May 28, 2020 | Categories Coronavirus / COVID-19 Nonprofit Resources, Featured, Fundraising Strategies, Nonprofit News, Nonprofit Technology

Inspiration from Fellow Fundraisers: How to Host a Virtual Fundraising Event

Inspiration from Fellow Fundraisers: How to Host a Virtual Fundraising Event

Music has a way of transcending us, allowing us to escape from our day-to-day lives if only for a short time. Now more than ever, we need music to free our minds as we remain confined to our homes for what feels like forever.

That’s why the Akron Symphony Orchestra (ASO) knew that even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the show must go on. Stay-at-home orders caused them to cancel their April 17th gala, their top-earning fundraising event of the year. Instead, Development Manager Kimia Ghaderi and the ASO team decided to host their event entirely online as a virtual auction using ReadySetAuction software.

Leaning on an incredibly diligent team, transparent and frequent communication, and the right tools, the Akron Symphony surpassed their goal. Now, with the success of their event, they can continue providing vital relief to their community through the COVID-19 crisis.

How to Move Your Fundraising Event Online

Follow the lead of ASO. Here are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your opportunity to engage guests isn’t lost with your in-person event.

Work with Event Sponsors to Keep Them Onboard

ASO had already secured their sponsors for their gala, but the perks they had previously offered drastically changed due to social distancing guidelines. Instead of free admission, drink tickets, and advertising in program books and on signs, sponsors could enjoy virtual perks, such as:

  • Digital ads on ASO’s social media accounts
  • Mentions in email communications about the gala
  • Free admission and drink tickets for future ASO concerts

By moving the sponsorship perks online and into the future, ASO was able to retain all of their sponsors.

Ask Registrants If They’ll Donate Their Tickets

Don’t resort to refunding tickets as your first option. The ASO team retained nearly all of their ticket purchase revenue by making personal phone calls. They called each registrant to ask them if they’d be willing to donate their admission ticket to the virtual gala as a gift and reminded them about the importance of their mission, especially in this time of crisis. The vast majority of ticket buyers chose to donate the full price of their ticket – a reminder that it never hurts to just ask.

Move What You Can Online

Whether you planned to host a raffle or a full-blown auction at your fundraising event, you can list and auction off your items virtually on your own event website with ReadySetAuction. Kimia shares, “We did have to contact some donors of items like gift cards to get the dates of redemption extended a little bit, but everybody was really flexible and willing to work with us.”

ASO accommodated every type of donor. For major donors especially, raise-the-paddle auctions are a popular and fun way to make a monetary donation live at an event. But without having an auctioneer to facilitate, ASO needed to get creative.

Kimia added virtual raise-the-paddle packages to ReadySetAuction using its ranged price package feature. She then segmented packages by giving levels that aligned with the names of the giving levels on the ASO donation forms. Kimia explains, “Even if they didn’t want to bid on a specific item, they could use the ranged price packages to make a donation and have it feel a little bit more like what they would have done with a live raise-the-paddle.”

Acquire Auction Items

The ASO team managed to secure 60 auction items for their virtual event. From one-of-a-kind pieces by local artists to invaluable experiences like an evening of violin music with a home-cooked meal prepared by the violinist. Kimia attributes this success to the team’s outreach efforts.

To acquire auction items:

Start with your board.

Kimia suggests, “Think about people they may know or relationships they may have with local businesses that might be amenable to donating something to [your] auction.”

Recruit local businesses.

Each year, the ASO Gala Committee sends a solicitation letter with a donation form to local businesses to request in-kind or monetary donations to contribute to the auction.

Follow up with a phone call.

ASO’s board and auction committee personally reach out to businesses where they may have a connection and appeal to them for donated goods and services.

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Promote Your Event Alternative in All the Ways.

Personally calling all registered guests, donors, and sponsors to explain that their event was moving online was no small task, but after their initial contact, ASO was able to continue communicating in more streamlined, yet personal ways through emails, letters, and social media.

ASO also leveraged video promotions that included:

  • A pre-recorded welcome video featuring the Music Director and gala committee Trustees
  • Frequent livestreamed Zoom sessions on Facebook promoting the gala and specific auction items
  • Video presentations for several featured auction items

One of the greatest challenges of a virtual fundraising event is encouraging the virtual attendance of your less tech-savvy donors who may feel intimidated by what a digital event could entail. ASO made it a point to include ReadySetAuction’s tip sheet in their communications so everyone could participate by knowing what to expect.

Easily Manage Your Event from Home

An advantage to holding a virtual auction is that you don’t have to limit it to one day!

ASO held theirs for a whole week, coordinating from their respective homes, and according to Kimia, it went rather smoothly. “It was no problem at all to run [the auction] from home. It seems like there are a lot of platforms out there that will be great at handling your online auction, but they’re not necessarily set up to be a customizable event-planning software [like ReadySetAuction], where you can log admission tickets and patron details, and send out receipts for just about everything – cash donations, auction sales – and create an online auction website that has additional information about our organization.”

Keep the Momentum Going Throughout Your Event

With ReadySetAuction, participants can browse and bid on your items 45 days before and after the period of your auction, if you choose, giving you more opportunities to engage your audience. ASO took to Facebook to build excitement around the event all week. Kimia shares, “We had a few different Facebook live chats throughout the week, promoting different parts of the gala we wanted to draw attention to and talking about our organization’s mission – about some of our programming and telling stories about various programs in the past.”

Extending the event’s duration and constantly promoting it helped ASO to drive up bidding frequency and amounts.

Celebrate Your Success with Your Supporters

During the weeklong event, the organizers at ASO could track bidding numbers and view reports within ReadySetAuction.

After their virtual fundraising event, ASO held a virtual party on Zoom with their community to talk about the gala and share stories about past events and what they love about their organization. Kimia shares, “During our video chats [with supporters] that we streamed online, people shared some really touching memories about concerts or experiences they had had with [our organization] in the past. We all just got together to talk about our memories and why we love our organization. I would encourage everyone to do that. It brings a more human element to the discussion and it makes it all the more rewarding when contributions come in.”

Thank Your Attendees

Although your events will inevitably come to an end, they give you the opportunity to embark on new beginnings, whether it be through new donor relationships or through an even stronger bond with your existing donors. Be sure to regularly keep in touch with your ever-expanding network, starting with a thank you, immediately following your event. Because ReadySetAuction integrates with DonorPerfect, it’s never been easier to stay connected.

Kimia explains how easy these crucial tasks are with the help of tech, “[ReadySetAuction] was going to be able to help us keep all of our event information in one place. We would be able to send the reports directly back to DonorPerfect, with the DonorPerfect exchange tool that it has. That saves a lot of time on our end.”

Ready to Transform Your Event into an Online Success?

Here’s how to get started, step-by-step.

Thank you to Kimia Ghaderi and the Akron Symphony Orchestra for sharing with us their success and for uplifting spirits with music through COVID-19. We wish them all the best in their fundraising endeavors through the crisis and well beyond.

Written by Laura Bucher
One Comment
  1. This sounds like a lovely way to transition a planned event to an online event. In our situation, our event for the fall was cancelled prior to securing any sponsors, selling tickets or procuring auction items. Now, our local businesses are suffering and have little to donate. An article on "how to plan an online event from scratch" would be nice.

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