How to decide which format is best for your next virtual fundraising event

Now that the non-profit world has discovered that we can reach a far greater audience with virtual events than we ever were able to with in-person only events, it’s clear that virtual fundraisers are here to stay. As we move forward, some organizations will choose hybrid events, some will stick with virtual and some will alternate between the two.

But what should our virtual fundraising events look like? Should they be perfectly edited brand showcases or should they truly be “live’ streams?

Over the past 13 years, but especially in the past 12 months the CA team has worked on every variation of live vs. pre-recorded and have had clients succeed with both models. So how do you choose? It depends on what your goals are.

If your event goals are to:

  • Fundraise via ticket sales and sponsorships
  • Engage your current mailing list

Then a pre-recorded “Live” stream can be the way to go. To ensure success you want to make sure you have in place:

  • A robust ticket sales team
  • A robust sponsorship team
  • A passionate mailing list
  • Honorees in place who are committed to your cause and will actively reach out to your mailing list on your behalf

Note that if you are presenting a pre-recorded event to your current list think hard about where you want to stream to. Zoom can be a good option. People seem to watch a pre-recorded event on zoom for longer durations than they would on a browser based platform like facebook, especially if you use a zoom room rather than a zoom webinar.

The plus of a pre-recorded event is that you have complete control over every minute of your presentation. You can create a beautiful, controlled virtual fundraiser. However, you have to balance that positive with the fact that people watch pre-records for a much shorter period of time than they do live events, so as you edit keep short viewing times in mind.

But what if you want replicate the goals of your IRL fundraisers into your virtual fundraisers? Things like raising funds during the event, just as you might during a paddle raise or silent auction, things like expanding your audience as you would via new friends brought along to the event by your strongest supporters and sponsors, and like building community. If these are goals you want to choose an actual LIVE event.

But what if you want replicate the goals of your IRL fundraisers into your virtual fundraisers? Things like raising funds during the event?

Building Community

We’ll start here, because live is all about community. One of the reasons that people go to in-person events it to see and be seen. The same is true for a live streamed event and their are plenty of ways to give your guests those experiences virtually:

  • Live virtual red carpets
  • Live contests
  • Live chat rooms
  • Live auctions where people’s names are called out as they place their bids or raise their virtual paddles
  • Real time donation alerts
  • Zoom meeting rooms where everyone can see one another live as they all participate live in the show

The community sings Happy Birthday to Doloros Huerta during the ERA Coalition’s Livestreamed Living Equality Gala

Raising Funds During the Show:

With a great host and a well thought through virtual fundraising strategy you can raise significant funds during the live event. Why? Because just like in real life events, live events create competition and urgency. Give the audience of a live event great reasons to donate live and they will, more than once. We have found that as much as 25% of our live event revenues come from individuals who donate multiple times during a live show.

Expand your Audience:

live enables you to expand your community beyond your email lists

  • Live events are watched for a significantly longer amount of time, which translates into more shares and crossposting, which translates into more viewers
  • Live events enable you to engage, acknowledge and welcome new viewers and donors in real time via on screen call outs and chat rooms, increasing their personal connection to your cause

Bonus- FUN

Interactive live events are just more Fun. Why have we tuned into Saturday Night live every Saturday night for 40 years? Because Live is fun. Anything can happen and sometimes does. Guests are spontaneous and surprising, fundraising goal drama is real, everyone in the audience has the chance to both see and be seen, and everyone becomes part of a very special moment in time that can only be experienced by the supporters who are there, live in real-time.

Are you potentially sacrificing some level of perfection in favor of a live event? Perhaps. But the results? No one has said it better than Gloria Steinem, who participated in a recent live fundraiser.

“I have never been more moved and impressed and knocked out and touched and I mean you know, this is what movements are all about. They are communities…”

So as you plan your next virtual fundraiser begin with establishing your goals and let your goals help you to make your decisions - Pre-Recorded or Live.