Program Recap: “Virtual Events 2.0″

Event Details and Headshots
On January 28, 2021, a panel gathered to discuss tips on best practices for achieving virtual event goals, how to maximize results, and ideas for post-event cultivation. This program was generously sponsored by CCS Fundraising.  

Moderated by Christine Altieri, Founder of AE Events, the three panelists, Mary Hull, Director of Development, WBUR,  Kim CayerPhilanthropy Director, The Children’s Room, and Jaclyn Miller-BarbarowCFRE, Director of Giving at EVkids, answered frequently asked questions and provided advice and guidance on how to navigate the unique challenges and opportunities of virtual events.   

While the moderator and panelists were all optimistic about the COVID-19 vaccine, they realize that virtual and hybrid events may be the new normal. 

The panelists reflected on their virtual events from last year. Mary noted that WBUR had one of the first virtual galas, and they had just 8 weeks to change their event format. They grappled with the tone and fundraising aspects, but knew that cancelling was not the best option. Mary and WBUR hosted their event on Zoom and tried to replicate their in-person offerings, including a cocktail reception, auction, and program. Mary worked with Christine at AE events, and though they faced technical issues, Mary shared her primary learnings: take as much risk out of your virtual event as possible; pre-record what you can to eliminate issues with tech, lighting and sound; stay ahead of updates and changes to your platform; keep it short; and not everything from an in-person event translates well in the virtual space. 

Kim noted that The Children’s Room watched and learned from other organizations that hosted virtual events ahead of theirsThe Children’s Room opted to pre-record the whole event and kept it short.  She did not dramatically change or rework the sponsorship benefits, but did offer different types of recognition, replacing in-person signage and printed materials with virtual alternatives. They had great success with mailing event packages to guests with a printed program listing sponsors and small gift.  These gala boxes also presented new opportunities to engage with corporate sponsors. 

Jaclyn shared that EVkids in-person events usually consist of a reception with an auction, a dinner program, after party with dancing, and a live auction. EVkids decided to drastically reduce the auction and did not focus much on recreating an in-person event experience. She recommends knowing your audience and what they respond to. They used a live MC but the rest of the program was pre-recorded.  EVkids also sent gala boxes. Jaclyn noted that virtual events present an ideal time to go back to the basics and focus on stewardship. EVkids uses Bloomerang which sends reminders to call first time donors and that their Executive Director spends 30 minutes a day making calls. 

Collectively the panelists felt that their events raised more in 2020 since committed donors will stay with the organizations they care aboutHowever, Mary suggested that organizations should look to reinvent their virtual events as many donors are feeling fatigued from virtual events. #zoomfumes 

Other advice that was share included: 

Looking to Board members, lead donors, volunteers, and alumni to help work through technical challenges, recruiting guests to attend, and making connections to sponsors, while making sure to provide them with tools and coaching. 

Thinking about what special experiences or benefits a virtual space can make possible. 

Post event follow up is more important than ever and be timely about processing gifts and acknowledgments so guests know their dollars are doing good things. 

Platforms mentioned included Zoom, Stream Yard for streaming, and Give Butter for peer to peer fundraising. 

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