Like all business operations, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing how nonprofit organizations execute their fundraising activities. No one knows how long the crisis will last, and these organizations can’t afford to take a break from fundraising. Staying connected to donors is critical to nonprofits and their ability to achieve their mission.
The need for social distancing has curtailed normal in-person fundraising events such as fun runs, walks, bike rides, dinners and galas. Many nonprofits have switched to virtual activities to keep donors engaged and to encourage giving.
Virtual Fundraising Events
Some of the ways nonprofits are adapting include:
- Peer-to-peer events: Donors challenge friends to participate in living room fitness challenges, solo runs in their neighborhood or backyard athletics to raise funds. Mobile apps can track progress and participation. Nonprofits can create giving brackets and track donor teams to add to the competitive spirit.
- Online workshops and classes: Zoom and FaceTime cooking classes with local chefs are a popular way to entice donors to give and support local restauranteurs. Arts organizations are offering online classes that enable artists to share their skills and engage donors in activities related to their interests.
- Challenge events: Popular challenges (think back to the Ice Bucket Challenge) have effectively engaged social media. These events can still go on virtually in the privacy of donors’ homes. Participants can post videos on a nonprofit’s website and YouTube to spur participation and gather donations.
- Lectures: Museums and arts centers are broadcasting TED-type virtual programs for major donors with experts on art, science, technology and culture. These events cover timely topics and research and link back to the nonprofit’s mission and collections.
- Social hours: Nonprofits can bring donors together for online cocktail hours using shared drink recipes and virtual luncheons with menu suggestions. They can then use these events to feature news about programs and services.
- Documentary films and commentary: Nonprofits often have favorite films that are central to their mission. Organizations can schedule a time for donors to watch the movie online and to discuss it in a chatroom. The nonprofit’s executives can serve as commentators and answer questions.
- Video chats with major donors: Corporate and major individual donors appreciate receiving personal updates on from nonprofits about their operations during the coronavirus crisis. Organizations should use this time to highlight changing needs and reinforce their mission.
Best Practices for Virtual Events
When deciding to undertake a virtual fundraising event, nonprofits should consider the following:
- If converting a traditional event to virtual, step back and assess its purpose, impact and financial contribution. Focus on those events that yield the greatest revenue and brainstorm with staff on how they can be adapted.
- Evaluate how planning, timing and commitments can be adapted. Consider how staffing needs may change by switching to a virtual format.
- Use technology and social media to facilitate connections in new ways. Include a chat function, add a video link or schedule a Zoom call to ease access and participation.
- Communicate to donors and constituents how the event is changing to address current social distancing restrictions. Reinforce the message that nonprofit needs persist during the crisis.
- Consider renaming the event to acknowledge the new virtual approach.
- Gather corporate sponsorships, just as one would have done in the past. Keep traditional donors informed and engaged.
- Rethink invitation lists. Organizations may decide to expand their lists to everyone on their email list or narrow it to only big donors for an exclusive and intimate virtual gathering.