lessons learned from virtual fundraising

Planning Virtual Fundraisers in 2020: Lessons Learned

The end of 2020 is finally nearing. There are even talks of a COVID-19 vaccine! Are we on our way to normalcy? While I try to stay positive, I think we have a long way to go – especially when it comes to hosting in-person fundraisers again. As folks begin to venture out of their homes more, most will proceed with caution and limit crowded events. So, with that said, if you flirted with a virtual fundraiser in 2020, it’s probably best to commit to one for the most part of 2021. In my last post, I shared some ideas for going virtual, but I now have four virtual fundraisers under my belt. Each fundraiser was different and had their own pros and cons, but what they all had in common was…stress! Doing something for the first time is hard. Doing something collaboratively from a distance is hard. Virtual fundraising CAN BE hard. 

This introduction isn’t meant to stray you away from virtual fundraisers – in fact, my intent is quite the opposite. My hope is that you will find the tips, resources and my lessons learned outlined in this article useful so that the event planning will be a smooth, happy experience for you and your nonprofit.

Save Time: Use the Right Tools

Planning a virtual fundraiser in 2020 meant you needed to act fast and go with your gut on what you think would work as there weren’t a lot of examples for inspiration. Oftentimes for me, that meant relying on the tools used during normal times and attempting to apply them to a time that is anything but normal. This led to feeling like I was trying to fit a square into a round hole at times. 

A perfect example was relying on Paypal for donations. Normally, I love Paypal and recommend it to my web clients for donation intake. However, when the online experience for a fundraiser extends beyond purchasing tickets and needs the capacity to offer things like raffle tickets or virtual 5K registrations, it can get messy. My ultimate goal with any web design work I do is to create an A+ user experience, and unfortunately that just wasn’t possible. 

Classy: “Online Fundraising for the Modern Nonprofit”

When researching alternatives for my Paypal issues I stumbled upon the company Classy, a social enterprise focused on designing online fundraising software. As I am currently learning with my home renovation, sometimes the best solution is to pay extra for the right tool for the job. Classy does everything from peer-to-peer giving, crowdfunding, event management and online giving. They even can act as your donor database and integrate with your Mailchimp! So the next time you are thinking about if you can makeshift a Google form and link it to your Paypal account, save yourself and your donors the headache and leave it to companies like Classy to help with logistics.

One Stream: Prescheduled Live Streaming

Live streaming is pretty much inevitable with virtual fundraising. Going “live” can seem nerve wracking, especially if you are just building your online presence. If you are new to going live, I recommend checking out services such as One Stream that allow you to upload pre-recorded content which is then broadcasted live on Facebook, YouTube, etc. at the time of your choosing. You are able to upload one video at a time for free, however if you want to schedule multiple live streams you will need to pay, but the cost is worth it in my opinion for the peace of mind. 

If you do go the pre-scheduled live streaming route, it is important to make sure you still sound authentic and that you are not just reading from a script. In fact, I would challenge you to not pre-record all your live streams and go live on the fly every now and then.

Don’t forget to check out a few other of my favorite tools for nonprofits here.

ClickUp: Project Management Software

Communicating while working remote is a challenge. To make sure there is clear communication and all roles and expectations are defined, I recommend using a project management system. If you work in Office 365, Sharepoint is an excellent option, but my recommendation would be to use ClickUp. ClickUp allows you to assign tasks, create due dates, and keep track of everything all in one place (plus some extra bonuses). This will allow everyone involved to have access to an up-to-date status report and know exactly what is on their plate and expected of them. I recommend it for everything your organization is working on, but if you are looking to test the waters and see how a project management software works, planning your fundraiser using ClickUp is a great way to start!

Recruit Cheerleaders for your Virtual Fundraiser

At a time when we all are receiving so many messages digitally and feel the effects of screen burnout, it is important to rely on your stakeholders to be authentic and positive ambassadors for your event. Here are a few ways to engage your stakeholders in promoting your fundraiser:

  • Ask your board to share the event on their social media channels and other outlets as appropriate. Encourage them to post original content such as photos or videos of them wearing organization swag or sharing their excitement for the event.
  • Make sure staff are aware of the event and send them the Facebook event link a few times. Having your staff RSVP and share the event is another easy way to spread the message and gain community interest.
  • Think outside the box for who should promote and speak at the event. Board members and key staff are great, but what about volunteers or clients? This is a great time to experiment with video testimonials if you haven’t done so already.
  • Build partnerships with small businesses. Ask for them to help promote your event and in exchange you can highlight them as an event sponsor. It helps you reach a new market and can bring new sales to small businesses.

One Last Thing, Keep Your Virtual Fundraiser Simple

New things are exciting. It feels like the opportunities are endless and there are so many different directions you could take your virtual fundraiser, however, remember to keep it simple. I recommend not swinging for the fences with your first fundraiser for a few reasons:

  • Do what you know you can do really well. Not knowing exactly what sort of event will attract your stakeholders might make you want to have a weeklong virtual 5k with raffles, watch parties and inspirational speakers so you attract as many people as possible, but I urge you to pick one thing and make it really good. Even if you used to host a gala with inspirational speakers, a silent auction, and raffle prizes, it doesn’t mean you need to do it all virtually. Pick one thing from what you know your base would like and truly  own it.
  • This year has been hard and we are all a little overwhelmed. It’s important that your messaging stays direct and simple so folks know exactly what your event is, what it is raising money for, and what they have to do to support it as soon as they land on the Facebook event page or when they open the evite. 


Looking for more ideas? I recommend checking out my blog post from October here


Featured Blog Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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