Prior to March 2020 this article would have looked considerably different. I applaud how quickly and efficiently nonprofits have embraced the Virtual Event format and how well organized most of these events have been! Though the timing of event communications has not changed, the technology surrounding these events has made it much easier for people to give. And give is what Americans have been doing in the last year. 60% reported giving more in 2020 than in prior years and 30% reported supporting or participating in a virtual event.*
Start communicating early. Begin announcing your event by e-mail, on your website, and by social media around 8 weeks before the event. An older audience (Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation) may still respond better to a printed invitation, but be sure to offer a way to register and give online.
Increase the frequency of e-mails as the event nears but not so much as to be annoying. With each e-mail include more or different information. People react to different things. Keep your branding consistent but swap out photos and graphics. Use typography – headlines or bolded text – to call attention to important information. Leverage your social media weekly, being sure to drive traffic to the event page on your website where visitors can learn more about your organization, register for the event, and donate.
Once someone has registered, an automated e-mail should go out immediately and include:
- A thank you for registering
- A detailed explanation of the timing and logistics of attending the event
- If applicable, instructions for texting a donation now or during the event
- A link to the event page on your website that has more details about the event and specific stories about how you have helped beneficiaries
- A request (with links) to share your event on their own social media channels
- Contact information for anyone who has questions
As the event nears, registrants will receive different updates than those who have not registered. You might inform registrants about ticket sale milestones (and ask for more sharing), silent auction items, or describe VIP access and ask for an upgrade. At this time, you can also include the full program with names of speakers and/or performers.
On the day of the event, perhaps and hour or two prior to starting time, e-mail a link to the event and repeat the logistics about attending and donating with contact information for anyone who may have trouble connecting.
And of course, follow up after the event with written thank you notes or calls to major donors, individual e-mail thank-yous to all other donors. Post donor names on your website and social media, thanking them again.
Take your various audiences into account when choosing text and graphics. You will have to craft messages that appeal to your top tier supporters (annual, monthly, etc.) vs. those who give occasionally vs. those who are not familiar with your organization.
Ann Green, in her nonprofit blog, suggests:
“Don’t use vague, impersonal language and jargon your donors won’t understand. Instead of saying we’re helping at-risk youth, say something like – With your support, our tutoring program can help more students graduate from high school on time. It’s been challenging this past year as many schools switched to remote learning.”
In addition to the date, time and logistics of the event be sure to include a testimonial or account about someone you have helped. Storytelling is the most powerful tool for creating engagement. We all know that a photo is worth a thousand words – photos and graphics in your event communications are a must. And video is even more powerful. Video is 30% more likely to be shared than any other kind of content.* So think about your audience. What would interest them? A behind-the-scenes story? A story of a beneficiary’s transformation because of your services? Music, voice and motion capture the viewer’s imagination.
Similar to the prediction that corporations will continue to have many employees work from home post-pandemic, virtual events are here to stay on one level or another. Even when we are able to gather together in person once more, the ease of registration, giving and attendance that a Virtual Event affords are powerful reasons to select that format. Timely and pertinent communication with potential attendees and registrants during the time leading up to the event will assure meeting your fund-raising goals.
*Classy, Inc., Why America Gives 2020: How the COVID-19 Pandemic and Social Justice Movement Have Changed Giving, 2020.