Kristin Steele will help you think about what a virtual event can do for your mission and your fundraising, and take a look at what you need to put together a successful and impactful event.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Kristin, 11:00 a.m., my time. 8:00 a.m., your time, I think, right?

Kristin: Yes.

Steven: Good morning.

Kristin: Good morning.

Steven: Let’s kick it off. Is it okay, if I go ahead and get it started?

Kristin: Let’s do it.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good morning to everyone. Thanks so much for waking up early if you did, got a special time slot here. I really appreciate everyone accommodating our schedule. But we are here to talk about taking your fundraising event online, virtual, not in-person, we should say, which is a hot topic right now. We’re excited to cover it. I’m Steven over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items, real quick. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session. And I’ll send out the recording and the slides later on this afternoon by email, really a couple hours after we adjourn. So, if you have to leave early, or if you get interrupted, if a kid barges down your door or somebody calls you, don’t worry, we’ll get all that good stuff in your hands. You should already have the slides. If you don’t have the slides, you’ll get them again, I promise.

But most importantly, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments throughout the hour. There’s a chat box. There’s a Q&A box. You can use either of those. I’ll keep an eye on them. And we’d love to answer your questions live. If you haven’t introduced yourself, go for it. We’d love to know who you are, where you’re from. Tell us how the weather is. And I’m a big weather geek. So I always like to know. And you can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed if you want to send us a Tweet there.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, welcome. We love doing these webinars. This is our third webinar this week. I love the webinars. I’ve just been going all out on them. But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, check us out. We’re donor management software. If you never heard of us, that’s what we are just for context. You can visit our website. There’s all kinds of videos and stuff you can watch. But don’t do that right now. Because we got Kristin Steele here, a friend of the program, woke up super early. She’s in Portland. She accommodated my schedule, got up, and started her day, which I’m so grateful for. Thank you, Kristin.

Kristin: Of course.

Steven: Kristin, how’s it going? Are you doing okay?

Kristin: We’re great.

Steven: I’m so happy to have you. It’s good to see you. I usually run into you at events, which, of course, are not happening, so it was nice to chat with you this morning and hear your voice to your face. Like I said, she’s a friend of the program. Check her out over at Swaim Strategies. Awesome agency. We got some mutual partners, or clients, I should say. I can vouch for the good work they do. And Kristin’s awesome. She’s speaking all the time at events. I love hearing her presentations. She’s on the faculty at Nonprofit Academy, knows her stuff for sure. And check out her book, “Planning a Successful Major Donor Event,” which is a really good book. It’s on the bookshelf of Bloomerang. It’s not in my living room or in my guest bedroom right now but it’s a good one. And she has a lot of good stuff for you. So I want to pipe it down. I don’t want to take away time from Kristin. So Kristin, I’m going to step . . . screen here.

Kristin: Awesome.

Steven: See if you can get control. Bring up your beautiful slides, which are really good. I got a look at them this morning. Is it working?

Kristin: Can’t see it, though. Can you see that?

Steven: I still only see you?

Kristin: Let’s try that.

Steven: There it goes.

Kristin: Yay. I love it.

Steven: All right, we made it. Go for it, my friend.

Kristin: Excellent. Good morning, everybody. Steven, thanks for having me. I super appreciate all of your work, especially now and the volume of resources that Bloomerang is putting out for nonprofits and fundraisers. It’s really amazing. So I’m honored to be a part of this. I’m Kristin, she/her. I’m with Swaim Strategies. We’re in Portland, Oregon. But we are working nationally right now to keep people fundraising. And, you know, we wrote a book on major donor events. Those are looking really different right now because we’re taking them virtual.

Where we are in time and place is temporary. But I think the impact that virtual events are having on the fundraising landscape will have a longer thread, even when we can kind of re-congregate. So I think it’s a good thing to be thinking about and exploring now so that you have it in your toolbox to think about as you move forward.

In-person fundraising events are being reimagined in amazing ways across digital platforms. And so what I’m hoping today is we can kind of take a little time together, think through some of the resources available and what the connection is between in-person events and virtual events because I think people hear virtual events, think technology and get freaked out. So my hope is to demystify some of that process and really democratize it so that you can keep fundraising. You should be talking to donors. You should be talking to sponsors and you should be fundraising now more than ever.

Let’s see. There we go. So Steven Screen and Jeff Brooks put out this resource at the beginning of the pandemic that sort of walks through the four phases of fundraising during a crisis. And I find this really helpful to ground myself in because it sort of acknowledges where I am and what feels like is going on around me but also gives me a map for where we might be headed.

So, you know, initially after things hit, we saw sort of the bump. Everybody was rushing to sort of fund things and make sure things were happening, and that resources were available to folks. My guess is that we’re sort of heading into a slump, and that we may as organizations start to be experiencing lower than normal giving. The hope is that after that, there will be recovery, and then we’ll sort of settle into a new normal.

But what’s interesting to think about here is that that trajectory and sort of the reset that can possibly happen, only happens if you keep fundraising and talking to donors. If you disappear, it gets really hard to map that momentum and that trajectory. So I hope that while some of this may feel overwhelming, that this gives you an idea of hope for the future.

So Bluefrog has done some research studies during COVID about where are donors? What are they thinking? And donors are looking for resources they can trust and places that they trust. And that comes from relationship. They feel an increased need to give. Some folks may have freed up resources because they’re at home, and some of the things they may be doing, like trips or going out or investing in different things may not be happening because of limitations. And so they may actually have resources that they’re looking to invest in places. Giving gives donors a sense of urgency. This is always true, but I think it’s even more true now when the volume is up on everything around us.

And thinking about, donors want to be heroes. Donors want to create impact. Donors want to be a part of something. And they can’t do that if you don’t ask them to. Increase giving is expected in the coming months, but it’s going to look different and it’s going to come from different places and different levels of donors. And again, donors want to be in community. And so exploring virtual gatherings allows us to create spaces where they can still do that, despite us not being able to gather in-person.

We talked to philanthropists and foundations and sort of took a temperature about where they are right now. And what they’re looking for organizations to do, nonprofit organizations to do, is to be a part of the solution, to lean in, what are you doing? How are you creating impact? How are you filling gaps now that aren’t being filled in other ways? They also want to be creative and collaborative with you. They want to engage in conversation and figure out how you can work together to create solutions. And they want you to reach out to them and let them know where you are.

I think sometimes wearing our hearts on our sleeves, and letting our partners know what we need, and how things are hard, and where we can create solutions together, feels like a challenging discussion, but people want to be in that. They want to work together and they want to create a path out for everybody.

Our advice from our corporate sponsors and partners is that they want to hear from you. They want to be in relationship to you. That is always true. That is especially true now during COVID. So as you’re shifting, bring them into that conversation, communicate to them early and directly, so they feel like they’re a part of the evolution of your event and what you’re thinking. They want to be in partnership and collaborate with you. So as sponsorship landscape changes because you’re not holding an in-person event, work with them to think about how that can look in a virtual space and what they need as well as what you need.

We’re asking folks to have conversations with people who are already onboard as sponsors to turn those sponsorship dollars into direct donations, so that you’re able to retain those funds and still do your amazing work. And there are a lot of creative ways that you can fulfill a sponsorship benefits that were promised for an in-person event and think about how those translate into a virtual event.

Three hundred person venues are turning into 75-person venues when you do the straight math on everybody being distance six feet apart. So as we move into 2021, and people are starting to consider whether they should do hybrid events with an in-person portion and a virtual portion, you have to start thinking about how that pencils out for your budget. The limited capacity in these venues because of the distancing restrictions, especially if you’re on a food and beverage minimum that’s based on square footage, doesn’t work out to be feasible for you to raise money from your event, which tees up the impact that a virtual event can have on your organization.

You have to really also think about what the liability for your organization is in terms of gathering people. I don’t know if folks read the article about the sort of major arts organization back East, which is back East for me because I’m West Coast, back East, where there was a virtual component. And one of the volunteer organizers of the event held a garden party, a watching garden party, and somebody showed up sick to the garden party, and sort of ran its course through the folks who attended. And now sort of the conflation of that happening with the organization has been challenging. And so I think you really need to think through sort of where you are in time and space and what that liability looks like as things start to open up.

So let’s talk virtual events. We are finding that virtual events are performing equal to or outperforming in-person events in many ways. The same ideas for fundraising hold for virtual events, your sponsorship, in terms of pre-event revenue, and your special appeal, in terms of during event revenue or the majority of your fundraising for the event, for virtual, as well as in-person.

But virtual events are more akin to television production. You don’t get the energy in a room that you do with an in-person event in the same way. So virtual becomes more reliant on compelling storytelling in a way that in-person events are as well. But in virtual spaces, that becomes even more important.

You can do virtual a bunch of different ways. I think what becomes an obstacle for folks is we say virtual events and they’re like, “I don’t have that technology. I don’t have a television production company. I can’t do all of that.” You could do a virtual event on an iPhone or broadcast a Zoom call. It can get really low tech. But when you have compelling stories, and you have a compelling mission, and you make donors an offer they can’t refuse to be a part of and a solution they can’t refuse to be a part of, that’s the magic sauce.

So I want to take a minute and sort of remember why it is that donors give to us in the first place. Susan Howlett did work with a bunch of donors. And it boiled down to sort of three prevailing thoughts about why people give. They want to be a part of something. They want to be known. And they want to make a difference. Being a part of something is hardwired into the human brain. And I think what’s interesting about COVID-19 and all of us being isolated in ways we haven’t experienced before is that we are seeing, and feeling, and experiencing that want to be in community together because we can’t.

And so that innate need to do that is something that’s in us. And to be known and to be seen as a supporter motivates donors to give. And so an in-person event gives us that form in a very public way, right? We have a room often with bid paddles, where people are giving and donating during maybe an auction or special appeal, and the room can see them. And people are participating in a very visible way. So when we think about the virtual space, we have to think about how do we do that in a different way in the virtual space? And we’ll talk a little bit about that later.

And to make a difference, your donors want to be part of a solution. That is always true. And that is even more true now. Because I think a lot of folks, I will speak about myself as a donor, I feel like I don’t know how to make impact sometimes in the midst of all this. And so finding organizations I have a relationship with and trust and who are making impact is a way that I can make impact is by investing in them.

If you frame your virtual event with these as the heartbeat, with these as sort of your governing motivations, the format can be just as impactful as your in-person gala.

So I want to talk a little bit about what virtual events are doing. So they are hitting increased and more diverse attendance. You’re putting them online and they are open to anyone. As people plan new virtual events, we are eliminating ticket prices to sort of democratize who can attend and who can be a part of the event. If you had an event in progress and you’re looking to convert it to a virtual event this fall, we are asking organizations to go back to those ticket purchasers and to convert those ticket purchases into direct donations to the organization so that that revenue is retained.

And what’s also great about that is those folks who bought tickets before, in converting that to donation, they’re even more invested in showing up and attending the event. But because you’re online and not trapped in one ballroom, in one city, in one state, you can bring in folks from all over. And we’re seeing with organizations that actually have a nationwide donor base or organizations that only through a local event that have sort of a national presence, they’re able to reach that audience and bring regional audiences together in a way that they haven’t been able to do with in-person events. So I think it presents some really interesting opportunities for organizations to think about where their donor base is and how they bring them together. It’s, again, creating access for them to participate from anywhere and it’s removing barriers to participation.

So I think a lot of us have that, like, “Is gala an antiquated model? Should we still be doing it? What does a $300 ticket price mean for people in our programs who can’t have access to that and come?” This sort of levels a lot of that playing field and removes those barriers. Everyone can come. Everyone can participate and I think that creates an interesting path for us forward in fundraising and events that I hope remains with us long-term.

Virtual events are meeting and exceeding revenue goals. I think what’s interesting is for people to keep remembering the difference between gross and net here. In-person events are an insane amount of time, and often are a lot of money. I mean, if you think about the fact that it can cost you, you know, at a minimum $70 for catering to have a butt in a seat in your room, eliminating that, all of a sudden, everything you raise is going towards your bottom line.

Virtual events are really cheap. You know, the technology and the producing partners that you need to put on a virtual event are cheap by comparison of hauling in speakers, and lights, and stages, and entertainment, and all of those things that you think about that are line items on the expense side of your budget. A lot of those collapse and a lot of them go away, catering, venue rental, all of those things.

Now I want to say right here for folks that are thinking about their production partners, you should think about them. You should be in relationship with them. You should be thinking about the catering company that you have worked with for 10 years. that because you’re not doing an in-person event that’s a huge hit to their bottom line. And think about what can that look like.

We have folks here who are doing packaged meals with their catering service and delivering them to some of their larger major donors, sponsors. So I think there are creative ways in this to think about including your partners in different ways. So I don’t want to say slash all of your expenses and not worry about it because there are relationships there. But because you don’t have all those expenses, your net on virtual events, while you may not raise as much gross, your net may actually be higher on virtual events than in-person events because you’re minimizing expenses.

So you can go DIY. I think, you know, again, as I said earlier, we say virtual and people are like, “I don’t know how to do that.” Do it on your cell phone. You should be . . . When we say, you know, producing television, virtual events are producing television, and we are encouraging people to do as much of their storytelling via video as they can, that means taping your speakers, and that means they can do it on their cell phone. Giving them a couple simple tips makes that super easy. Film horizontally, not vertically, so it fills a computer screen. Make sure that the phone is within arm’s length so that they can be heard on the audio. But I think there’s something about the organic at home nature of what’s going on right now, that brings us into each other’s lives with an immediacy we haven’t experienced before.

And so I really think you capturing stories of impact, you having people speak to your impact is so critical right now, that even if you’re not doing a virtual event, you should be capturing those and sending them out to donors. You should be in conversation with donors all the time about what’s happening, where impact is, what you need, how you’re doing.

So on the DIY front, you can go through Zoom. You can go through Facebook Live. Like, these are not high tech pieces. There’s something that you can figure out and broadcast and be available to. There are a lot of options for producing.

This is the Washington Environmental Council. They basically took their in-person event, broke it into parts, and put it up on their website. So they had a thermometer that showed where they were in relationship to their goal. They put their special appeal video online so that people could watch the special appeal and then wrote an ask and then asked people to donate. They had an about the Washington Environmental Council organizational video. So they took all of the components and put them up on their website without producing a virtual event. So there are a lot of things you can do by using the digital space and posting things that don’t have to be at a dedicated time as well. But I think it’s thinking about what works for your base. Do your donors want to gather? Do they want be a part of something? And what that looks like to create the event that works for them.

When we take a look at having sort of a virtual gala, sort of a virtual major donor event, these are the pieces we’re suggesting people put together to ensure its success. So it’s thinking about a data team. If you’re taking in donations, you need to make sure that those donations get logged, right, so that those donors get thanked, and that you know what’s where. A content team. Who’s putting your stories together? Who’s talking to people to tell their stories?

In the virtual space, more than the in-person space, we’re finding constant communications with your audience and potential audience are imperative. So putting together a communications plan, a social media plan, a invite plan, all of those things, how are you communicating people to let them know you’re having a virtual event? How do you let them know how they can participate in that virtual event? Because it’s different than them buying a ticket, and you know they’re coming, and then you start communicating with them. Right now, you don’t know who’s coming. So it’s about getting them the information they need to do that.

It requires you having a plan for how the event’s going to come together, which is sort of your pre-production work, and a production team. Who’s doing the audio visual component? There are a lot of in-person AV teams that have converted to virtual events. And very simply, they can take all of your assets and run your show for you so that you’re liberated to be with donors to tell stories and to do your work.

We’re encouraging folks to think through having if they don’t have an auction or don’t want to use an auctioneer for their special appeal, thinking through having a host. What that does the same as an in-person event is it gives you an alternate voice. That is also sort of, we kind of call it the hand holder, who brings your audience through your event, so that every time they come on, the audience knows, they’re going to tell me what’s next. And then they tell them what’s next. So it’s that person that sort of helps set the tone, help set expectation, and helps you take your audience through your event.

So a lot of people have been talking to us about auctions, and what that means. So there is no silent auction anymore. It’s all an auction, right? And so when you think about online auctions, what we’re finding and I think this will continue to morph as we move through this, we’re finding that unique experiences are still selling.

So mission-based experiences that folks can’t get somewhere else. What about dinner with your executive director when this is all over? Is there a chef that is in your cadre of relationships and partners with your organization that could do a dinner or a winery tour or a tasting when all of this is over and we can gather? People are investing in that, in the future, more than they are investing in larger national or global travel.

Usable goods are the sauce right now. As you can imagine, wine is selling amazingly. We’re finding the things that people can use right now, they’re investing in. Also, people are working on their homes. You know, people are doing gardens who’ve never gardened before, who are putting in new front yards, who are doing things. So those are really great. And we’re finding that local travel is also still working.

But I think thinking about here, we’re really encouraging people to think about what is your mission story and how do you incorporate items that really showcase your mission and give people experiences that they might not be able to get with other organizations.

What’s not selling? Again, international travel. There is more and more uncertainty as we go on. You know, our ability as Americans to travel is being restricted. And so I think people just don’t know the uncertainty of that. And the timelines sometimes around deadlines for booking travel are just not helpful for folks right now.

Ticketed events like sporting events, and theater and all that. Nobody knows when we’re going to come back online. And so trying to both solicit those tickets, which is challenging and sell them is also challenging.

And jewelry, again, same as in-person events. It’s super subjective, and it’s hard to appeal to online because you can hardly see it. And so we’re advocating that folks have jewelry in their sort of resource pool that that they think about utilizing that for a raffle. And raffles are a great way for engagement online. People are utilizing raffles to reward people for attending. So, like, they’ll do just sort of, you know, our attendee of the hour is blah, blah, blah, and it rewards people for showing up to the event, and it rewards people for staying online for the event.

I think I should probably mention, too, that I haven’t yet . . . Virtual events are short. I don’t know how many of you have gone to the seven-hour gala that feels like you’re being held hostage. Virtual events, we’re trying to keep to 60 minutes or less, 45 to 60 minutes done. And that has been an amazing thing for both attendees and sponsors. Sponsors love virtual events. They get to sit home in their soft pants, have a glass of wine, support their organization. It doesn’t take their whole life. They don’t have to be in uncomfortable shoes, driving, parking showing up at a venue. So there’s an interesting plus and upside to the ease with which people can attend virtual events that really makes them compelling to folks.

When we think about . . . We’re getting a lot of questions about the auction itself and, you know, how does that run if your virtual event is only 45 to 60 minutes if you can run an online auction that extends beyond the bounds of your virtual events? So your virtual event could be in the middle, like you see this 04/18 date here, that was when their virtual event was. So they opened it up before on the 15th. Then they had their virtual event and they left it open for a few days after.

So we’re not suggesting that folks leave them open any longer than seven days. There is not additional activity that happens outside of that. Open and close them mid-day . . . Open and close them on weekdays. People are trying to walk away from their computers because we’re all on Zoom. And so weekends, we don’t see as much activity and really make sure that you’re pushing out communications to folks about when you’re opening and your closing. And also on that map, a lot of the activity that you saw in that chart correlated to when communications went out.

Online bidding as a platform, there are a lot of different software platforms you can do online bidding with that bring tools to the table that sort of help donors stay in the game. They can set it up where they get a text when they’re outbid on an item. They can also set a cap, like I want to bid on this item up to $1,500, and it will keep outbidding the next bidder until they get to the $1,500 cap. If they just want to buy it, they can buy it now.

When folks are putting together their auction, we’re recommending that they open their items at 60% of their value and that the buy it now value is 150%. We’re finding that wine and beer are selling at upwards of 150% of value. Some of the experiences are selling at 100%. Health and beauty and local travel, 95% to 99%. What’s interesting about that is you’re basically taking a silent auction format, which silent auctions have traditionally only raised 40% to 60% of value but because you’re animating it with all of the communications in the live virtual event, it’s selling closer to live auction items, which sell from like 90% to 110% of value. So it’s interesting, a lot of people are seeing things that used to sell in a silent auction at lower values sell higher in an online auction.

But it is still the program that you should be spending your time and energy on, in addition to your sponsors and donors. The program is where you’re going to create connection. This format can be challenging to reach across digital space in and to create emotional connections. And so content is king. Less is more. I think sometimes people think, “If we tell 400 stories of impact tonight, that will be more.” And it actually doesn’t. It diminishes and waters out your message. Your donors are smart. They can extrapolate. They know that you didn’t just help one person. They can extrapolate to know that impact was wide-ranging, but by giving them the story of one person, you allow them to really connect, and you allow them to really empathize, and step into a space where they can create impact.

Think about sequencing your program into a clear arc, just like you do with an in-person event. You have to educate them about your organization, talk about your impact, build that compelling case for support, and then ask them for money. In the virtual space, we are finding that because of the truncated program length, that your special appeal actually moves up. You don’t have, you know, an hour cocktail social and 45 minutes of program before you get to the special appeal. It sort of truncates all of that. So think about if you have a shorter runway, what is your sequence to create maximum impact with your special appeal?

So you want to focus on relevant and powerful storytelling. And we are advocating that you pre-record everything possible for maximum impact. You can work with your production partner to sequence those videos and to pull those streams. We aren’t advocating that people do everything live. There’s a lot of nervousness that can happen. There’s a lot of technical things that can go sideways. And so having things pre-recorded ensures a smooth event.

So, when you think about having your special appeal in a virtual format, you don’t have bid cards anymore. You don’t have envelopes on the table anymore. You don’t have some of those in-person tools. So it’s thinking about how . . . You also don’t have a room full of people cheering each other on. So how do you create an easy way for people to give and how do you create momentum?

Now more than ever in a virtual space, your pre-commits and finding matching gifts that you can motivate and compel support at different levels are more important than ever. We are finding that in the virtual space, you need to have more of your larger level donations pre-committed before the event. It’s rare online, that there is somebody watching the virtual event that spontaneously donates at the $5,000 level. So having what you need there pre-mapped in is great. Don’t offer a level you don’t have a pre-commit in though. That kills your momentum. But using matching gifts at the $1,000, $500, $250 level really is compelling some of those lower-level donors to move up.

You’ll see here a thermometer. A thermometer is how you create the momentum. So this is how working with a benefit auctioneer to call out and read donors’ names, and offer recognition, and showing a thermometer rising in real-time makes everybody on the event feel like they’re a part of something and, like, they’re creating impact.

The trick here is to make sure that your thermometer is moving in real-time. There’s nothing worse than you as an auctioneer talking about all the great donations that are coming in, and then I as a viewer, I’m watching the thermometer and it’s not moving. So thinking about how all those pieces work together, how you’re recognizing donors, and giving them that love online really reinforces their commitment to investment in your organization.

You can see here on our events, on the left side, you’ll see the screen that donors are looking at, they’re at the $250 giving level. In the upper right is our benefit auctioneer, who is reading out the names of, excuse me, donors at that level, recognizing them, showing them love. And then on the right side, you’re looking at the chat room.

So all of our events have a chat room, and that becomes the actual room where we gather. So it’s about creating momentum in the chat room as well. And this is where utilizing your organization’s ambassadors, board members, volunteers, staff, to really show the love in that space. This helps create momentum. This helps create that clap and that applause that’s happening in the room when people are being really, really generous.

So the chatroom becomes sort of that way you show love. It also becomes the way you spot donations. We’ve had a lot of events where a donor will show up in the chat room and say, “Put me in for $500.” But they don’t actually go to the donation site and make that donation. So this is where your development team should be watching names and amounts, and making sure that they reach out to donors, and secure that, and follow through to get that donation.

Again, move through your levels from high to low. So start at whatever your highest level is that you have a pre-commit for, and move through down to your lower levels, same as an in-person event.

Pre-committed gifts. Vital, absolutely vital in the success of your special appeal, always, especially in the virtual space. So we’re finding with folks for this fall, there are still some events that are converting from they had been selling them as in-person events, and now they’re going to be strictly virtual events. So, as I was saying earlier, this is where converting ticket sales and table sales into a straight donation for your organization can also move that from one sort of line item into your special appeal space.

And thinking through what are your leverage challenges to move those mid-level donors? Do you have a donor at a higher level? Let’s say you have a $5,000 donor, but you don’t have any other donors until the $1,000 level. Instead of killing your momentum and starting at the $5,000 level, and waiting and listening for crickets online, take that $5,000. Start at the $1,000 level, and see if you can use that $5,000 to leverage five donors at the $1,000 level. So it becomes a way that you can sort of . . . You still have the $5,000 donation, but you can compel people at different levels to donate and lean in.

Challenges are the special sauce. And we’re going to move out of the conversion sort of piece, the converting tickets and tables to donations because moving forward, folks should just be planning for virtual events.

You have to, in this space, make sure that you’re communicating the technology to your donors. Some of your donors at this point will have experienced virtual events and will be a little more savvy with some of the technology and how to log in. Some people won’t. And as we know, if there’s a barrier, people won’t continue to participate if they have to work really hard at it.

So I think there are a lot of platforms out there for people to consider. I would say, think about what platform would give your donors what they need with the least amount of complication. Greater Giving has a mobile platform that you can utilize. I know a lot of people use them as a software tool. You can also go completely the other way and if you don’t have an option, you can just do a text to give campaign, where it’s literally as simple as people texting the name of your organization to this number, and they type in the amount, and fulfill their donation that way.

Give Lively is one of those platforms. It’s actually a free platform. They just charge credit card processing fees. And so I think there are a lot of solutions. And I anticipate moving forward. There’ll be a lot more technology solutions as we move forward and people get things online.

But we recommend that you’re communicating with your potential attendees in a pre-event email prior to the live feed to tell them what they need to do and be ready for ahead of time, technology-wise. You’re going to log into this to watch the virtual event. And this is where you’re going to be able to donate.

During your program, tell them how to do it. Tell them a couple of times before the special appeal. Tell them again. It’s about holding their hand through that process so that you’re not creating obstacles. We also are running a tech support line during our event so that if folks have any issues, they have a line that they can call to get those issues fixed. And if they can’t and don’t want to, over that tech support line, they can actually give a donation over the phone. It’s about removing barriers so that you can allow donors to invest.

Thinking through the tech side of things, if you’re working with a host or an auctioneer, you have to have a way to prompt them during the virtual event to have the donor names they need to read. And so it’s thinking through how you’re going to use a teleprompter. We have a Google Doc that we share with our production team. And we type into the Google Doc in real-time, the names of donors as they’re coming in at certain levels so that that host or auctioneer can read those names and give those donors thanks. It’s imperative. That instant gratification of your donors are being acknowledged as supporting your organization is as important as ever because they want to feel like they’re a part of something.

I know I’m flying through some of this. There’s a lot of details to it. I’m trying to make time for Q&A so you can get your specific questions answered.

When you think about donation pages, clarity is key, buttons for preset amounts. Also having a custom donation amount. But giving people, just like you do in your direct mail pieces, custom amounts to pick. On the left is the Greater Giving thermometer page. On the right is the Give Lively thermometer page. Give Lively has a widget that you can embed in your live stream page. It’s super simple. So people don’t have to go to a different place.

We recommend for our audience members that they can have two tabs or two screens so that they’re watching the feed of the event on one and can see the thermometer and the donation page on the other. So it’s thinking about from the donor’s experience, how are you setting up your event to be able to easily consume and see what’s going on?

Data entry person during your event is imperative. Because what happens is if you have that $5,000 match at the $1,000 level, and you get those five $1,000 donors, you want your data person to then add in the $5,000 so that the thermometer jumps with that matching gift. So it’s thinking about how do you create the gratification of that thermometer moving up in real-time to match the gifts as they’re coming in.

I was talking about our tech support line. We use something called Grasshopper. It’s basically a digital phone number that people can answer from anywhere. So we needed our staff to be able to man the tech line from anywhere. It has a text and a phone function. We put a little note on our live stream page that says, “Please call tech support if you’re having any issues between 4:00 and 6:30.” So it’s a little before the event, a little bit after, and then your tech support can help get them squared away, logged into the donation software or take donations over the line.

Early on, we found that tech support was getting a lot more traffic from folks who had never been in a virtual space before. So some of the questions were as simple as what’s Safari? Where do I log in? What does that look like? Now, it’s actually a pretty light lift, and a lot of it is just people that are having glitches or don’t know how to donate or donation has become too much of a hassle and they just want to give a donation over the phone.

This is a great way to involve volunteers. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about how do I engage my volunteers? I used to have all these volunteers for my in-person event. Tech support is a great way. They can answer it from home. You can give them a script that sort of walks through the solutions. Mostly it’s about the beauty of having a real live voice on an end of a phone when somebody is frustrated about technology to help walk them through.

Chat moderator. So I was talking about the chat earlier. We designate a person to moderate the chat. So this person logs in as the name of the organization and is kind of the voice of the organization thanking speakers for speaking, thanking donors for donating, sort of echoing the program, reinforcing salient points, providing instruction for donors on how to give, sharing key points of the mission. They help frame the conversation and keep things kind of going in the correct direction. We haven’t seen too much mayhem in chats, but it could happen.

They also create community. Think about, this is your . . . the equivalent of one of your development folks walking through the room talking to donors, saying hello, welcoming people, making them feel like they’re a part of something. It seems minor but this can actually really be crucial to creating a community feel on your event. This is how people are going to be able to talk to each other in the room during your event.

Virtual host. The host, again, as I said earlier, provides the direction and keeps the program moving. They acknowledge your gifts and your donors. And your production team can put together several speaker feeds in your event stream. So your virtual event host can be in one place. Your executive director can have taped their comments already on a video. You know, you can pull in feeds from all over and your AV team can work together to make it feel like a seamless experience on your virtual event. So you don’t have to worry about that end of it by engaging in an AV partner.

The AV team is doing a lot. So I highly encourage y’all to go get that partner so you don’t have to deal with any of this, and you can deal with focusing your attention on the donor. Same as your in-person event, you’re not stringing lights. You’re not setting up the stage. You’re not catering or if you are, I would suggest you step out of those spaces and focus on your donors. So your production team becomes your partner in all of those things so that you can come up out of the weeds and really focus on your event.

They will take a single video stream and broadcast it via viewing platform like Vimeo or YouTube. And you want to make sure that you spend the time with them so that they can execute the program you envision. So you should have a rehearsal. You should have a script for them. You should rehearse and pre-check sound levels and mics and all of that before you go live, just like you do with your in-person show. So all of those elements translate into the virtual space. It is still a production. It’s just happening on a small screen instead of a large ballroom.

I want to throw one cautionary tale out about music. Music licensing online is a very real thing. And you playing music in a ballroom, you might get around some of that licensing stuff sometimes. But online, they have bots out there that makes sure that you don’t. So work with your production team to see what music licenses they have so that when you’re using background music, you’re using music that won’t get your event shut down online.

So the top five things you should be doing regardless is you need to be talking to donors. Talk to your donors. You should always be talking to your donors. How are they doing? Send out an email appeal. How is COVID-19 impacting you and how are you creating impact? We are telling everybody, “Your fall events are virtual.” I know that there are a lot of different, you know, sort of max caps for gatherings in different parts of the country. But if you’re spending the time and energy, you should be spending the time and energy on virtual so that you don’t have a governmental cap shift change the trajectory of your event two weeks out.

And we are encouraging everybody to be thinking about completely virtual or at least hybrid with the option to go completely virtual for spring. Nobody has a crystal ball. So we’re trying to encourage folks to really think about how do I be successful in any environment? And to be successful in any environment right now means virtual.

You should be talking to sponsors. You should always be talking to sponsors. That’s a long-term relationship. And you may have to get creative with them. And so bringing them in early makes them feel like they’re a part of something and they’re a part of the solution. And this is every day, but sometimes it’s a good reminder, just keep delivering on your mission and tell that story. Tell that story to people and tell that story to donors.

So that is a jam, jam, jam-packed. I just want to let folks know we will talk to anyone all the time about virtual events. We want you all to keep fundraising. That’s our main, main goal. We have built a toolkit on our website with downloadable templates for communications, webinars, blog posts, stream. We have links to streams of virtual events we’ve done so you can even see what it looks like if you’ve not seen one before. And then also we have coming up August 12th, we’ve moved our events conference up this year and have moved it virtual itself, and it will be all about virtual events. And that’s going to be on August 12th.

Steven, that’s the bulk marathon of what I’ve got. I would love to hear from folks and answer questions.

Steven: Wow, that was a lot, Kristin. Holy smokes.

Kristin: I know. It’s crazy. And I had a lot of coffee, so it probably went really, really jam-packed.

Steven: I’m so thankful for that. I know it’s early for you. This is awesome. I know this is an impossible topic to like completely cover . . .

Kristin: It’s super hard.

Steven: . . . and, you know, 40 hours a week. But, man, there’s some good stuff in there. There were so many things that were insightful, like when you said, you know, a 200-person venue is now a 75-person venue because it’s like, yeah, that’s right.

Kristin: Well, and that has to include all of your production folks, all of your caterers. That doesn’t necessarily include the room you need for hallways, for bathrooms. Like, the maze that figuring out physical space is right now is not worth trying to figure out because you can’t. You know, most places you can’t get 75 people in a room right now either, nor would you want to. So I think it’s being real about what these restrictions mean in a physical space and taking that and making the virtual space your advantage.

Steven: Yeah, speaking of being real, you know, we’re recording this on July 23rd. You mentioned fall events. Yeah. You kind of said it, but I want people to understand what you’re saying. It’s like, you don’t want to roll the dice on an in-person event, November through April. I mean, is that kind of what we’re saying? Just change now . . . ?

Kristin: I will go out on a limb and say don’t do it. Do not do it, and for a couple of reasons. One, again, the crystal ball thing, we have no idea what’s coming. So if you plan for something that can work in any scenario and invest there, you don’t have to shift. You don’t have to go back out to sponsors and donors and shift. Also, I really want our nonprofit friends to think about their liability in this. And, you know, as an events company, we are producing no hybrid events this fall. None. And spring, we are really encouraging all of our clients to think about virtual first or virtual only, just until there’s a bigger health solution on the table. You know, spacing people in a physical space is always going to have risk. And I think you need to think about your organization and what that means for you.

Steven: I’ve had conversations with our customers who did that, just cut it, pivoted. I know pivot is such an annoying word right now. I’m sorry to say.

Kristin: I know.

Steven: And they made more money. And they didn’t have this baggage, this cloud over their head, like, “Oh, is it going to happen November? Is it going to happen?” And it was just kind of a freeing thing.

Kristin: It is. I think it’s liberating. I want to caution folks though, I think there are some folks that are overcorrecting and just canceling their event. And I don’t encourage that at all. I think you want to stay in the conversation. It’s like saying, “We’re not going to fundraise this year. We’re going to wait.” You know, it has always been true that it is rare that donors get offended that you ask. They may or may not be able to participate and that may vary over time. But I’ve never been offended that somebody asked me to be a part of their organization and to invest in their great work. Sometimes I have capacity, sometimes I don’t. And so for you to stay relevant and you to stay in the mix, and to keep your programs moving forward, you have to be raising money.

Steven: Yeah. We were talking about this before we started, Kristin. But a lot of people have asked about it. The sponsor benefits in a virtual setting. What have you seen these for-profit businesses really kind of gravitate towards, get excited about? Is it social media plugs? Is it email mentions? What are the things that the sponsors like for these new benefit packages?

Kristin: It is. It is those things because, you know, they’re getting sent out to probably a wider distribution set than just folks who have bought tickets for the event, right? If you think about, you have a ballroom with 300 people, that’s the maximum amount probably of eyes and ears that are going to hear you in that space. But if you put it online, and that live stream is available to be seen by anybody afterwards or for donors to send out to their peer group saying, “Look, this is an organization I love, please watch this event and donate if you can,” all of a sudden their voice is amplified.

So we see folks, you know, donors are doing or sponsors are doing, like, quirky little videos that run during the pre-show. You know, they’re doing the donor thanks. You know, it’s the same. It’s reimagining ways in which your sponsors are incorporated into your in-person event. What does that look like, online? You know? It’s not about swag bags. It’s not about people that . . . That’s not where it’s at. But it’s about, how does your sponsor get the opportunity to show that they’re aligned with your great work and that they are making impact by supporting that work? And so the virtual space, it’s cheap. It’s cheap to do and video, like having your sponsor record a video on an iPhone requires next to nothing of anybody, right?

Steven: Yeah.

Kristin: It’s such a great way to get them involved.

Steven: What about timeline? A lot of people are asking, you know, again, it’s late July, maybe they’re thinking about November. Is it too late?

Kristin: No.

Steven: Is it too early? What do you think? Okay.

Kristin: I think if you’re looking at doing a virtual event, three to four weeks out, you’re challenged, right? Because you also have to think on the development side of things, what do you need in terms of timeline to have the conversations with your donors and sponsors to hit the financial goals that you want to hit? So that becomes more of the metric than the production end of it. You know, I think, you know, putting together your script, and assembling videos, and thinking through all those pieces, those aren’t the lift. You know, you don’t have to book a ballroom a year and a half out. Those aren’t the lift. The lift is cultivating your relationships and what that looks like. You should be already in process of that anyway, regardless of whether you were looking at having an in-person event this fall or looking to convert it. But I think it’s really thinking about what’s the timeline you need to be successful and cultivating the relationships you need to hit those financial goals for your event.

Steven: Okay. A lot of people are asking about the team. You know, so you’ve got a small staff, a lot of folks listening here, small to medium staff. How do you kind of divide up the responsibilities? Is there an owner of the event and they have maybe a couple of subordinates? What have you seen work maybe with your clients or otherwise of maybe kind of divvying up responsibility and making it work?

Kristin: Sure. Sure. So I think it’s about utilizing the strengths you have in-house and tapping outside resources to supplement where those strengths might not be in-house. So just like an in-person event, you’re not doing the AV production. I would get an AV partner on board that’s going to be doing all the technical end of things, and may even be producing your videos for you, and putting them together but they’re going to be responsible for the stream. In-house, you should still be looking at, you know, who’s doing corporate sponsorships? Who’s doing your major donor pre-commit asks for your special appeal, whether or not you’re doing any sort of auction solicitation?

So I think a lot of them break along the same lines as if you were doing an in-person event. It’s thinking about what resources do you need to bring in? You know, do you have somebody who’s connected to your organization that’s sort of dynamic that could be your host? If not, is there somebody that you want to bring in or hire to do that role? So I think it’s really going through all of the pieces of the event and doing that assessment and figuring out what do we have? What do we need? And really what’s our capacity to do this work? And don’t sacrifice, following the fundraising to do the other stuff. If you’re not from fundraising and you’re doing the other stuff, hire somebody to do the other stuff.

Steven: Yeah, we were talking about this before about, like, choosing meals and the stuff that’s not [inaudible 00:54:11].

Kristin: Linen colors. Everybody wants to get mired in linen covers. And I get it because it has a beginning, middle, and end, right?

Steven: Right. You feel productive.

Kristin: Totally. Fundraising feels like it has no end. And that’s the bane and the beauty of it, right? It doesn’t, because our work will always continue if we’re doing it right. But yeah, I think it’s doing that assessment. Also, look at your volunteers, look at your major stakeholders. Do you have a marketing communications wizard in your arsenal? Start getting them the messages that you want, but have them execute and do some of your communications and social media work because that is a heavier lift with a virtual event than maybe an in-person event. So I think it’s about looking at the resources you have and getting creative with that. I think people want to help and not everybody can donate right now. So there is opportunity for people to come in and help with some of those pieces.

Steven: What about quantity of events? It seems like in this format, it’s maybe a higher possibility that you could do more instead of this one big giant gala that, you know, everything orbits around on the calendar. Is there a truth to that or should people maybe not stretch themselves by doing too many events? What do you think?

Kristin: I think you need to go back to your development plan and figure out what serves you. You know? Yes, just because you could do a virtual event a month doesn’t mean you should. I think it’s about recognizing the potential of the technology, though, to bring people together and to think about your sort of traditional development calendar, where you were having gatherings of different sorts. They may not have been “events.”

And think about the virtual space in achieving those goals as well. Did you have volunteer get-togethers? Did you have major donor garden parties? Did you . . . ? Like, think about what you already have in your cultivation cycle, the purpose it serves. Are you acquiring donors? Are you rewarding major donors? Are you trying to create . . . ? Like, it all comes back to the fundraising basics and then let the events follow.

Virtual is less fatiguing, cheaper. So there is potential to do more. But that doesn’t always mean you should. I think it still needs to fall in line with what your fundraising goals are and how that can help achieve them.

Steven: Make sense. Maybe a good way to end it. What about afterwards, you know, acknowledging sponsors, attendees, people who spoke, and should that look differently? I feel like sometimes those kinds of things are an afterthought because we put so much work into the event and it’s onerous. But what, if any, differences are there in acknowledging all these folks?

Kristin: For me, it’s no different. They should always be front and center. Donor supporter love is where it’s at. You know, what’s fascinating to think about the virtual space is what tools you have at your disposal. You could have a pre-show where you have pictures of all of your sponsors get sent in, selfies get sent in. Start a hashtag campaign. And then take screenshots of that and send them out with emails. Thank you so much for attending. Like, I think, again, it’s being creative, just like in the in-person space about how do you show your love? How do you let people know they’re connected to something and making impact by supporting your work?

Steven: I love it. Kristin, you deserve some breakfast. Go start your day. You got up early for this. Thank you.

Kristin: Yeah, it’s great to be with all of you. Please keep fundraising and let us know how we can help.

Steven: I know we didn’t get to all the questions. I was trying to combine and parse some questions, but are you willing to maybe take some emails?

Kristin: Absolutely.

Steven: And you got this event coming up. Tell more about that.

Kristin: Yep. So Elevate, August 12th. It’s going to be a virtual conference. It’s from 10:00 to 3:00 because attention spans are only so long. But there’s going to be a lot of pre-recorded content that people can access before and after the conference as well to get more tools. We’re just trying to get tools in the hands of folks so that they can make the virtual leap.

Steven: I love it. Yeah, check it out. Kristin’s obviously a wealth of knowledge. Awesome person. And I’m so grateful that you did this. Thanks, Kristin.

Kristin: I’m so grateful for you, Steven and Bloomerang. Thanks for all you’re doing for our nonprofit friends.

Steven: Oh, this is easy. I just get to listen to smart people all day. It’s fun. And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I know it was an early start for some of you. But I’m glad you were here. Hopefully, you got something out of it and take advantage or check out Kristin online. And we got a great webinar coming up. It’s almost like I planned it. But we’re going to be sharing a case study on a virtual event. One of my customers, we noticed in their database, just like tons of money flying up better than they did last year. And I reached out to Lisa, and I was like “Lisa, what are you doing?” She said, “Virtual event.” So she’s going to take you through all the steps of how they did it.

So if you like this presentation, it’s interesting. I don’t think that Lisa and Kristin know each other, but the same philosophies were bubbling up. So that’s a Tuesday, I think the 28th. I think it’s Tuesday. Yeah, Tuesday 1:00 p.m. Totally free. We’re going to record it if you can’t make it. So join us. That’d be a good one case study. You can’t go wrong. But if that date and time doesn’t work for you, we got lots of other webinars coming up on our schedule, lots of cool sessions. We’d love to see you again.

So we’ll call it a day there. Even though most of us just getting our day started. It’s a little weird. But look for an email for me with the slides, the recording, I’ll get that to you. And definitely reach out to Kristin. So hopefully, we’ll see you again on another session. Have a safe Thursday. Have a safe weekend. Please stay healthy. We’re thinking about all of you. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye.

Kristin: Thanks, y’all.

Steven: See you.

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.