Hosting a Nonprofit Fundraiser During a Pandemic

Hosting a Nonprofit Fundraiser During a Pandemic

It’s October and three of the nonprofits that I work with are hosting fundraising events this month. They are not alone. Each week I hear about another nonprofit organization tweaking their annual fundraiser or hosting one for the first time in an effort to make a dent in their fundraising goal that COVID-19 had sabotaged. While October is often a common time for fundraisers, it’s the sweet spot between the back to school rush and end of the year appeal, more nonprofits are realizing the pandemic is not going away and revenue streams need to be replenished and/or increased. When I first shared my thoughts on marketing your nonprofit during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I had no idea it would still be so prevalent in our daily lives seven months later. If I hear sayings like “the new normal”, “now more than ever” and “we’re all in this together” one more time my brain might explode, however, this is how things will be for a little while longer so fundraising must go on and we might as well have a little fun with it!

I want to share with you the things I have learned so far when it comes to virtual fundraising and how you can still have a fun, safe, and impactful campaign. Once the events have wrapped up I will share what worked and what we thought would go well but was a flop. 

Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should

The economy continues to pressure government officials to loosen mandates and regulations in an effort for normalcy. As this happens, social distancing mandates are loosening in states (or perhaps weren’t there in the first place). No matter what the laws and guidelines are practiced in your state, we are still very much in a pandemic and it will not go away unless we all stay safe. So, just because you can host a fundraiser in-person, doesn’t mean you should. First and foremost, this is to save lives, but from a public relations standpoint, if even one person was sick after attending your event, your organization would be getting some free press, just not the kind you’d prefer. I would not even think about planning an in-person event for the next 9 months.

Just because you american doesn't mean you amerishould

Think Outside the Box

A perk of taking your event virtually is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. If your gala has grown stale anyways, this is a perfect opportunity to test the waters on new branding, themes, fundraising efforts, etc. This year is pretty much a free pass to try something new and give yourself grace if it doesn’t work out. It is also the perfect time to try something different as your event budget most likely has a lot of wiggle room since you won’t need to rent a space, hire caterers, and print programs. If there is there something you’ve been dying to try, now is the time, friends! Here are a few ideas the nonprofits I work with have tried:

  • Pandemic Raffle Packages. Rather than a silent auction, the nonprofit has paired it down to 4 raffle packages that have a higher value than usual. Package themes range from wine & house cleaning, WFH technology, camping, and an at-home pamper package. This route was chosen as it followed the State of Michigan guidelines for online fundraisers and raffles as well as eased the solicitation process for staff and small businesses. Bonus, if it works, it could easily be implemented at next year’s in-person event too.
  • Find your shtick. Think about how you can make your fundraiser stand out and be more than an email, live stream, or social media campaign. A few fun ideas I’ve seen include:
    • Teaming up with a local restaurant to deliver a meal before a live-streamed event
    • Offering youth programming during an annual breakfast solicitation for kids so parents can keep them occupied while they tune in to the actual program. This could include an inspirational speaker just for the kids or as simple as a printable coloring sheet. 
    • Providing event day kits with goodies from local businesses and sponsors to make your online event more engaging and interactive
  • Get creative with the format. Turn your one night only celebration into a weeklong Facebook Live campaign. Host a virtual watch party or book club related to your organization’s mission. Encourage key supporters to host their own smaller socially responsible gathering on your organization’s behalf. Like I mentioned, the tried and true but also drab live auction gala needed a makeover anyways, use this year as an excuse to mix it up and test the waters!

Invest in the User Experience

Again, because you are saving on rentals and catering, think about what you may need to do to create a better user experience. Investing in the user experience is necessary as it will allow things to run smoothly from a logistical standpoint and will also make the donor feel appreciated. Without an entire night to entice folks and encourage them to give, you need to make sure that participating virtually is as easy as possible so donors don’t give up or lose interest. 

Have the right technology in place

If you are having a virtual event make sure you have the technology necessary to have things run smoothly from registration to event steaming. This could mean investing in registration software like Eventzilla or Eventbrite so you can collect all necessary information in a safe, encrypted format to investing in a virtual event platform like Zoom for Business so your actual event will go off without a hitch. 

Treat Donors with Fun and Practical Swag

Another opportunity to improve the donor experience is to provide swag you couldn’t normally swing. One nonprofit I work with sprung for a nicer shirt material and trendy design for their virtual 5K with the thought that a donor might actually wear a stylish and comfortable shirt out and about rather than to bed or the gym. Another nonprofit provided donors with a computer cling-on of their logo with the save the date. As long as the swag is useful and has a purpose, it is a great way to show appreciation and build brand recognition. When deciding what swag to use, please make sure you are purchasing from earth-friendly, sustainable companies, and what you are providing wouldn’t fall in the “trinkets and trash” category. 

Above All, Be Mindful and Give Grace.

Everyone is struggling right now, whether it be financially, mentally, and physically. Not only did my client with the pandemic packages scale back from the usual auction to lessen the solicitation burden, but they also knew small business owners would not be able to donate the same way they had in years past. The organization, whose mission is to alleviate poverty, even saw this moment as a way to support small businesses and used a chunk of their event budget to purchase the raffle items themselves. I know that is not possible for all nonprofits, but just be mindful of your small business solicitations and think about who you might want to skip this year on your call list.

Are you planning a virtual fundraiser? I’d love to hear what creative ideas your organization has! Or if you want to pick my brain about how to have your event go virtual, give me a shout! 


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