How to Organize a Virtual Nonprofit Fundraising Event: A Step-by-Step Guide
We might not be at the height of the pandemic anymore, but we’ve not quite gone back to normal either. Many aspects of life and business have now undergone a technological advancement, from video meetings to virtual court hearings, and the world has now caught on to the fact that it’s simply no longer necessary to carry out everything in person. Hosting a virtual fundraising event for your nonprofit is now a legitimate option — and it could actually boost your earning potential rather than hindering it.
Whereas in-person events are limited to guests who are willing and able to travel and your budget constraints, virtual fundraising events have virtually unlimited possibilities. You open your event up to the whole globe and a range of digital activities, with new options being created every day.
But given that fundraising events are complicated enough already, the prospect of organizing a virtual alternative is probably daunting.
To help out, we’ll break the process down into five stages:
- Choosing a platform to host your virtual event.
- Selecting an idea to base the event around.
- Entering the event details onto the platform.
- Marketing and promoting the event.
- Pulling everything off when the day comes around.
There’s a lot to get through, but we’ll explain each step in plenty of detail so that you can go into your first virtual event feeling as confident as you deserve. Let’s get started!
Step One: Choose a Platform to Host Your Event
When you’re planning a physical event, one of the first things you’ll consider is the location, which can sometimes be the hardest part. The virtual equivalent of a location is choosing the online platform you’ll use to set the event up.
There are few different options to consider here, but we recommend Paybee. It’s a platform made especially for running online auctions and virtual fundraising with features that allow you to set up all kinds of events — not just solely virtual events but also hybrid events or physical events with online components.
You can use it to sell tickets, post campaigns, send out event details to supporters, and allow donations (among other things). Since it supports payments from Visa, Mastercard, Apple Pay, Google Pay, and bank transfer, receiving donations has never been easier.
We’ll be using Paybee as the basis for this article, but feel free to use a different platform if you prefer. Most options work in a pretty similar way, so using something else won’t drastically alter the steps involved.
Step Two: Select an Idea
Choosing an event location and deciding on an idea to theme your event around usually come hand in hand, but when it comes to online events, you'll have a little more leeway. When you use a versatile platform like Paybee, you can host just about any kind of event on the platform and get great results. Still, we recommend coming up with an event idea as soon as possible.
If you're familiar with planning fundraising events, you probably have some ideas already, but maybe you're wondering whether they are suitable for a virtual fundraiser. You might be surprised at just how many different types of events are suitable for the digital world with a little bit of flexibility and lateral thinking, but you’d probably like a little reassurance or a starting point to get your creative juices flowing.
Besides, having a few extra ideas can never hurt, right? Here are ten of our favorite options.
Who doesn’t love a good old pub quiz? And thanks to the pandemic, the idea of hosting an online quiz is no longer as foreign as it was in the pre-2020 world. They’re now a popular option for anyone who wants to bond and reconnect with friends who live far away — as well as a more low-maintenance option than heading down to the local pub.
For your prize, try approaching local businesses to see if they’re willing to give away some of their goods or services to you for free in the spirit of charity. You might be surprised at how many takers you get!
There’s definitely no need to spend too much money on fancy prizes (as long as you’re not charging much for entry). Most people enjoy the competitive spirit and unpredictability of quizzes more than the prospect of winning, so they’re unlikely to turn away just because the prizes aren’t “good enough.” It’s for charity, after all.
As an added extra, you could even consider offering your participants the chance to order a bundle of refreshments to power them through the quiz round, such as soft drinks and cookies. Maybe you could even match them to the quiz theme.
Runs have been a staple of the fundraising world so almost as long as fundraising itself. They tend to be popular since they give people an incentive to get fit and make their loved ones proud while also having a positive impact on the world through the money they raise.
An outdoors run might not sound like the ideal choice for an online event, platforms like Paybee makes it as easy and interactive as possible. Participants have the option to livestream their run on the big day and encourage donations by uploading content related to their training journey.
Even better, multiple participants can livestream on the same video and share their results, making the online event as close to its in-person equivalent as possible. Sure, it might not be as fair or accurate to have participants running their races on different terrain with different conditions, potentially in various corners of the globe, but that’s not really the point. It’s all about having fun and raising money for a good cause!
- Gaming Tournament
If you’d prefer to opt for an event that doesn’t pose fitness as a barrier for entry, you might prefer to opt for a gaming tournament. The choices for games are practically limitless — you could opt for anything from poker (probably not the strip variety) to Scrabble to arcade games. Why not host a variety of games on the same night to ensure maximum interest?
Using a platform like Paybee gives you an easy way to charge admission for the event, and it can connect with more common game-streaming networks like Twitch, which you may want to use to facilitate certain types of games.
How competitive you make the night is up to you. Some might prefer a more casual atmosphere, while others may want to take the opportunity to encourage as many people to get involved as possible by offering prizes.
Paybee lets you give out prizes to winners within the platform, and even viewers can take part by donating when the participants achieve certain goals. You only need to look at YouTube and Switch to see how popular gaming content is, so this is a great chance to bring in far more attendees and supporters than you’d be able to fit into an in-person event.
- Product Auction
For nonprofits with their own branded merchandise, holding an auction can be a fun way to raise money using the resources you have already. Even if you don’t have your own line, why not use this idea as an excuse to make the leap and launch one? Popular options include clothes, accessories, mugs, stationery, and towels, but you could turn just about every household or essential item into a branded version.
These are all products that most people need anyway, so if your supporters are running short on one of the branded items you’re selling, they’ll generally be more than happy to kill two birds in one stone by stocking up and helping you out.
Paybee gives you the choice to host a silent auction (with no auctioneer and anonymous bidding) and a live auction, but you can also sell your products for a set price if you’d prefer. There are also ready-built tools to promote items on social media, helping you reach as many potential customers as possible.
- Gift Card Auction
If you don’t have any merchandise to sell right now or if you’d simply prefer to sell something other than your own products, a gift card auction is likely to go down a treat. You might be skeptical if you don’t know much about the gift card world, but they have quite a cult following. Why not throw in some extra excitement by having some mystery gift card auctions with the possibility of winning a high-value card?
Even if you don’t have any gift cards to sell, you might be surprised at how many you can get hold of by contacting local businesses and national chains — possibly even for free. Maybe you could even advertise for a gift card collection in your local area to see if anyone has a few spares lying around.
A gift card auction is the perfect example of an event that actually works better in a virtual format. You might struggle to pull in the crowds if you held it locally due to the niche appeal of gift cards, but there are more than enough mega-fans worldwide to throw a profitable event.
A gala is a classic nonprofit event, whether you opt for a formal dinner, a ball-style dance, a live music event, a lunch, or any other kind of variation. Given that the draw of these events is usually the location and entertainment, it might sound like the last thing you’d be able to host virtually, but hear us out.
You can make a virtual gala feasible by live streaming performances or entertainment, holding live chats or Q&A sessions with speakers, and holding auctions (see numbers four and five on this list). Of course, these ideas are just a starting point — feel free to go wild with anything else you can think up.
Since you won’t have to shell out the cash on a fancy venue, catering, and more, you can also maximize the amount of money that goes to a good cause (although you probably want to charge a little less than you would for an event with all the frills).
Having said that, if you want to pull out all the stops to give your guests a good experience, you could consider sending out your refreshments in the post. Receiving the components of a three-course dinner or a few canapes and cocktails in the post is certainly a novelty, and likely to go down a storm.
The best part? None of the guests have to put any effort into getting ready and selecting an outfit (at least, not from the shoulders down).
Paybee is particularly adept at holding virtual galas, with tools that let you carry out all the activities above as smoothly as possible while offering technical support to ensure that nobody is left staring at a glitching screen.
- Virtual “TED Talk”
Unless you happen to have a minor celebrity or published author working for your nonprofit, you’re probably not going to be able to pull off an actual TED Talk conference (or even a TED X event, for that matter). But throwing a TED-style event is something that most people recognize and may feel drawn to. Why not use that appeal to your advantage by using it as the inspiration for a fundraising event?
You could even theme the event around the topic related to your nonprofit to help raise awareness and encourage more donations — although of course you could also opt for a completely different theme (or no theme at all) to keep things interesting.
On Paybee, you can hold a virtual TED Talk using the same software as the Virtual Gala hosting, which demonstrates just how many choices you have at your disposal. When you enable full-screen modes, the talks will be broadcasted to the audience, and they’ll have the option to donate while they continue watching.
Learning doesn’t end when we leave the classroom — many adults are keen to learn about new topics and grow their skillset. Webinars can function like a TED Talk with a single guest and the chance for questions at the end or as more of an interactive event where participants are taught how to do something through a mixture of lectures and activities.
This is made easy when you use Paybee — the platform offers a split-screen function so participants can view the webinar streaming on one screen and information or resources (like a PDF or Powerpoint) on the other.
If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get hold of a celebrity or established figure to run a webinar based on their specialist subject, which is always effective for bringing in the crowds.
Some ideas for classes could include (but aren’t limited to):
- Creative writing
- Human rights
The sky's the limit here. And you’re not just limited to theoretical, ideas-based webinars like the ideas outlined above, either.
Webinars and online classes for more academic topics make sense since they only involve a “teacher” and a few interactive opportunities, but learning a more practical or hands-on skill through a virtual classroom will probably seem like a step too far for most people. But hold on — virtual workshops are possible with the right approach.
Send out instructions to your guests before the class to ensure they know what to expect and any supplies they’ll need to take part. In some cases, you could even send out the supplies through the post.
To boost your earning potential, you could even combine a workshop and webinar together by giving some participants a cheaper price to simply observe the class and others the “full package” and the chance to get involved and receive instruction.
Of course, some skills are easier to teach than others — you’ll probably have an easier time with a meditation class than a cooking class — but don’t be afraid to go a little crazy considering it’s all for a good cause. These classes might not be quite as effective as attending an in-person workshop for actually mastering a new skill, but they can certainly be great fun for everyone involved.
- Wine Tasting
Workshops and webinars aren’t for everyone, but if there’s one thing that unites (almost) all of us, it’s a love of wine. And since it’s perfectly feasible to send out wine through the post and get a wine expert to talk guests through the flavors via video call, there’s no reason why you can’t make this sophisticated event virtual.
Although you could invite hundreds or even thousands of attendees to a wine tasting night, we recommend keeping the event exclusive this time to keep with the usual vibe of a wine tasting experience. Most people will prefer a more intimate experience and the chance to discuss their opinions on the wine with other attendees and the expert.
Another top tip: think of a theme for the night. For instance, French wines or the best of white wines.
Since wine tasting tends to attract a crowd that’s more than happy to shell out for the joy of sampling some fine alcohol, this can also be a fantastic moneymaker for your nonprofit. Of course, you’re by no means limited to wine tasting — you could also consider holding similar events for testing tea, cheese, chocolate, or just about anything else you can think of.
Step Three: Enter the Details for Your Event
With any luck, you're used to sharing information about your events online already, whether it's through email or social media. That will certainly make step three a lot easier for you since that's all about entering in the details of your events on Paybee (or your chosen platform), such as the date, photos, and how to get involved or donate.
But don't worry if you're starting from scratch and used to getting the word out through traditional means like local newspapers or posters — we’ll explain everything you need to know.
A Quick Checklist
The most important components involved in setting up your event are as follows:
- Choosing images. High-quality pictures with good lighting can make the difference between grabbing someone’s attention and losing them from the get-go. This is particularly important if you’re holding an auction and need to upload images of the items up for grabs.
- Writing image descriptions. In the case of an auction or any other demonstrative images, be sure to add a simple but clear description.
- Adding sponsor logos. If a company or organization has agreed to sponsor your event, you need to honor your side of the deal by giving them publicity. This can also work in your favor by giving you extra credibility.
- Recording videos. Pre-recorded videos introducing your nonprofit and its mission can be used both for marketing and to play during the event itself to encourage donations.
- Using bulk uploads. If you already have an Excel spreadsheet with information about your auctions, you can bulk upload it to Paybee to save yourself time and effort.
- Using hybrid features. If you’d like to combine elements of virtual and in-person events together, be sure to make use of Paybee’s hybrid features, like table management, checkout, and name cards.
- Making a landing page. This step is optional, but creating a standalone website to outline your event is a great way to inform any potential attendees. Paybee can even generate a landing page automatically based on the information you enter.
Step Four: Marketing Your Event
Ah, promotion. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that it’s one of the most crucial elements to making your event a success. Remember, you’re not holding this event for the love of art or to boost your ego; you’re doing it to raise money for a good cause, and that’s not going to happen unless enough people are aware it’s even happening.
There are hundreds of different strategies you could experiment with, but here are a few of our favorites — along with some general principles to keep in mind.
Generate the Hype
There’s nothing quite like building up excitement for an event beforehand to ensure you stay at the front of everyone’s mind and get people talking. You could do this by teasing event details beforehand on social media or emails.
If you’re holding an auction, perhaps you could even open it a few days before to let people familiarize themselves with what will be sold.
Target Loyal Supporters
When you’re planning an exciting new event, you often want to attract exciting new attendees — but don’t forget about your most loyal supporters and donors. Many nonprofits make the mistake of assuming that the attendance of these people is already “in the bag” and so they don’t need to put effort into courting them; truth is, around half of those who register for a virtual event don’t end up turning up.
Avoid this happening to you by sending out personal invitations to your core supporters and showing them how much you appreciate them.
You could also consider encouraging your volunteers, members, and leaders to invite a few guests to boost the numbers.
Make the Right Partnerships
Partnerships with local businesses are a mainstay of fundraising events; as we’ve seen already, asking them to donate prizes for auctions or competitions is a common approach, and one they’re often happy to oblige.
However, we have to admit that the post-pandemic landscape has changed things a little. Many businesses have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and may not be in a position to give away freebies — but that just means you have to get a little creative.
For instance, while a restaurant might not be willing to give away a free meal, you could strike up an arrangement to promote their business in return for them promoting your event.
You may also find that some businesses are willing to offer discounts or other special offers.
So, be strategic but also mindful of what businesses are going through.
Use Targeted Ads
Now we’re getting on to the more typical marketing strategies. If you want to get maximum value for your marketing spend then targeted ads should be near the top of your list. You build a specific picture of who you’re trying to target (e.g., 20-25-year-old males who like video games) and the ad hosting platform will exclusively target them.
This is most commonly used by social media platforms, but it can also be used on search engines and other sites.
You don’t even necessarily need to come up with all this demographic information yourself. For instance, on Google Ads, you can use the Customer Match feature and share the data you already have about your supporters by uploading your mailing list.
Run an Email Marketing Campaign
Speaking of mailing lists, email marketing is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to reach the people you need to reach. If your supporters have already shared their email addresses with you in good faith, why wouldn’t you capitalize on that by targeting them with a real marketing campaign when you have a fundraising event coming up?
While almost all charities will send out an email or two alerting their mailing list about an upcoming event, most of them leave things there. This is a huge mistake — most people only open their emails sporadically, so you need to contact them a few times to be sure they even know the event is happening.
And then you should probably message them a few times more to remind them in case they were busy the first time.
But don’t go overboard with the marketing speak — keep things to the point and inform them about the event’s key details as briefly as possible, along with a link to buy tickets. Aim for something that your recipients can scan in a few seconds.
Even when someone on your list registers the event, you should continue to contact them. Remember how half of the registered supporters fail to actually attend a virtual event? Get them excited about the event beforehand by telling them about the itinerary and any potential prizes or auction items up for grabs.
This might sound rather time-consuming, but Paybee makes the process as easy as possible by providing you with templates for landing pages and email messages complete with aesthetically pleasing designs and space for all the information you need. You can also add auto-generated RSVP links to the ends of your emails to make it as easy as possible for your guests to keep you in the loop.
Make a Logo
To make your event as memorable as possible, a custom-made logo can make all the difference. Once you have it, you can use it across multiple mediums, from your social media to newsletters to posters.
As we’ve said already, creating a landing page for your virtual event isn’t absolutely essential — but it can certainly be a useful tool for promotion. If you do decide to take the plunge, putting your logo in pride of place is a must.
Promote on the Day
You might think that it’s too late to market your event when the day itself comes around, but don’t be so sure. A last-minute reminder doesn’t hurt, and it builds up the excitement.
So, be sure to post on your nonprofit’s social media and send out an email on the big day to share your preparations.
Even when the event is finished, you might want to send follow-up communications to make your attendees feel part of a community, encourage them to attend the next event, and turn them into loyal supporters.
Hone Your Promotion Skills
If you really feel like you’ve been thrown in at the deep end here, it’s not too late to learn. Even if you think you understand the world of marketing, you might not realize just how much you don’t know — there’s far more technical skill and professional know-how than just writing a few social media captions or newsletters with whatever feels right to you.
To take your skills to the next level, why not learn from someone who’s a step ahead? Emily Quinn runs online webinars specifically for nonprofits hosting digital events, so it’s the perfect fit for charity workers in need of a little extra training.
Step Five: Pulling it Off
It would be cruel to write a “step-by-step” guide without offering any advice about what happens at the time of execution. There’s a lot more variability here and you can’t really follow a plan to the tee or prepare for every eventuality — but you can certainly put yourself in the best position possible.
Building the Right Team
What could be more important for successful execution than putting together the right team? Maybe technology (see below) — but your team is still important.
Running a virtual event requires far less manpower than its in-person equivalent since there’s less planning involved; ultimately, all you need is someone to host the event, someone to handle the technical side, and possibly someone to provide entertainment or run an auction. But it’s certainly still important to get the dynamics right.
To help you figure out how many people you need, map out all the tasks and responsibilities required to make the event a success. You should have a good idea of these already from what you’ve read so far, but here’s a brief summary:
- Approaching businesses about partnerships and donations.
- Sending out email marketing campaigns.
- Posting to social media.
- Running other kinds of promotional efforts.
- Setting up the event details online.
- Preparing the technical aspects for the day.
- Developing the auction.
- Preparing the schedule for the day.
- Planning post-event outreach and campaigns.
Naturally, we’re only skimming the surface here.
Assign Roles for the Day
In addition to the team handling the “behind-the-scenes” processes, you also need to put some thought into who will be running the show on the day itself. They’ll be responsible for entertaining your audience, so no pressure!
When it comes to auctions, some prefer a two-person team (an auction host and a producer) while others favor a team of three (the same as before plus a charity rep).
Which should you choose? It depends on your goals — a duo is simpler, but having a charity representative on board can potentially offer more visual and verbal stimulation for the audience.
The structure you go for will partly depend on the skills of the people fulfilling different roles — for instance, if your auction host happens to be extremely charismatic, it might not be necessary to bring a representative into the mix.
Setting Your Schedule
It’s normal for big charity events like gala dinners to run on for hours, online events rarely have the staying power. In fact, we recommend keeping the schedule to under an hour.
The brevity of virtual events can be a blessing (less to plan and less time for anything to go wrong), but it means you need to be extra careful about your itinerary. Leave the main fundraising efforts to the end and you risk half your “attendees” having already logged out.
Instead, put your fundraising first while everyone is still paying attention and save the last part of the event for entertainment. Oh, and make sure the event is continually engaging so you can stop people from zoning out where possible. Lulls are standard procedure for events, and it’s not normally a major issue since guests can talk to each other. Since this isn’t an option for virtual events, you need to put in that extra bit of effort.
Check the Technical Side
When you’re running a virtual event, everything ultimately comes down to technology. If you lose connection or your audio settings aren’t working properly, it could completely ruin the experience for all your attendees. The most common offenders are live cameras and microphones being disconnected, so give them both some extra attention.
Run multiple tests in the days leading up to the event and a few hours before to ensure everything is working, and prepare for the worst.
Have a Plan B, a Plan C, and probably even a Plan D to carry out in case your Plan A doesn’t work out.
Now It’s Over to You
There’s been a lot to take on board here. We’ve talked you through the possibility of hosting a virtual wine tasting event, recording a video about your nonprofit to upload, creating a dedicated landing page, and hundreds of other ideas.
You probably need some time to digest — but if you take away one thing from this guide, it should be that holding a virtual event is far easier when you have the right tools to automate processes and provide the features you need for the event itself. This takes the bulk of the guesswork out of the equation and leaves you to focus on what you really care about: your nonprofit and your mission.
Our online auction platform makes organizing a virtual fundraiser as straightforward as it can possibly be. Accept payments from all major payment processors and card networks to accept donations, run events of all kinds (from webinars to silent auctions), and take advantage of our marketing tools to spread the word as fast as possible. Virtual events are the future, and we’d love for you to join us at the frontier. Why not sign up today and get your fundraiser underway?