be able to have the impact you do. Use stats and facts to underscore the ongoing need, as well as the progress made so far thanks largely to the funding of past events.
Day of Event Tactics
Just because your event is virtual doesn’t mean you can’t make the day of the event extra special for all those involved. Treat the day as you would if the event was live.
For virtual races it’s great to host a live video session the morning of the event to kick off the day and wish participants good luck on their race. Encourage those racing, or walking for a cause, to wear their event swag and take pictures and selfies throughout the event.
For all virtual events, emails and social media posts should be prevalent the day of to build up momentum and excitement. Continue to update your social media pages with event information and participant images and hold challenges that will keep participants engaged.
Close out the event with another live video session and again take the opportunity to thank everyone involved and to highlight special participant achievements.
When virtualizing your event, lean into the power of your mission and the channels and tactics that will reach and engage someone at home. Think outside the box to find virtual ways to make your supporters feel like they are still part of a larger force for good, even if they are not physically standing side by side.