Want your next fundraising event to be a hit? Give it digital legs! In this webinar, Dana Ostomel explains how to plan your next event with digital in mind from day one.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Events in a Digital Age: How to Maximize Offline Events in an Online World.” And my name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin—I just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides. If you haven’t already gotten those, you’ll get them again with the recording. So, you don’t have to worry if you want to leave early or maybe you want to review the content later one or share it with a coworker or a friend. I definitely would appreciate that as well. So, just look for an email from me in just a couple of hours after we conclude here with all those goodies.

Most importantly, as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. I know a lot of you have already, so thank you for that. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So, don’t be shy about questions and comments. I’ll keep an eye on those throughout the hour and we’ll try and answer just as many as we can before the 2:00 p.m. Eastern hour. You can also use Twitter to do that. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed as well.

One last bit of technical note, if you have any trouble with your audio through your computer speakers, try dialing in by phone if you can if you don’t mind doing that. We find the phone quality is a little bit better quality than the computer speaker quality for listeners. There is a phone number you can dial in in the email from ReadyTalk that went out around noon Eastern today. So, give that a try before you give up on us completely. Usually, the phone is a little bit better.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar with us, I just want to say an extra special welcome. We usually get a few first timers every week we do these. I just wanted to say thanks for being here and taking an hour out of your day. If you don’t already know about Bloomerang, we offer donor management software. That’s kind of our core business. We do these webinars and lots of other educational things, but the software is what we’re most known for.

If you’re curious about that and want to check us out, maybe thinking of switching sometime soon, visit our website. Don’t do that now. Wait until an excellent presentation because you’re about to get one. I got one of my favorites, Dana Ostomel, joining us from beautiful New York. Hey, Dana. How’s it going?

Dana: Hi, everyone. Very, very good. Thank you.

Steven: Yes. Thanks for being here. Super excited for this presentation. I was just chatting with Dana for—it flew by because we’re good buddies. It’s always good to see her in person and also have her on our webinar series. If you guys don’t know Dana, I just want to brag on her really quickly for you. She is the Vice President of Nonprofit Industry Development over at Firespring, which is, again, one of my favorite companies. Two of my favorites are represented here today. They do a great job of producing software and websites for nonprofits.

Prior to joining Firespring, Dana was the founder of Deposit a Gift, which is a great crowdfunding platform that a lot of nonprofits use. A lot of them use both that and Bloomerang. Now, she is the crowdfunding expert over at Firespring. You’re going to see a lot of that knowledge come out in her presentation today.

Frequent conference speaker, webinar presenter—if you see her name on a conference schedule, get to that room early. Trust me, I have witnessed this firsthand. That room usually fills up really quickly and is standing room only. She’s worked with tons of companies in her career helping with marketing, brands like Snapple, MasterCard, DirectTV. Super awesome person and I’m going to hand it over to her because she’s going to tell you all about a multichannel approach to events. So Dana, my friend, take it away, okay?

Dana: Wonderful and thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it. How’s the sound, everyone? I’m just switching over to my PowerPoint visual so you guys can see. I’m putting it in presentation mode, so I actually can’t see the ReadyTalk thing anymore, but Steven, do the slides look okay, nice and big?

Steven: Yeah. It looks like it’s working.

Dana: All right, cool. All right. Wonderful. Well, thank you, guys. Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here. We always do a little bit of our own welcome slide. We probably should have nixed this. In any event, here’s a little reminder about Twitter and where you can find us. Of course, as Steven said, you’re going to get the slides and the recording very shortly after this webinar being over.

If this is your first webinar where you’re hearing from those of us at Firespring, I always love to just give a bit of orientation about who we are and what we’re about. I’m actually located in New York City here. This is where I live, where I work, where I built my company before we joined forces with Firespring and then I just continued to work here remotely. Firespring is located in Lincoln, Nebraska. So, right there in the Heartland, that’s where the whole team is, ready to support you, talk to you, answer any questions you have. I always mention that I’m a born and raised California girl, so hopefully a little bit of a hybrid of a human. Although, crazy enough, it’s starting to be where I’ve almost lived half my life on each coast, which I don’t know what that means, but it is a fact.

Let me tell you something about Firespring that is just kind of a personal story, something that really spoke to me when I was getting to know the company. A couple years ago, actually, before we joined forces, I learned about them being a B-corp. Some of you might know about that designation. B-corps are benefit corporations like Warby Parker, TOMS Shoes, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia.

So, we’re all mission and purpose-driven companies, where we are committed to not only developing growing our businesses, but also giving back to the community and making the world a better place. The way that Firespring lives those values is through something that we call our power of three program, where we leverage our people, are products and our profit as a force for good and donate 3% of each back to the community.

I can tell you that, I guess, getting to know Firespring, knowing that’s both what the company is designated as, but also really the values that all of the employees there live, I can tell you that every Firespringer really does get up every day looking to bring it—that’s one of our values, bring it every day so that everything we put into our products, our services, our education is top-notch and really beneficial to all of you guys, who really are the change makers of the world.

We want to make sure that whatever we’re offering is really helping you do your work and make the world a better place and just hoping that, you know, we’re doing our small part here in that way. We’ve got two slides here of locations. This also just shows you where Bloomerang is right there in Indiana.

So, let’s talk about today’s objective. I want to talk about why we’re here today. When we put together this webinar, it’s actually relatively new. We wanted to focus on helping the community widen the lens through which you view your events, everything from planning to execution so that they include digital from the get-go. The reality is that we just don’t live in a world where digital is optional anymore, but many of us are still approaching our events in that way.

So, if you live in that camp, my hope is that by the end of this webinar, we’ve at least helped tweak your mindset a little bit, focused you on the most important element to tackle first, ensuring you have an understanding of the technology that you have at your fingertips to really make that easy.

I know for a lot of organizations, special events are a core part of what you do for development and community cultivation and now there’s this whole thing called the internet and digital tools and wait a minute, how are we supposed to bring those things together, kind of knowing in the back of our mind that’s what we should be doing, but when something is new and kind of foreign, I think it’s challenging.

So, here’s what we’re going to go over today, I hope it’s helpful, especially if you work in a team environment, which most of us do, I really want to make sure that you have the language necessary to guide the conversation internally, especially if this is something you believe in that you’re like, “We need to up our game, we need to integrate digital into what we’re doing for special events, but not everyone on my team is on board or they kind of get it but they don’t fully understand or we just aren’t fluent to be able to have that conversation internally.”

We don’t have the language to be able to go through our options and figure out what makes sense for us and what doesn’t. So, that’s actually one of the most important things today is just making sure that you have the language and the nomenclature to really be able to discuss your options.

And then also I wanted to go through all the digital resources that are available, like functionally speaking. I’m not going to go through and mention all the different companies out there, but I am going to talk about what you need to know what you need to evaluate, like tools you should be thinking about, if you’re going to do one thing, what is the most important thing to do. So, hopefully, you’ll get the language and you’ll get the know-how about the resources you’ll need to execute and be in a good place to make some decisions for your next event.

So, let’s just make sure we’re on the same page. I want to start with some basics in the interest of language. I’d like to start by defining what a special event is so that we’re all starting from the same place. Actually, I use a really great report that Steven share with me that Bloomerang was a part of sponsoring. The main author was Plymouth University and then Bloomerang and a bunch of other companies sponsored the effort and it was called the Great Fundraising Events Report. This report defined a special event as a planned public or social occasion to achieve specific goals.

If you don’t already hold special events or you’re just looking for some ideas, what I wanted to do as a starting point was to give you the top 15 most common event types to get your wheels turning. You may see on here some events you already do. You might be thinking about wanting to do some new ones and this will give you some schematics to consider.

Here’s what we know about special events. We know that donor-centric events perform best. Research shows that there are actually seven key motivations for donors, which is what we’ve outlined here. Although it seems obvious, it’s not always considered, but it is easier to exceed expectations if you know who you’re catering to and what drives them. So, you always want to begin with that end in mind. This is the marketer in me coming out, like thinking about mindset and segmentation and psychographics, but I really do believe that’s important in any initiative that you do.

So, what you want to do is think about the personas. Who are the different people that support your organization, identify who it is that you’re trying to connect with for this particular event? I think that identifying or outlining these personas is especially helpful when briefing event planners or even if you’re not going to bring an event planner on or you are running the event but you’re going to bring in other people, obviously we can’t do it alone, so volunteers, even, or other team members to help you, this helps you come to the table with an outline of the vision for the event, what you’re trying to achieve and who the target audience is and then this helps you get aligned. Really, if it’s an event planner or an internal team, you are then able to focus on the needs of these very specific individuals you have in mind and plan an experience they would find deeply moving and personally meaningful.

We know it’s that emotional connection that motivates people, that galvanizes people to take action on our behalf and of course, there is always a desired action for these events, and we’re going to get to in a second, the different things we might be looking to get to out of our events, and it’d really be who-who when you do start doing an event to think about that back into who then might be attending, what are your desired outcomes, etc., and plan something.

Frankly, even if you’ve been doing the same event year after year, a lot of times I find people attend this webinar because they have been doing the same event every year but they sort of hit a plateau. So, they haven’t really moved the needle on donations or less people have been coming or it’s always the same people that have been coming and they want to shake things up a little bit. So, even if it’s an event you’ve been doing forever, you might do this type of analysis.

So, before diving into the most important digital aspects to consider, we want to talk for a minute about measurement. I’m just curious and I know Steven is moderating the chat box, so you’re welcome to chime in if I bring up any thoughts or idea or ask any questions because he’ll kind of use that as fodder for our Q&A at the end. But I’m curious how often you put on an event without thinking about what you’re trying to achieve in a truly focused way and maybe even putting on an event without setting out some specific objective that you can measure against to determine the success of that event.

If this is you, you’re not alone. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but it is something to think like, “Okay, if we want to up our game a little bit, measurement is a key component of these events and we can develop those parameters and create systems and tools to help us figure out if we’re moving the needle on our event. Beyond raising money, which is what most of us hope to ultimately achieve, what are the less obvious key objectives to measure event success that you might want to consider.

Now, I know you won’t be trying to achieve all of these for any one particular event, but what I did want to do is review what the most common objectives for events overall could look like. So, yes, it’s about raising money, but it’s also about raising awareness. When you think about measurement in the form of increasing the visibility that allows you to engage more people in the context of a special event, you then want to think about what kinds of tactics you’d want to deploy that would have a very specific return.

So, what I’ve done here is laid out for you the main goals for raising awareness and then offer some tactics for our considerations. I think when you look at the tactics, you’ll note that they’re sort of broke out into the pre-marketing initiatives, what happened during the event and then the after. So, really the before, during, and after of the event. What we’re trying to do, obviously, is increase visibility for our event, especially in that early, pre-marketing stage, and also increase visibility of our organization, trying to educate people what we’re about, especially again in that pre-marketing period, we’re trying to drive registrations.

But I will say that you’re going to hear me talk about some ideas for how you can drive registrations for the following year’s event for people who are in attendance or people who are not in attendance. I find some of these goals to be fluid and I share that with you because I don’t want you to think that it’s, “Only during this period do we do this one thing.” There’s a lot of fluidity here.

Okay. Yes, it’s about raising money, but it’s also about bringing new donors into the fold. I think that one of the cool things about holding special events is they are a great opportunity to get your inner circle of key supporters to invite their networks to attend and get people involved. So, if this is something that’s important to you, something you might want to think about is establishing an actual goal targeting x-percent of new people in attendance or x-percent of new people donating, really trying to draw a measurable line in the sand so you can see if your efforts are working.

So, what I’ve outlined here are maybe some goals to consider for why you might want be wanting to identify new donors, raising more money, tapping into new networks, broadening that pipeline and then here are some tactics to help you get there. If there are ways for you to diversify the donation opportunities, meaning it’s not just about buying a ticket that’s interesting.

If you can create some gamification during your event, like some game, kind of competitive element, that’s interesting, making sure that we are capturing all attendee data electronically is really important, especially if you are an organization that has one person buying a table and then inviting guests that may not need to register. So, these are some things to think about from that perspective. Then of course, yes, it’s about raising money, but so much of why we do special events is about donor stewardship and about creating opportunities to deepen relationships with our supporters and get them more involved.

This quote really spoke to me. This is something from The Fundraising Authority which is a blog some of you may or may not follow. But I feel it really centers us on why we do what we do with special events. So, what they say is that stewarding after a donation is like cultivating before a donation. It is a process by which the organization develops an ever-stronger relationship with the donor and involves constant communication to deepen that relationship.

So, so much of why we do special events is sort of that in-person embodiment of all of communications and cultivation. Then I think what’s need about being able to intertwine digital into this typically offline experience is that there’s a lot that we can do to increase the communications and the touches to help deepen those relationships even more.

So, benchmarks you might consider are specific goals that get new donors more deeply entrenched. You might considering measuring the effect that showing an existing donor with gratitude has for their repeat support and what impact that could have on your event, especially if your organization hasn’t been great about implementing appreciation systems and then even thinking about implementing a before and an after survey to gauge how your community feels about you, those can all be interesting ways to create benchmark and measurement systems.

So, this is a matrix that I really like that also came from that sustainable philanthropy report that I referenced before that Bloomerang had a role in bringing to life. It outlines—it gives you a sense of what you should be focused on depending on what your primary goal is as well as the outcomes you should expect to guide your work. I’m not going to go into all the details. As Steven said, you’re going to get the slides at the end and the recording and then you can kind of go through this.

I think this is a good way and this is what I was talking about, identifying what that end goal is and then backing what your approach should be and then of course, who your ideal target audience is to be there, what type of meaningful experience you want to craft for that particular experience to get the payoff for that particular goal.

So, unfortunately, when we talk to nonprofits, what we find is that most are still approaching their events in a very linear, non-integrated, non-digital way. This approach can be a big missed opportunity for everything, from streamlining administrative tasks to generating higher returns for the event. It really runs the gamut. So, especially if you’ve been feeling like your special events have hit a plateau over the last few years, now I think is a good time to consider the impact of doing things a little bit differently.

Here’s what we know. What we know is that across all event types, digital makes a difference. In fact, Blackbaud recently did a study that found that nonprofits that email will raise more than those who don’t email. This was just the findings on the impact of email. So, to me, it kind of blows my mind a little bit because I feel like we need to take a step further mentally and say can you imagine what’s possible if you were to pull all the digital levers that you have access to.

Email is just one component and it’s an important component and certainly, nonprofits could do a better job with how they leverage this and then what else could they implement. So, that’s what we’re going to be diving into today. But just as a recap, especially because I promised you the language to be able to go and have that really important debate internally to decide, “Okay, yes, we’re going to add digital, but we can’t do everything, so which components matter the most?”

I think just to ground ourselves, here is why this kind of change can be a good thing, a little cheat sheet, if you will. So, it’s about efficiency. It’s about ease of use, which really does have a pretty material impact on participation. Digital helps you broaden your reach. It’s less expensive. It’s faster and, importantly, it is clean.

Now, for a lot of people, incorporating digital into their special events can be a little bit scary, scary prospect, you might say, but we don’t think it should be. Granted, you can say, “Well, that’s easy for you to say, Firespring people, you deal with digital and websites all the time.” That’s true. But that’s why we said let’s break it down for people and let’s really show what some of the lifecycle of the digital gears for a special event, I wanted to share with you want that could look like and also, I wanted to highlight what I think some of the most important things are. So, if you’re picking and choosing what your next steps are, you can make some decisions because obviously, it’s a process, these things evolve.

The way that we set up the gears, which is what’s going to guide, really, the meat and potatoes of the rest of this conversation is it’s not so much in the order of importance. I did this more in the chronology and then I will verbally highlight for you what I think is most critical to help you make some decisions and then we can always talk through some things at the end.

So, let’s start by talking about an evergreen home. I find that this is the one key word that I use that people are like, “Huh, what are you talking about?” So, let me break this down for you. An evergreen home is a dedicated website with a unique URL created just for the purposes of supporting the event. It would be separate from your main website and it lives all year long just talking about the event.

Now, it can be especially helpful when you’re trying to create a unique brand identity for your event. Evergreen homes are not going to be for everyone. It may be that you just have certain dedicated areas on your website and that’s also fine. It kind of depends what you’re trying to do with your event. So, the URL escapes me right now, but I’m thinking of DoSomething.org, which is an organization that motivates people under 18 for having an impact on the world. They have a gala and they have a website that’s up all year long, but there’s a variety of organizations that do this. So, what I’m going to do in the following slide is outline for you the different iterations an evergreen website could take when you think about how it could work hard for you during the various stages of the lifecycle of your event.

So, here’s some ways that I think could be really quite useful. It could be an archive for the previous year’s information. When your event is over, you can turn it into a save the date. Then, of course, when you’re in the heat of the event, the evergreen home for your special event is a one-stop shop for all the details and it’s shareable and accessible at all times. It’s not like it goes dark ever. You just have someone who maintains it and morphs the content to be appropriate for the timing.

The way that people will know the access it—because people often ask this question during Q&A, so I’ll just jump into it now, they’ll say, “How will they know that exists. If everyone comes to our main website, why in the world would they know about this website that’s just for our special fundraising event. The way that they know is by way of your marketing activities.

So, whether you drive them to it from an email or from a spotlight on your homepage or your social media, it’s really all about the marketing. Even if you don’t do an evergreen home for your event, because this is not one of those things that I’m going to say is a must have, like you have to be doing this, but it is, I think, a cool thing that is a trend, something to think about. Even if you just have certain dedicated areas on your website, people will find out about those dedicated areas in the exact same way. It’s all about marketing. It’s all about that unique call to action where you drive people to to inquire about a next step.

Now, we’re going to look at the gear about registration. I will tell you that probably the most important thing to consider in your digital arsenal if you do nothing else is registration. What you don’t want is online frustration. You want online registration. I hate to break it to you, but if what you have today is a PDF you have to download and submit, that is not online registration. The number one reason that people will visit your website—this has been proven through research—is to register for events.

Really, what you see on this slide here are some key statistics as to why. I won’t get into all the details. You’ll get the slides and hopefully this will be helpful if you’re waging some internal battle about whether you should be taking registration online, but the top three tech tools for measuring event success are all tied to registration, management, and feedback. Obviously, there are some massive efficiencies that you can get from having things done online.

When you do online registration today, it’s almost always automatic no matter what tool you use, whether you choose Firespring or the various other ticket selling tools that are out there, most of the modern technology is already mobile. You don’t have to make it be mobile, but I think it’s important that when you are figuring out which tool you want to use to make sure it is mobile because that is key. A lot of us really underestimate how much of our community wants to be able to register on the go via their phone. Really, that is the way that things are moving.

Now, if you’ve ever taken any other Firespring webinars, we have one that’s all importance of landing pages. So, if you’ve ever taken a landing page one, then you’ll know we talk about the benefit of sending people to a dedicated page, take a desired focused action, which couldn’t be more important for special events, where you don’t want people getting distracted from the registration task at hand.

As you can see with the flexible registration landing page, which is what you’re looking at right now, you have the ability to customize it with any type of ticket, sponsorship or table that you’d like and have the payment processing integrated right into the page. That’s really important for conversion. You don’t want to be sending people off to another place, like making a reservation on your website and then sending them off to PayPal to pay.

Like if you’re trying to jury-rig your website, it’s time to move forward and remember that seamless, integrated, super smooth tools are critical because our expectation as people, as humans when we take ourselves out of working at our organization and worrying about budgets and trying to cut corners here and there, just when you are someone who’s online shopping, we all know what it’s like to have a frustrating, clunky user interface experience.

What we expect is like Amazon one-click shopping. We expect things to be that easy. I will tell you it’s important for nonprofits to embrace that because it does actually impact how you convert, meaning how you get people to actually take the action you’re driving them to do.

So, what I want to do now is help you identify your registration needs, meaning I want to talk about the functional requirements to support the registration for your event so you have the language and know how you need to look at all the different tools that are out there and sift or filter and figure out which one is the right one for you. I’ll tell you what I think are the key important things to consider. The main thing is that you want to aim for keeping it really simple, which is why I was talking about reducing the friction of sending people off in one direction or another or having clunky pages. You want something with the credit card processing built right in and you really want to keep it all clean, safe, and secure, all right on your own website.

You do want to really consider choosing a system that allows you to create as many pricing tiers and ticket types as you want. So, if you’re dealing with a system that has any sort of limitations or there are some, I know, actually, my daughter’s school is using something for an auction, which I know is a little bit different, but it was like you did this first x-amount for free and then if you want these other features, it costs you money. There’s a reason companies do that. It’s a gateway. It tries to get you in the door. It may completely be fine for you. You might be able to survive on the free tools or you might be cool paying for the additional, but just know what you’re getting into and know what it is that you need.

You’ll also want a system that allows you to set limits on capacity for various reasons. Those reasons could extend everything from exclusivity to a physical location having limitations. So, just be really clear. This is where we see the offline and online world cross over. You really want to be considering everything from the space to the people to the date, etc. and then make sure that your digital tools can support what you need. Then, of course, it wouldn’t be an event without sponsorships. You definitely want to be able to sell those online as well. You want to make sure you have a tool that gives you the ability to add sponsorship sales.

Another interesting feature I think to consider when you’re evaluating systems is the ability to pay now or later, kind of like a reservation system. Now, this can be great if someone wants to make a big donation, but maybe they’re required to make the actual payment via check. You want everything to come through you digitally because you’re looking to make a change in terms of how your admin staff is impacted when putting on this event.

You want to make sure you are able to quickly print out a checklist or a registration sheet of everyone who signed up. You don’t want to have most people doing online and then some other people offline and then you’ve got to merge handwritten notes with digital notes and things can get complicated and obviously set you up for mistakes. So, a reservation-like system can be pretty cool for various reasons that people need to do that.

If someone can’t attend the event in person, I really believe in opening up the virtual doors in our events, inviting people to participate in other ways, such as a donation. Just keep in mind, you don’t get if you don’t ask. That’s kind of my motto—don’t ask, don’t get.

You want to make sure you’ve set up this online interface with this element included from the start so you’re extending this invitation, inviting them to be part of the fundraising effort and the way that is best for them. I know that might sound kind of obvious or people might way, “Why do we have to say that? People can always just make a donation.” These things are like call and response. You get what you ask for. You get what you make easy for people and what you invite them to get involved with.

Really, the way I think about it is just that you want to meet people where they want to be met so that your organization benefits. Then of course, you could take a step further and make sure that that function of asking people for a donation has an option to make it recurring. Again, just talk about greasing the wheel and making things really simple and actionable so people can take all the steps they want to in that moment. That is what will benefit you and also will give them a really good user experience.

Okay. Let’s talk about promoting your special event. Now, when it comes to special events, organizations typically tend to focus on the invitation and not on waging a full integrated marketing campaign to promote the event. My recommendation is that your promotional plans go beyond the invitation and host committee and that you leverage digital for the frequency it takes to generate the exposure and action that you’re looking for.

So, for starters, plan to aggressively promote your event via email. Email is particularly effective for unrolling a story and for educating. I think here’s one of the reasons I think it’s important. So, organizations often use insider speak or they assume that everyone knows what they’re talking about or they know what event they’re referencing. That’s not necessarily the case and actually can alienate people. However, if you think about your premarketing initiatives and you do like a teaser email campaign, you can not only build anticipation for your event, but you could also educate newbies about what’s going on, why they should get involved, etc.

Then email is also a really great way to send customized messaging to your list segments, personal messages in general are much more difficult to delete or ignore. So, way back in the beginning of this webinar when we talked about knowing who the personas are you’re trying to cater the event to, hopefully as part of your development efforts in general, you’re already segmenting people and understanding where your supporters lie psychographically for you and then maybe within the parameters of this event, they may fall into different kinds of buckets, but knowing these things help you write personal communications that people will be more apt to respond to.

Now, beyond using email to promote your event, let’s talk about the use of social media. First, of course, you need to figure out the right platform for you since you can’t and shouldn’t be everywhere. You’ll use social media to drive people to the key areas on your website to take desired actions. As you can see, Facebook is still the most popular social media platform and the most populated and Twitter is a close second. A lot of how you’re going to pick your platform is based on what your audience uses most so you can be present where there is critical mass.

The other thing I want you to consider is the message itself so that you can determine the right platform. Here’s what I mean by that. Are you trying to make announcements that are not super time sensitive or are you trying to do a chronological livestream with many concurrent posts? The answer to this question will impact your platform choice. For example, Twitter is better for livestreams, Facebook is better for messaging that isn’t sensitive to or dependent on chronology.

However, no what the platform that you use, hashtags have become increasingly important as a way to brand events and also create a conversation stream that generates buzz and engagement. So, I really recommend that you come up with a hashtag for your event that you can implement across the board. You’ll hear me talk about this again as we move forward because it’s actually become a really important component of social media marketing.

So, what I’d like to do now is break down for you the three stages of social media marketing for special events. We already talked about email and the role that that can play. I find that that’s a little bit more easy for people to understand, but for a lot of folks, it’s the social media piece that gets rocky. I will tell you that a lot of the things I’m talking about here in terms of before, during, and after, you could apply these concepts to other aspects of your integrated marketing program, but just for the purposes of this webinar, I’m going to focus on social media.

So, pre-event marketing is all about driving awareness. We’re talking about registrations and whipping up an army of evangelists primed and ready to support you. The biggest mistake that people make with their executional content is in posting monotonous content that repeats the same message over and over. Usually, that message is a call to action to register. What you want to do is think about your messaging in terms of what type of content actually makes you as a person click, like what is interesting to you. It really should be no different for your special event marketing and your regular marketing. It’s usually something based on good storytelling.

A best practice to keep in mind is to simply tell stories and then drop teasers that are relevant to the event, like just punctuating them with that call to action link instead of making the message all about the call to action. Then of course, you tie it all together with that hashtag we were talking about.

During the pre-marketing period, you will also need as many people as possible to give you access to their social capital. So, it’s not just capital in the form of a ticket, purchase or donation that matters. What we’re talking about is identifying key influencers that will give you access to their networks and invite people to get involved on your behalf. Once you identify these people—I would call them an online street team or an army of evangelists—make sure that you make it really easy for them to advocate on your behalf. So, that’s everything from like prewritten posts and prewritten emails they can deploy to make it simple because that social capital is becoming ever increasingly important.

Now, your objectives will shift a little bit during your event because it’s all about creating an experience that’s bigger than the event by way of social media engagement. That’s one of the benefits of this aspect. You can feature people who are there. You can even get your appreciation strategy started early with public shout-outs to the event. Just keep in mind that when you start doing this, you also expose your event to those who couldn’t attend live and you create social proof about how awesome you are event-wise and this will turn in to content you can use in the future.

So, speaking of crowdsourcing content, I want to really encourage you to actually encourage your community to use your hashtag in all of their posts because that’s actually what’s going to make it easy for you to find and collect their pictures, their videos, their shout-outs or testimonials for future use because you click on that hashtag or you search by the hashtag and then everything comes up sorted for you in one conversation. You really want to use this moment to generate the biggest content arsenal possible because it will come in mega-handy for you not that far down the road.

For optimal execution, we always recommend you assign at least one team member to be in charge of live posting. This is a person who is charged with opening the virtual doors on your event and it really can be a job in and of itself. You don’t want to take that lightly and not make sure someone’s designated from the beginning. You’ll probably add some sort of live posting to the mix. So, we want to give you something to think about in terms of which platform is better for ongoing flow of posting and which is not.

As I mentioned before, Facebook is not ideal for ongoing livestream postings because it isn’t built to be chronological. The other thing to keep in mind about Facebook is if you post too much, it can actually interact weirdly with their algorithms, versus Twitter on the other hand, was built for live, chronological postings.

During the event, you are going to be focused on collecting content for future use, which is what I was referring to before. So, you have this person or team of people who are responsible for opening up the virtual doors on the event. They’re going to do lots of interaction and engagement with people. Also, they’re going to be charged with making sure they track down the content and make sure hopefully they’re prompts are prompting your attendees to engage and post their pictures and say things.

You also want to have a strategy for this piece of the execution. Part of that strategy is you have a plan for who’s in charge. I also recommend that you make a list of what you hope to collect by the end of the event. If you’re looking for high quality video and pictures and quotes, you might even need more than one person to help you do it. So, just kind of think through what your goals and objectives are and then what kind of team members you’re going to need to be able to make that happen.

Now, once the event is over, it’s all about engagement and learning. You’ve just had an incredible opportunity for identifying hand raisers and you don’t want to let those leads go cold. Let’s think about what you can do to make as many individuals feel totally awesome about attending your event or contributing in some way. Now, we’ll get more into this as we talk about your appreciation strategy shortly, but why it’s relevant here is because you can use social media to showcase people using the tag and thank method to give them public praise their network sees and hopefully brings them closer to your brand to your cause.

The other thing you want to think about from a mass marketing perspective of the post event digital promotion, you want to think about leveraging social media and email to deploy surveys to get feedback. So, with social media, maybe you take public polls and even share some of the content to keep people excited in the form of starting to market next year’s event, just keeping them jazzed. With surveys, it may be push that out over email or you even post the link through social media as well.

All right. Engagement—so, yes, there is a big part of engagement with social media and we just went through that, but also so much of this is about the marketing. I want to talk about what was probably one of the biggest innovations for a lot of organizations and that’s the incorporation of technology into the event itself for increased community engagement. In this section, I’m going to review a few of your options to get your juices flowing.

Now, beyond attending an event, with technology today, we have a lot of options to meet people where they want to be met and offer them alternative opportunities to get involved. Sometimes these additional engagement touchpoints will serve as building blocks for people to one day attend in person. I think historically we have this all or nothing approach, you come or you don’t come, but what if we think longer term. We’re trying to change the culture of engagement. We’re trying to get new people into our pipeline. We may need to build building blocks to help people dip their toe and get involved.

Now, if you want to open up the virtual doors to your event, you can consider the use of technology so that it feels like they’re almost there in person with you. You can stream the event. You can run live contests. You can encourage social media posting from people who aren’t there. Again, with the hashtags, make sure that people are in the same conversation and make sure that they can find each other. This is another cool thing about hashtags. So, one is it’s used for branding. We talked about that.

The second thing we said, it helps people be in the same conversation. It helps you find what people are talking about you. But it’s also great for people finding each other. Maybe you guys have used this when you’ve gone to a conference. People are using the hashtag and then you sort who’s tweeting and then you’re like, “Oh, they’re here.” And then all of a sudden, conversations ensue. So, the hashtag is like a social media cataloging system. So, you want to use that for this engagement piece as well.

Another thing if you have people who are less inclined for social media, you can use email scheduling system to send timed messages with calls to action for during the event. This could be a great advertising mechanism for some of the tactics we talked about, like livestreaming and running contests. You also want to think about your ability to stay with them after the event.

So, we know that swag does that. We’re all familiar with the typical physical swag, like bags and knickknacks, but I’m curious if any of you have thought of digital options. So, I came up with a bunch of ideas for you to think about how you can do swag that’s digital and maybe create teasers or reasons why they want to go download something. Maybe they have to provide you with their email or engage with you in some way.

Of course, it is never too early to start engaging people for next year’s event. So, try to have your digital presence ready to unveil at the event and come up with incentives to get people to pre-register. Even if they’re not there, you can drive people who aren’t there and say, “Hey, you can buy a ticket for a lower price tonight for next year,” and just make sure that your celebratory email that you’ve already got cued up includes inviting them to next year’s event.

The other thing that I think is really important with engagement as part of wrap-up is soliciting feedback, right? So, just remember to send out an online survey to find out what people thought. If you have an evergreen site, you might even have this built in component, which is kind of cool.

All right. Our fifth and final digital gear is appreciation. I know the Bloomerang folks are really big on this. In fact, Steven did an awesome guest webinar with Firespring last week and it was all about donor attrition and about all these follow up metrics. It seems to be one of the reasons why we lose donors, why we are subject to donor attrition, because we’re not taking the time to build in appreciation systems. But I believe and I’m pretty sure Steven feels the same way, you can never say thank you enough. Yet, organizations don’t necessarily think about things that way. So, I’m hoping we can change that a little bit.

The immediacy of the thank you is much more critical than you might think. Again, I think Steven went over that in his webinar last week, which if you’re interested, you can get a copy from him or me. People give to your organization to get the warm fuzzies, but they can only get them when they’re acknowledged and when they’re acknowledged in a timely way and that is our job.

So, there really is a direct correlation between the timing, the consistency, and the donor-centricity of our gratitude and how our donors feel about us. The truth is it’s not that hard to achieve this with some planning, some structure, and some commitment.

So, I really want to make sure you deliberately and in advance craft your post-event appreciation strategy so you’re ready to move forward with these amazing hand raisers you just garnered from your event. In the business world, the for profit world, we call these warm leads. But they’re only warm for so long and then it can be really difficult to revive them. Please be ready to take action and hopefully as you start to craft your strategy, this list of things to consider is helpful.

But if you want to cut to the chase, a simpler and more distilled way to think about is what A.J. Steinberg of Queen Bee Fundraising says. She recommends that there be three post-event thank you touches. She says anything less is not enough and I really agree with her. So, as a general guideline, you want to make sure that all of your outreach is designed to make your donor the hero and that everything that you communicate is replete with details giving them updates on their impact. She recommends that you execute these communications a minimum of three times over a two to three-month period.

My feeling is if you can find ways to keep wowing them throughout the year and thereafter, go you. This is what I call giving without asking and something I talk about a lot in other webinars as well. Just as much as possible, you want to shower people with love and gratitude and updates so they remember and they feel valued.

So, to wrap up, let’s review the action steps that we started with at the beginning, the most important of which is you ensure your special events have digital legs from the beginning. It’s a lot harder to integrate them as an afterthought, especially if you skip that online registration step. So, online registration is your most important thing. Then after that, most critically, you want to remember to have a pre-event marketing strategy. You want to plan for onsite digital engagement and post-event stewardship. Those are your three buckets and then hopefully the digital gears help you navigate that and figure out what would be the right thing for you.

Before we move into Q&A, I want to obviously give a big shout-out to Bloomerang. We love working with them. Steven said a lot of kind things about me, but I think you all know he is an amazing thought leader in this space and Bloomerang in general, a major contributor to the sector and we’re really grateful to them for their partnership.

While you continue to send over some questions to Steven for Q&A—now is the time if you haven’t already—for a moment, if it’s okay with you guys, I want to talk for a minute about our mantra, which is to educate without expectations. That’s something we really believe in at Firespring. It’s why we do these talks and do what we can to give back to the sector.

I want to be really clear that I’m going to turn the corner for a second here and I’d like to educate with some expectation, if that’s okay, and share a little bit about Firespring. I think Steven told you we are in the business of websites for nonprofits. We think that we help solve a pain point, probably the biggest digital pain point for most nonprofits out there that are not probably investing adequate in their website as they should be today.

What we’ve learned is that your website really is the digital home for your organization and it may very well be the very first experience that somebody has with your organization and so you want to make sure that it’s not a brochure anymore but that it’s set up to engage with them and bring them into that funnel.

To do that, it’s got to be easy for you to use. I think typically when I talk to a nonprofit, they tell me they’ve got something like 10 to 15 tabs open to do the business of their day to day and it’s complicated or they’re dealing with their website with a lot of technical debt, a volunteer who’s not as available or a developer that’s really expensive. Firespring, all tool is a content management system with all of the digital tools that you see in these pieces built in so you actually can be in the driver’s seat.

Then it’s all anchored with our legendary support and training, where you can actually talk to a real person and there’s no additional fee. It’s just part of the way we do business and try to help put you and your team in the driver’s seat of your website so that it can be updated and have all the features and communications that you need to keep people hooked on what you’re doing.

I’m not sure why the slides are repeating themselves. I’m really sorry about that, guys. My bad. What you can do when you’re dealing with Firespring is actually have a website in as little as 10 days, which is kind of cool. It’s because we are a software as a service platform, meaning it is a customizable website, not a custom website. So, you sign on and we can help you pick the right plan for you, which you can see here and then customize the website to your liking.

Really, the technology represents about $50,000 worth of tools but you don’t have to pay that to have it built custom for you and you can pay a low monthly—get all the tools that a nonprofit needs and then reach out to our team to help you and train you. I like to think of Firespring as being turnover proof. So, your whole team could literally disappear. You have a website with Firespring, the next team members come in. They call us. We get you in, get you trained, and we move you forward. That’s the nice kind of piece of security. You can do it yourself.

We also have all of these additional services. I will say the top one people typically use is for us to help migrate the content because that seems to be the biggest barrier to a new website. So, what we wanted to do for our friends at Bloomerang and your community is offer the first ten who sign up from this webinar 15% off on professional services.

So, you can get in touch through the survey at the end and let us know if you’d like to chat or you can actually just open up a browser right now and go to Firespring.org/demo, fill out a really small form and someone from our team will be in touch. Let us know you heard me on Bloomerang today. If you enjoyed this webinar, we hope that you’ll keep learning with us and that we’ll see you online at a new webinar. You can check out the public lineup at Firespring.org/webinars.

We’re always adding new things. We’d love to connect with you again in that way. I know Steven would love to get your feedback and Firespring cares about it as well. So, there’s a survey at the end, if you don’t mind filling it out, that would be really appreciated. I think it takes just 20 seconds, but it’s great to hear what you thought of the content. With that, I’d love to invite Steven back on for a few questions if there are any. Steven, are you there?

Steven: All right. Man, I know that was going to be a good one. That was awesome, Dana. Really good stuff. That’s a new presentation. I knew this one was going to be good when I picked that out of your list of ideas. I knew it was going to be good. Well, cool. We’ve got some time for questions. I know it’s getting close to the 2:00 hour, so I won’t keep people too long, but Dana, is it fair to say you’ll take questions by email or Twitter? Can people get ahold of you after? Is that cool?

Dana: Yeah. On this screen here, you’ve got my handle and also, if you email hello@firespring, we’ll get you totally taken care of.

Steven: Nice. I love Firespring, by the way. They are the only website vendor that we recommend at Bloomerang because they do really awesome work and obviously, they’ve got smart people there like Dana. You should work with them. That’s my little spiel on Firespring too. Okay. So, we’ve got some cool questions here, one from Julia. Engagement during the event from attendees—is that as simple of making sure you create a hashtag of the event and including it in the pre-event communications? What ideas do you have for encouraging event attendees to kind of be talking about the event while they’re there?

Dana: Sure. So, definitely, you want to have that hashtag. You want to make sure you’re using a mix of digital and non-digital tools to be engaging them. So, if you have an MC, you can have the MC even have a moment where you say everyone take out your phone and take a selfie and post it to Facebook and say something about the great time you’re having here and use the hashtag. Then you would automatically get a ton of really awesome content to collect.

I would also recommend with any collateral the you have on the table, whether it’s digital in the form of iPads or actual physical collateral or posters you have around the room or even I think it’s fun to post things on the inside of bathroom stalls because we know everyone is on their phone in the bathroom and they’re bored.

Steven: That’s true.

Dana: It gives them something to do. There’s a lot of cool things, but definitely the hashtag helps keep a branding element. It helps you find the content. I think people have to be prompted. If you wanted to have some sort of engagement around donations during the event, again, there’s various things you can do. So, when you make everyone bring their phone out together, you’re creating a little bit of subtle social pressure.

You could also drop an email. So, you can use third-party email systems and time it and then the email drops and people don’t have to be typing in a URL and you just have your MC say, “We just sent you a special email. Go open up your email right now and click on that link and maybe you’re going to do some sort of contest for everybody who donates within this particular period of time, which by the way, you could have people who are not in attendance also participate and, again, try and create that like virtual doors opening, but those are some great ways to get people to get involved.

Steven: It makes sense. It really just comes down to asking, right? People aren’t going to post about you if you don’t ask them or very few will, I guess, if you don’t ask them, so ask them.

Dana: That is true. It’s a very good point because I think when people think about the internet and when people think about social media, I think we tend to think that it will just kind of move itself that things go viral on their own, that people will post just because they think about it. Some people will, but most people don’t. That’s why it’s this whole don’t ask, don’t get, mentality. You have to remind them. You have to prompt them. You need to come up with strategic ways to get them to want to get involved. I think that’s a really important point.

Steven: Cool. Along that note, permission—should you have photo release forms if you’re going to have event photographers and be posting photos on social media during and after, what’s your strategy on making sure you don’t tick somebody off who doesn’t want to be photographed and then put online?

Dana: Yeah. That’s a fair point. Number one, I always recommend just talk to your lawyer because that’s going to be—don’t listen to me, talk to your lawyer. If you’re dealing with events with kids, then absolutely you’re going to need to deal with permissions and things like that. If you’re dealing with events with non-children, I think it actually runs the gamut and it kind of on some level depends on the population you’re dealing with, but even if you think about pre-internet how people would take pictures of these events and put them in the society pages, I don’t think people were necessarily signing releases.

At the same time, they were probably—there were some simple things you can do, like if you do an online registration form, you can have five prints or even a checkbox that says I understand there will be a photographer at this event and my picture may end up somewhere.

Then there’s also the part about having some good judgement. If there are certain things happening at the event that you think like what if you have people over 18 but they’re more like in the applying to college phase or applying to grad school phase, maybe you want to be careful about posting pictures with people drinking. I think you need to be sensitive with different scenarios. But for the most part, at the end of the day, this is about good, clean, fun. This is about showcasing cool things happening at your event, crowds that are there, people smiling, people involved because this is what creates social proof.

People need to see it to believe it and that’s one of the things that social media really does for us is gives a quick and easy broad platform to raise our social profile and remind people that we are an event in an organization that is a happening place, that is alive and kicking, that people want to support. People are like sheep. They want to do what other people do. If you can create that kind of presence and obviously visuals do that, then that’s going to be an important part of your strategy to grow that visibility.

Steven: Love it. Well, cool. Man, this has been great, Dana. We’re a little over time. So, I don’t want to keep people too long in case they haven’t had lunch. I know we didn’t get to all the questions, so please do reach out to Dana. Obviously, she’s a wealth of knowledge. I know there’s a lot of questions in there that are pretty specific. I want to be able to do them justice and not a little sound bite at the end of a webinar. So, reach out to her. She’s an awesome person, obviously. Thanks for being here, Dana. Thanks for taking an hour out of your day and hanging out with us. This was fun.

Dana: Absolutely. It’s my pleasure. Thank you all so much. Like I said, you have all the information to be in touch. Steven just switched the screen there so you have the information.

Steven:Yeah, I’ll put that up.

Dana:Those are great questions. I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten those before. Thanks for that. Thanks for having me. We hope to see you online in the future. Obviously, always a big plug and lots of love for Bloomerang. Actually, our tools integrate with each other and we really think they’re one of the best CRM systems out there and treat their people right. If you haven’t checked them out, definitely do that.

Steven: Thank you. You guys are great. This is a smart group. The questions here are usually really good. We’ve got a smart group that hangs out on the Bloomerang webinar.

Dana:I’ve noticed.

Steven:We have a lot of fun. Speaking of webinars, we’re going to keep it going every Thursday. We’ve got a great one week from today. We’re going to stay on the digital train here. We’ve got Rachel Clemens, who is going to bring us a session that she did at the AFP Conference last month. It’s going to be a good one, 45 examples of digital fundraising in 45 minutes. It’s going to be fast-paced, but you’re going to see a lot of real life examples you can, not steal, but maybe draw inspiration from as maybe a better way to put that.

So, register for that one if it sounds good to you, hopefully it does. We’d love to see you on another Thursday webinar. If not, there’s plenty of other sessions you can check out well into the rest of the year. So, look for an email from me with the slides and the recording. I’ll get that out to you today and hopefully we see you again next week. So, have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a good weekend and we’ll talk to you again soon.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.