5 Effective Ways to Keep Your Virtual Events Engaging

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

5 Effective Ways to Keep Your Virtual Events Engaging

With the unprecedented realities of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, nonprofits of all sizes have faced the new challenge of taking their fundraising events online. Virtual events, though brand new undertakings for many organizations, can be extremely effective ways to engage with supporters, spread awareness of your cause, and raise money from anywhere.

Thankfully, online fundraising and communication platforms have made it easier than ever to get started with virtual events. Coupled with a tight focus on the purpose and mission behind your event, technology can help ensure your efforts continue to deliver a return on investment despite the disruptions we’re currently seeing.

However, in order to reap any long-term benefits from your virtual events, you have to actively keep the attention and interest of your supporters. A virtual event with no attendees won’t do any good for your nonprofit’s mission or bottom line. Incorporating unique virtual twists and tools into your virtual events is the best way to ensure solid turnout and ROI each time.

If you’ve already got a solid online presence and an effective fundraising toolkit, you’re definitely ready to make the move to virtual events. Even if you’re starting from the ground up, don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to get started hosting online events and campaigns, and you can continue to grow and refine your strategies as you go.

Let’s walk through 5 types of virtual events and fundraising ideas to help keep your mission relevant and engaging for online audiences:

  1. Host an online auction.
  2. Tap into social fundraising.
  3. Explore your live-streaming options.
  4. Offer online presentations and roundtables.
  5. Host a virtual pledge campaign.

By adding more engaging twists and convenient options to your strategy, you can strengthen your virtual events across the board. Each of these ideas can be adapted to fit any mission or scale, so get creative to come up with the best solutions for your nonprofit and audience. Let’s get started.


1. Host an online auction.

1. Host an online auction.

At OneCause, one of our favorite virtual fundraising events are online auctions. These events build on the traditional charity auction, a classic high-impact event, and translate them to a digital setting.

If your organization has never hosted an auction before, it’s a good idea to familiarize your team with the basics, including the different types of auctions, the planning process, the types of software you’ll need, and the typical rules for how to run a silent auction. A solid understanding of these events will be essential for planning and hosting a successful online auction.

Online auctions are similar to traditional live or silent auctions, with the key difference being that they take place solely online via a dedicated auction site and item catalog. Online and mobile bidding tools enable guests to place bids and track their favorite items. Over an extended period of time, allow guests to bid on items and packages, all the while keeping up the energy with announcements and alerts until the event ends.

There are a few major benefits to hosting an online auction:

  • They’re highly engaging events for guests because they offer tangible incentives.
  • They’re more cost-effective than traditional, in-person auction events.
  • Online auctions can be flexibly adapted for practically any audience.
  • It’s easy to incorporate additional elements, like social fundraising and live-streaming, into your online auction strategy.
  • Online auctions generate a lot of valuable engagement data that can be used to improve your outreach and virtual events in the future.

Hosting a standalone online auction or incorporating online bidding elements into a larger online campaign are both great ways to engage your supporters with something new. An annual online auction might even become a lucrative tradition for your nonprofit!

If this type of virtual event sounds like the right fit for your organization, study up with the OneCause guide to taking your auction virtual.


2. Tap into social fundraising.

2. Tap into social fundraising.

Social media has been a critical part of nonprofits’ arsenals for several years. Now, a strong social media presence is more important than ever with today’s increased necessity of online engagement and fundraising. This is equally true for large and small nonprofits alike.

By tapping into the power of social media and peer networks, you can significantly strengthen any virtual events or campaigns that you host going forward. Social fundraising empowers your supporters and followers to fundraise on your behalf and raise awareness of your cause. There are two main types of social fundraising that you might conduct:

  1. Peer-to-peer fundraising. This method of social fundraising typically allows supporters to create their own fundraising pages to collect donations for your nonprofit. This might be done as part of a broader campaign, or it can be done completely individually in a DIY style.
  2. Ambassador campaigns. This method is more centralized and is conducted leading up to an event, like an online auction or virtual gala. Recruit well-connected ambassadors, empower them to promote your event, and set goals and rewards for total donations raised or registrations secured.

Both types of social fundraising are effective at expanding your online audience, which is critical for success when fundraising online.

Plus, they boost engagement by tapping into the power of social proof. When a potential donor sees that their friend, loved one, or colleague supports your nonprofit enough to promote it on their own, they’re much more likely to get involved themself. Effective ambassadors get people excited to join in, generating more energy and registrations for your events.

If you have an active volunteer program, social fundraising can be an especially good idea now, as dedicated volunteers might be looking for new ways to get involved virtually. Recruit them to serve as ambassadors for your next online event!

This strategy works well for nonprofits of all types and sizes. For example, we’ve seen plenty of schools use ambassadors to host extremely successful school auctions and fundraising galas.


3. Explore your live-streaming options.

3. Explore your live-streaming options.

Live streaming is a new essential for any organization looking to host virtual events. Live nonprofit video streams might take several forms, the most common being:

  • A full live-streamed event program, like a virtual gala.
  • Live portions of an event, like opening or closing announcements for an online auction.
  • Combined live programming with pre-recorded videos.
  • Short announcements or engagement events streamed live on social media.

Supporters want to see and hear from the people putting their donations to work towards a good cause. With the wide range of technology available, from simple tools on social media platforms to more complex conferencing software, it’s important to implement at least one form of live-streaming into your engagement strategies while in-person events are still limited.

Get creative to come up with engaging live-streamed programming for your audience and ways to incorporate it into your other virtual events or campaigns.

For instance, if you’ve recruited ambassadors to promote your online auction, for instance, live-stream an awards ceremony to recognize and thank them personally. Or, you could host a quick Q&A session via Facebook Live to engage directly with supporters with questions about how your nonprofit is adapting to recent disruptions.

For a highly engaging live-streamed option, consider hosting a complete virtual gala. These events can incorporate a wide variety of elements, from speakers to live auctions, celebrity guests to inspirational videos, all streamed directly to supporters through their computers or smartphones. Just make sure to provide easy-to-use mobile bidding tools or donation pages!


4. Offer online presentations and roundtables.

4. Offer online presentations and roundtables.

Another way to use live streaming to engage with your community might be to offer educational, exclusive video content. Specifically, think of ways to facilitate discussions around critical issues related to your mission. Amid today’s disruptions, it’s probably not hard to think of at least one way that your mission relates to current medical or economic concerns.

Presentations, roundtables, or phone-in Q&A sessions are all great ideas, particularly if your mission relates to social, economic, legal, environmental, or public health concerns.

Your executive director will be a ready-made facilitator but look to your partners in the community who have their own contributions to share, as well. Other organizations, government officials, or local experts in the field are all worth asking to join the virtual events you plan. If you’re located near a college or university, research the professors in relevant departments and reach out to ask if they’d like to get involved.

This virtual engagement strategy is very cost-effective and can be adapted for all kinds of missions and audiences. Think about what your constituents and donors would find valuable or engaging right now.

Plus, with effective live stream platforms like Zoom, Facebook Live, Twitch, YouTube Live and others, it’s easier than ever to set up a virtual roundtable or presentation, record the event as you livestream it, and then post it online for other supporters to access later. You can even use this content as a lead capture strategy to secure the email addresses of interested supporters, who you can then reach to later about making a donation or signing up to attend the next discussion.

In terms of the engagement process, showing supporters that your organization has thoughtful, valuable insights to share goes a long way to strengthen your image as a leader in the space. When you’re worth listening to and engaging with, supporters will be more likely to stick around.


5. Host a virtual pledge or challenge campaign.

5. Host a virtual pledge or challenge campaign.

This is a digital twist on a classic nonprofit event fundraising strategy. Think of a large charity 5k or walkathon. Participants collect pledges from friends and family in advance, complete your event, and the proceeds go towards your mission.

Taking this strategy digital, your participants still collect pledges but complete the main activity on their own rather than together as a large group. Amid social distancing concerns, large gatherings aren’t a good idea, but getting outside for a solitary walk or run is generally still recommended. A virtual walkathon will be an exciting new offering for supporters.

Tap into your community’s desire to stay active by creating a pledge campaign based around miles run or walked and offer some exciting prizes for top performers. Ask for photos or running logs to help determine the winners. This strategy does require some trust on your end, but it’s a simple and highly engaging way to keep your nonprofit on supporter’s minds for an extended period of time. To boost results, consider these additional techniques:

  • Build up to a larger virtual event. Like a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign leading up to a major charity auction or gala, your own pledge campaign can culminate in a (virtual) grand finale event, too. A simple live-streamed awards ceremony can work well.
  • Adapt the activity to your own mission. You can develop a pledge-style virtual event around a wide variety of activities, not just walking or running. For instance, a school or library branch can easily create a virtual read-a-thon for kids to join.
  • Consider corporate fundraising options. As many companies have increased their philanthropy efforts in the wake of COVID-19, corporate partners might be interested in joining your virtual pledge campaign. Remote workers need to stay active, too, so a workplace walkathon and matching gifts campaign might be the perfect option to pitch your corporate partners.

Any type of virtual pledge campaign can provide long-term value for your organization, both in terms of funding and engagement. These events are unique options for supporters looking for ways to get involved virtually, and they generate valuable engagement data, too. Being able to easily identify segments of your base who were motivated enough to join your pledge campaign will be useful for later outreach.

Despite social distancing and all kinds of disruptions, there are more ways than ever to engage with your supporters and retain their support through digital outlets.

Both as an ongoing trend and a new necessity, virtual events are the next big thing for nonprofit organizations of all sizes. Study up on a few core stand-bys (like online auctions, social fundraising, and pledge campaigns), then equip your team with the right fundraising and live-streaming technologies and strategies. You’ll be strengthening your relationships with seamless virtual events in no time.


Author: Kelly Velasquez-Hague

Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.