4 Proven Ways to Drive Attendance to Your Virtual Fundraiser

With the COVID-19 pandemic reshaping the way nonprofits and charities view fundraising, creating a winning strategy for promoting your virtual fundraising event is more important than ever.

Holding your fundraisers online gives you the ability to hold virtual galas for hundreds of donors—far more than a banquet hall could support in your usual in-person fundraisers. Your attendees can also donate from anywhere in the world, making virtual fundraisers more profitable—but only if you can get enough supporters to attend and participate.

Fortunately, according to virtual fundraising consultant Emily Quinn, attracting large audiences to your virtual galas is very achievable—even for nonprofits and charities without a large online presence.

Quinn, who helped multiple nonprofits exceed their fundraising goals with virtual galas in 2020, emphasizes the key to promoting a virtual gala lies in establishing and maintaining a strong personal connection with your target audience. She offers the following four proven tactics for driving virtual fundraiser attendance.    

Attract a Large Audience with Your Core Supporters

One of the biggest issues nonprofits and charities face in promoting virtual fundraisers is making sure people interested in a virtual gala actually show up. Even after people register for a virtual gala, only about fifty percent attend the event itself.

To get around this, Quinn suggests nonprofits have their core supporters not only invite people but also ensure they attend the virtual gala. This can be done by making every volunteer, leader, and member of your board of directors responsible for inviting three to five people to the virtual fundraiser. Have them create a list of names and follow up with each invitee to secure a commitment. PayBee’s virtual event marketing campaigns include auto-generated RSVP links that can help in this.

Be sure to use a personal touch with all of your invitations. Instead of just sending a group email, follow up with a text or phone call letting each of the three people you invited know that you’re going to be attending and how much you’d like them to join you.

By having individual members of a nonprofit offer personal invitations to people they know, Quinn finds even small nonprofits with very little social media presence can secure large audiences that participate enthusiastically in their virtual fundraising events.    

Create Strategic Partnerships with Local Businesses to Promote Your Virtual Gala

Prior to COVID-19, nonprofit fundraising committees might approach a local restaurant or small business and ask them to donate a gift certificate that could be auctioned off or offered as a prize at the event.

Today, with many restaurants and businesses facing closures due to the pandemic, such tactics aren’t as feasible or appropriate. However, Quinn finds the current situation also opens the door for new partnerships.

If your fundraising event is for a local organization like a church or the PTA, Quinn finds you can work with local restaurants by having them create a link on their websites letting attendees of your virtual gala pre-order meals by a certain date. This not only gives these restaurants increased business but also lets them control their purchase and staffing costs since the meals are ordered in advance.

In exchange, the restaurants promote your virtual fundraiser on their email list and social media channels—driving attendance to both your event and their business.

This same strategy can also be used with other businesses to sponsor and promote your event. Quinn notes that by seeing your virtual fundraiser as an opportunity to not only promote your nonprofit organization but also other small businesses, you can secure more mutually beneficial partnerships.

“I’ve had many organizations partner with local stores and services that can offer discounts,” she states. “So, if you go to this salon during this period of time, the salon owner will donate 10% of her sales back to your organization and promote your event. Everybody feels so tapped and super limited that I feel the only way to get a successful cross promotion is where you think about other entities that really need visibility or really need people to know they’re in business and use that opportunity to promote.”  

To make this easier, PayBee offers a one-click social sharing link built into their digital marketing campaigns. After building your campaign, you can share your marketing materials on multiple social media platforms and promote your event and your supporters.

Invest in Targeted Ads

Although nonprofit organizations and charities should be careful not to overextend their budget with paid advertising, investing in targeted marketing can help promote your virtual fundraiser.

Google Ads, for instance, offers a “Customer Match” feature that lets you upload information your supporters have already shared with you, such as their email addresses. Customer Match then offers targeted ads to these people and others like them.

This means your supporters and similar audiences will see targeted ads for your virtual fundraiser appear across the Google platform, in places like Gmail and YouTube. This is an effective feature that can be used simply by uploading your email marketing list to Google.  

“That can be helpful because it creates more impressions, more reminders of the event,” Quinn states. “And I think psychologically it gives the event more legitimacy—instead of just seeing the event in your emails, you’re seeing it on Google Ads.”

Take Full Advantage of an Email Marketing Campaign

Email marketing is one of the most powerful forms of digital marketing today, with some studies showing a return of $42 for every $1 spent on an email campaign.

That being said, Quinn finds that many nonprofit organizations—even large ones—often miss some golden opportunities for promoting their virtual fundraisers through email marketing campaigns.

In particular, she finds that many nonprofits forget most people don’t open every single email they receive. So, if a nonprofit or charity sends out “Save the Date” emails or ticket purchasing emails on different dates, a recipient who doesn’t open all the emails might miss out on important information, preventing him or her from attending the virtual fundraiser.

To make sure attendees receive all the information they need, Quinn advocates sending out comprehensive emails that offer people access to all the information they need about the event. These emails should be written in newsletter-type style with minimal text and links to web pages containing more detailed information about the virtual fundraiser.

For instance, each email can offer a link to a dedicated landing page where invitees can buy tickets or view event schedules.

PayBee’s auto-generated dedicated landing page can help with this. Using a three-step system, your nonprofit can create campaign pages with images and schedules, providing an invaluable resource you can link to in your emails. This enables you to create an easy-to-read outline of your event details in your emails while also giving invitees a way to gain more in-depth information. PayBee also comes with an inbuilt ticketing system that enables you to reach a wider audience.  

By doing this, recipients can easily scan through their emails and stay informed about the upcoming virtual gala, keeping your event fresh in their minds. In addition, placing links to your dedicated landing page in the emails allows your invitees to become more invested in the gala itself as they make regular visits to your site. The more they learn about your event and organization, the more likely they’ll attend.

However, Quinn finds many organizations stop sending emails after a certain point—often after people sign up for the event. She finds this is a huge missed opportunity to continue providing potential attendees with valuable information that can keep them interested in the upcoming virtual gala. Reiterating that not all people who register actually attend the event, Quinn feels it’s important for nonprofits and charities to regularly educate, inform, and keep their supporters excited about events.

“If you think of it like sales, you need to keep your warm lead engaged,” she states. “If they said they want to come, then giving them value of some sort, offering information they might find useful or interesting will make you stay on top of their minds and possibly get them to invite their friends.”

Once again, PayBee’s platform can help by allowing you to create custom messages in your pre-event emails. You can also link your emails to your dedicated landing page and offer additional videos, interviews, profiles, and links to build excitement right up to the day of your event.

Successfully Promoting Your Virtual Fundraising Event

Thanks to the new communication tools offered by digital marketing, attracting a sizeable audience to your virtual fundraising event is very achievable, even for small nonprofits and charities. By combining digital tactics such as targeted advertising and email marketing with enduring techniques like personal invitations and strategic partnerships, you can create a winning marketing strategy for your virtual gala.

That said, it helps to have both technical expertise and professional guidance to ensure your target audience engages with your virtual fundraiser. Emily Quinn offers online webinars that aid nonprofits in producing virtual events. Likewise, PayBee offers a free demo of its virtual conference platform and live Q&A events where you can learn how PayBee’s software helps market your event. Sign up for a free session to discover all the tools you can use to make your upcoming virtual gala a success.

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Michael Jung


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