2020 has reminded all of us in a big way that there is very little in life that we can take for granted. COVID-19, the economic crisis, heightened racism and increased violence have all tested individuals and communities beyond what any of us could have imagined a year ago.
In the midst of these uncertain and difficult times, a constant beacon of hope has been the outpouring of generosity in supporting our local nonprofits that are working harder than ever to meet critical needs. This month, as Ann Plans observes our 13th anniversary, we are more grateful than ever to be part of such a generous community.
Six Big Questions for 2021
With so much uncertainty still in play, we recognize how challenging it is to formulate plans for events in the coming year. The good news is that we have learned a great deal about virtual fundraising event best practices, and the recent news on the vaccine-front is encouraging.
Here are some of the big questions the Ann Plans Team is addressing as we guide nonprofits in putting event plans in place for 2021.
1. Are many nonprofits scheduling in-person events for 2021?
Ann Plans clients who have events scheduled through May 2021 have all committed to a virtual event. Organizations with events scheduled for later in 2021 are planning for the likelihood of a virtual or hybrid format. Some clients are exploring the possibility of reimagining a traditionally indoor event as an outdoor experience.
2. When health experts determine it is safe for large groups to gather, will people be comfortable attending in-person events?
Some clients have started surveying donors to gauge what will determine their readiness to resume attending large gatherings. Once a vaccine is widely distributed and a sense of normalcy resumes in daily life, we expect many people will welcome the opportunity to gather in person.
There will be people with underlying health issues and other concerns who will need to play it safe for longer. Because of this, we expect that many events will be hybrids, offering both an in-person and a virtual option. Stay tuned for our December blog where we’ll do a deeper dive into hybrid events.
3. Has virtual event fatigue set in?
As long as there are health restrictions on large in-person gatherings, we anticipate that donors and sponsors will continue to rally behind virtual events. Even during a typical year of in-person fundraising events, the concern of “gala fatigue” arises with so many nonprofits competing for participation in events. Regardless of whether an event is in-person or virtual, good communication with key supporters and attention to planning an engaging guest experience helps to ensure success with both registrations and fundraising.
4. Should we charge people to attend our virtual event?
Traditional in-person fundraising events that are reimagined as virtual events open up the opportunity for an infinite number of people to learn about and support your organization. For this reason, we do not recommend charging a fee to attend.
A fun win-win option is to offer both free and VIP registration options, with perks such as a gala box being part of the VIP purchase experience. For fundraising events such as trivia nights, concerts with popular local or national acts, and cooking classes, charging a fee to participate makes sense.
5. What virtual event strategies have been most successful?
Many best practices for in-person fundraising events also pertain to virtual events. One of the biggest drivers for a successful virtual event is an organization’s ability to rally a passionate group of virtual table hosts or event ambassadors who are committed to engaging their networks in attending and donating.
Pre-committed momentum gifts are critical to have in place, and a large matching gift is another powerful tool to inspire giving. A well-messaged program that is short, mission-focused and entertaining will maintain a captive audience and inspire generous giving.
6. How can we make our virtual event stand out?
Most importantly, focus the event experience on highlighting the heart and soul of your organization by sharing your most impactful stories. Also, virtual events expand opportunities to involve local and national celebrities in the program.
Elements that add fun and promote guest engagement include: sending gala celebration boxes prior to the event, mixologist cocktail demonstrations during the pre-show, a virtual photo booth, the chat feature on your streaming platform, and polls inviting guest responses. If your guests are accustomed to a lively after-party, consider adding a 20-30 minute post-event experience such as a virtual DJ dance party or musical performance.
Updated FAQs Available for Download
For additional insights on planning events in the virtual space, we invite you to download our updated FAQs. Please contact us if we can be helpful in putting your event plans in place.
During this week of Thanksgiving, we are extra grateful for your friendship and wish you a healthy and happy holiday!