While most nonprofits had no choice but to pivot to virtual fundraisers during the pandemic, many are sticking with an online format even as in-person events become more feasible again.
Virtual fundraising events allow organizers to minimize costs while focusing on the important issues at hand—and yes, they can be just as fun as in-person events!
We'll take you through 8 steps toward planning your dream virtual fundraiser. Learn how to:
- Determine your goals
- Choose your virtual fundraising event type
- Create your event budget and set entry fees
- Pick your virtual fundraising event platform
- Make an event schedule
- Promote your event
- Follow day-of best practices
- Follow up with attendees
But before you dive in, take a look at what a virtual fundraiser is and why you may want to consider hosting one to raise money for your cause.
What are virtual fundraising events, and why would I plan one for my nonprofit?
Virtual fundraisers are events or campaigns that take place entirely online. Virtual events can be ticketed, donation-based, or free, just like in-person fundraisers. But unlike traditional events, virtual fundraisers have audiences watching and participating remotely, often via livestreamed video.
Virtual fundraisers can also include peer-to-peer or team fundraising elements, which enable supporters to create their own fundraising pages and reach out to their personal networks to ask for donations on behalf of your organization.
Common benefits of virtual events
- Less expensive: You get to ditch the catering, space rental, travel expenses, and other costs that can add up quickly while planning an in-person event.
- Broader reach: Your audience can tune in from anywhere with a good internet connection.
- Longer shelf-life: A recorded video can live on your event page or website for supporters to watch long after the event is over (or as part of your year-end appeal email campaign).
Potential drawbacks of virtual events
- Connecting with donors requires more intentionality: Direct engagement with event participants can be harder to pull off than face-to-face time.
- Zoom fatigue is real: Enticing viewers to log on and stay on can be challenging in this new world of video conference meetings.
- You may need to find other ways to add value: Participants will be less inclined to pay the same price for virtual event tickets if they aren't getting the same perks as an in-person event (a catered meal, party favors, etc.).
How to create a successful virtual fundraising event in 8 steps
Follow these steps to maximize the pros, minimize the cons, and make the most of a virtual event format.
Step 1. Determine your goals ✅
Just like an in-person event, you have to start by setting goals for your virtual fundraiser. Here are some example questions to take back to your fundraising event planning team:
- How much do we need to raise through this event?
- What percentage of donations do we want to be from new donors?
- How many peer-to-peer fundraisers do we want to join the campaign?
Set "SMART" goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals. Once you've set your goals, you can then determine what kind of virtual fundraiser will best help you achieve them.
💡 Dive deeper: Create a killer fundraising plan with these 3 free templates
Step 2. Choose your virtual fundraising event type 🎯
Once you know your goals, you need to decide what kind of virtual event you want to host. The options are limitless, from livestreamed telethons and online trivia competitions to team fundraising campaigns and immersive virtual galas.
The format and content of your event will depend on what you're raising money for, what you want to accomplish, and who your core audience will be. Pick an event you know will excite your supporters.
For instance, if you're trying to raise thousands of dollars through an online event and your donor base is an older demographic, hosting a virtual 10K run may not be the best fit. A star-studded televised benefit that donors can watch from the comfort of their homes may be a better option.
Step 3: Create your event budget and set entry fees 🎟
Now that you’ve got your fundraising goals and your event idea, determine much money you'll need to spend to pull it off and how much, if anything, you'll ask participants to pay to join in.
Your virtual event budget should account for the following:
- Anticipated costs (social media ads for promotion, postage for mailing party kits or other materials to participants, etc.)
- Expected sources of income (tickets, corporate sponsorships, in-kind donations, etc.).
Because there isn't as much overhead compared to an in-person event, more of the proceeds will go directly toward your cause. Remember that your virtual event may not offer as many amenities as an in-person event, so people will be less willing to pay a high admission fee. Consider how much you usually charge attendees, and adjust your ticket prices accordingly.
If you're planning a virtual gala, for example, instead of the $150 you'd usually ask for an in-person ticket, try asking for $15 or $20 a ticket. If you're hosting an online class, consider charging around $10. You can set up several different kinds of tickets to make your event more accessible.
You may even think about getting rid of admission fees altogether. In some cases, people feel that once they've paid these entry fees, their job is done—even if they can afford to give more. Instead, consider offering free access to your virtual event to increase its reach and accessibility. People will donate what they can afford during the event, meaning you might even raise more money than you would if you charged an entry fee.
Make sure to get creative and include several appeals to donate throughout the event.
Step 4. Pick your platform and tools 🛠
Depending on the kind of event you're planning, you will need to decide on the best platform for one, if not all, of these virtual event elements:
- Selling free or paid tickets
- Collecting donations
- Streaming live or pre-recorded video
- Creating opportunities to connect with supporters in real-time
- Incorporating peer-to-peer or team fundraising elements
With Givebutter, you can broadcast your live event right on your campaign page. Attendees can buy tickets, donate to your cause, learn more about your story, and leave comments in your supporter feed while they tune into your event. Plus, Givebutter makes it easy to credit team fundraisers, show progress through a fundraising goal bar, and empower donors to invite their friends through one-click social sharing.
Step 5. Make an event schedule 🗓️
Map out your virtual event strategy and schedule, including a day-of run of show and a timeline for all the preparation that needs to happen leading up to your event. Ensure every item on your timeline is assigned to the team member responsible for seeing it through.
Once you've planned your program, do a practice run with your team and decide who will be available to troubleshoot any issues during the event.
💡 Dive deeper: Access a complete event planning checklist and timeline
Step 6. Publicize your event 📣
Whether it's an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event, hosting a successful fundraiser is all about getting the message out. People can't donate to your cause if they don't know about it! Make sure your virtual seats are filled by creating targeted, personalized email and social media campaigns and encouraging your people to help spread the word.
Announce your virtual fundraiser a few weeks before the big day. As you get closer to showtime, schedule emails and social media posts to go out at least once a week to bring in more RSVPs and keep the momentum going.
You can also set up automated reminders to go out one day before and one hour before the event goes live. It's a good idea to include program information (and your donation link!) in each of these communications, so participants know what to expect. Make sure to include the following:
- Registration information 📝
- Entry fee requirements 💵
- RSVP and any extra guest information 👥
- A link to the virtual event itself 🎫
- Instructions for how to join the event and where to donate 🗺️
Let people know how they can still watch the event and donate after it ends. If you have a good amount of event sponsors, you might be able to work with a public relations agency or leverage paid ads on social media to notify more people of your upcoming fundraiser.
Step 7. Follow these day-of best practices 🧑💻
You've made it to the big day! Greet guests as they join the virtual fundraiser. If you're using a video tool like Zoom, you can greet guests using the chat tool to avoid interrupting the conversation whenever someone new joins.
Wait about 5 minutes for late-comers, but be mindful of people's time. Begin the event by making a presentation and introducing the event program. Make sure to thank all your attendees, sponsors, and community partners at the end of your event.
Step 8. Follow up with attendees after your event 🤗
The event isn't over when the livestream stops. Follow up with social media posts and an email thanking attendees for participating. Share the final amount you raised and ways they can remain engaged with your charity, stay informed on the progress of your cause, and contribute to your mission. This is also a great time to share more about upcoming events, fundraisers, or program updates.
Personalize your thank-yous and segment your emails so that new donors get a different follow-up email than those who've supported your work for a while. Don't forget to shout out on social media and send a personalized thank-you to your sponsors, speakers, volunteers, or other community partners who helped with your event.
Plan your next virtual event with Givebutter
Virtual fundraising is all about removing barriers to participating, sharing, and donating to good causes. It's also why we've made all of Givebutter's 100+ fundraising and events features free for changemakers like you.
From event ticketing and donation processing to auctions and livestreams, we're here to equip you with everything you need to raise funds for your mission—all in one easy-to-use place.
Create your free account and start planning your next virtual fundraising event today!
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.