Why You Should Virtualize Your Fundraising Events
For years, Idealist Consulting has thrown an Engagement Party in San Francisco at Salesforce’s annual conference called Dreamforce. Every year, we brought together event attendees from nonprofit organizations and progressive businesses to party and chat and raise money for a nonprofit. And in 2019, the generosity attendees showed Amplify — that year’s beneficiary — was incredible.
So it was incredibly sad when we realized that, with the global pandemic, we wouldn’t be able to come together in person in 2020.
I’m sure that most nonprofit organizations were faced with a similar situation, perhaps with more dire consequences. In 2019 (which as of this writing seems so long ago that it’s prehistoric), 78% of nonprofit organizations held some sort of cause or community event during the year, according to Eventbrite. 32% of organizations held fundraising events. And 15% of nonprofits said that between 80-100% of their revenue came from events.
If you work for a nonprofit, you probably don’t need me to tell you how important fundraising events are, and you probably don’t need me to remind you how far we are from returning to normal.
But it is why we decided to find a way to bring our community together digitally. We wanted to throw a sort of party online to support Amplify, a nonprofit working to empower underrepresented voices in tech. We saw a way to leverage technology we were already using to create a virtual event that was innovative, interactive, and potentially reproducible for other organizations who wanted to follow in our footsteps.
And we’re happy to say we did it!
What Does a Digital Party Look Like?
What did our party-goers find when they entered The Engagement Party on December 10, 2020? Comedians, improv troupes, and musical acts performing live across three virtual stages. Our guests could visit one performance, watch as long as they wanted, and then navigate to wherever they wanted to go next. We wanted to make it feel like navigating a party — we wanted to give folks options.
The event was a hit! Our virtual party seemed easily navigable to guests. Performances were well attended. And donations for Amplify continued to roll in throughout the night. By going virtual, we were able to throw our annual fundraising event at a lower cost to our usual in-person event, and we still managed to donate more to Amplify than the previous year. We were also able to facilitate guests from all over the world and people that may not have been able to attend in person otherwise.
But what made the effort doable was the tech we used. We relied on technology we already knew and were familiar with — regular landing pages and Zoom — and at the heart of our planning and promotion for the event was Pardot.
A Pattern for Virtual Fundraising Events
Two months later, we’re already seeing organizations adopt and innovate based on this pattern, using tools they too are familiar with and can feel confident using.
The Suttle Lodge, a sort of rustic resort in the Deschutes National Forest, has had a good year considering the pandemic, but they know that a lot of folks in their hospitality community are having a rough time right now. So they’re hosting their annual Winter Beer Festival in partnership with the Independent Restaurant Alliance of Oregon to raise money for their community.
Alana Kambury, Director of Sales and Community at the Suttle Lodge, says when they were looking to virtualize their fundraising event, the only rich example they had for a virtual event was Idealist Consulting’s Engagement Party. But they wanted to make it their own. Their virtual event will feature musicians from all over the country, cooking classes with top chefs from the region, panel discussions with experts from the beer industry, drag queen bingo, and a raffle. They’re also supplementing their digital engagement with an optional six-pack of beer from Pacific Northwest breweries (or non-alcoholic beverages) and a custom Suttle Lodge mug. Breweries all over Oregon will act as pick-up locations for the festival packs.
The Suttle Lodge’s Winter Beer Festival demonstrates how the core of this virtual fundraising event idea — a landing page with links to multiple, simultaneous Zoom sessions — can be adapted to the needs of the organization throwing the event and the creative ideas those organizers bring with them.
Get Started with Your Own Virtual Event
In 2021, most of us are facing the same challenges we saw in 2020. And even after the pandemic ends, we believe virtual events and digital engagement will be here to stay.
Because we think what we’ve created is such an adaptable pattern, we’ve detailed the technology we used to throw a virtual event in our new guide, Party in the Clouds: How Idealist Consulting Virtualized Their Annual Engagement Party. In the guide we share how we planned the event, the tech we used to pull it off, and the lessons we learned as we planned.
If you're trying to come up with a creative way to digitize a fundraising event and engage donors digitally, download our guide and learn how we pulled it off.