Fall Virtual Events – Webinar Highlights
If you missed it, our Director of Special Events and Capital Campaigns, Tiffany Parnes, was a guest expert on a recent webinar: “How to plan fall virtual events” hosted by Freewill. Below are some of the important questions attendees had during the conversation – and Tiffany’s answers.
I have a large annual event planned for November. We would substitute a zoom gala. Do you think people will be tired of virtual events by then?
Fatigue with all things virtual is a very real possibility after these difficult months. But, we do not recommend interrupting your fundraising timeline as a result. The challenge with a virtual event is to be extremely creative, which means something different for each organization and its constituents. Spend time brainstorming with respected thought partners on what your specific audience would like to see – dream big! If you entice your audience with something special, they’ll be excited, not tired. And of course, get your board and friends really motivated. Once you have their support, they can help you build the excitement. They will be your best “salespeople!”;
We usually have a fall event. Should we cancel it, postpone it or go virtual at the same time of year?
I don’t recommend cancelling or postponing the event, especially if it is one of your main sources of annual income. It’s important to remember that an event is a valuable donor touch point – don’t lose it! The announcement of the event will be important for prospective new donors too. Use the opportunity of a virtual event to engage with your constituents in a different way. If your organization’s activities have changed because of COVID-19, this is an opportunity to let your audience know what you’ve done. You’ll be connecting with donors directly – and much more effectively than by a series of emails or other static messages. Think of possible donors who, for various reasons are usually unable to attend in person, like health or distance. The virtual gala will give them a new opportunity to join others and get a real sense of your work. Engaging this group is a real bonus.
Do you recommend pre-recording the event or at least certain speaker parts to avoid errors?
The most difficult and important part of producing a virtual event is fostering that feeling of connectivity for your attendees – a feeling that occurs naturally at an in-person event. Your attendees should feel like they are in the room with you, the speakers and the action. Some pre-recorded content is fine, but too much of it can take the intimacy out of the event and dampen the thrill of being live together.
You can present a short 3-4-minute video presentation about the organization (maybe from the perspective of a client or someone benefiting from your work). You can film the honoree(s) telling the audience why their fellow support means so much to them (which you can re-use for future events). These are examples of appropriate pre-recorded content. Everything else should be live to replicate the feeling of an in-person gala. Testimonials and other speakers that are meant to pull at the heartstrings, should be live! A carefully planned live interactive element that invites the audience to un-mute, open video and participate fully is very important.
To avoid technical and other production glitches, insist on a dry run with all your speakers to make sure all individuals are comfortable with the program and know what to expect. A run-through can also help you perfect the transitions between different media. If you’re using Zoom, I would highly recommend hiring an experienced freelance Zoom tech from platforms like UpWork to help with your tech needs the night of the event. I would also recommend establishing a way for everyone involved in the program to communicate with each other – especially the tech support. This will minimize any technical or timing difficulties.
Is it worth investing in production costs to improve the quality of the virtual event?
If you were producing an in-person event, you would hire an AV company to ensure that the technical elements of your event are executed professionally. Usually, you would also hire a video director and/or video editor to create a great organizational video. It is the same with a virtual event. You want your virtual event to appear polished and professional.
Trade off the A/V line item in your budget for:
- A top-tier graphic designer to elevate your event look
- A custom event landing and registration page on your website
- Tech support the night of your event
- Keep the videographer if you are planning video
Does it make sense to do a standard ad journal that would be mailed out in advance of the event?
If your ad journal typically makes up a very large part of your gross revenue for your event, it may still be worth considering printing and sending to your attendees. The income would have to be substantial. However, even before the days of COVID-19, our clients were forgoing a hard copy journal for something web-based. They were not losing revenue with this approach. And, frankly, most hard copy journals end up in the trash.
We recommend an E-journal. This digital version will have actual “pages” with the donor’s name and message, corporate logo, etc. You can still sell full, half and quarter page ads. With an e-journal, you can still flip through each page to view donor ads – you can set it up to flip automatically as well. Additionally, most platforms that host e-journals, also have a “scroll of honor” feature – that scrolls the donor name and sponsorship level, in addition to the e-journal. Another advantage to a digital journal is that it can be available well after it’s over on your website.
This model works best if your staff can update the E-journal with new ads every few days. The updates provide instant gratification for donors, so the sooner you can post the donors’ ad, the better. And of course, the more ads you have in your journal, the more exciting and meaningful the journal will be.
But keep the journal idea in any form. For most individual and corporate donors, purchasing an ad creates a sense of seriousness and legitimacy for your event and for your organization, which helps drive up donations.
In addition to fundraising success what other goals should we set for a virtual event?
Ask yourself what you hope your attendee will get out of the virtual gala. Compare that with what your attendees like most about your in-person gala.
- If your larger donors, those ‘buying’ tables or sponsorships, typically do so because of the impressive leadership, honoree(s) or guest speaker(s) you bring in every year, you will want to create this exclusivity on a virtual platform. You can host a VIP reception before or after the event with these gala ‘stars’ and include a Q&A opportunity for your donors to interact with them directly. Note: this experience is likely more exclusive than what they would have had at an in-person event!
- If you know your attendees look forward to your events as a great networking experience, offer this virtually. Consider setting up breakout rooms (Zoom enables this quite easily) and be thoughtful about putting the right groups together to meet online. Keep it eclectic. Make sure you have a “captain” for each room to keep conversation moving forward – you might even want to provide the captain with a question or two to ask each attendee. Consider having your executive director or board chair visit each room for a few minutes, to ensure FaceTime with your VIP’s and their friends.
Above all, you want your attendees to “have fun!” You want to ensure that every element of your event is a positive, engaging experience where people enjoy themselves, have fond memories and are eager to come back next year – hopefully face to face (with or without masks)!