Transitioning Offline Events to Online Experiences

By Piper Sullivan | June 12, 2020 | | Nonprofit

As a nonprofit, you have adaptability in your DNA. You’ve pivoted to meet the unique needs of the communities you serve time and time again. When the restrictions caused by the global pandemic became a reality in early 2020, nonprofits were tasked with pivoting yet again. This time, with funding at stake.

As in-person galas, charity walks, auctions and other events remain out of the question for the foreseeable future, nonprofits are being forced to think outside of the box when it comes to hosting their major fundraising events. For many nonprofits, these events are an important part of funding their programs and keeping the lights on.

Many nonprofits have turned to online tools to bring their in-person events to their donors at home and are seeing success! If you’ve ever found yourself saying “It’s just not the same”–you’re right. It’s certainly a different experience, but it can go a long way in continuing to keep your mission funded and provide opportunities that maybe you didn’t have before.

Two organizations have successfully moved their events to online experiences and we want to share some of their key learnings here to help you in your move to online events as well.

Gigi’s Playhouse’s mission is to change the way the world views Down syndrome and to send a global message of acceptance for all. They host annual galas and walk/runs across the country at their many locations to raise money to keep their playhouses functioning and servicing their community.

Farm Aid is an organization focused on building a system of agriculture that values family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities. A majority of their annual funding comes from one live concert each year. Pivoting, for them, was a must.

Farm Aid logo Gigi's Playhouse logo

After speaking with Gigi’s Playhouse and Farm Aid, here are the top five things you should consider to make your online event a success.

1. Start now, with what you already have on hand

You likely already have fundraising tools at your disposal. Whether it’s a giving page, a peer-to-peer tool, or an online auction platform that you’d use anyway, take advantage of these things. Set up a page specifically for your event. Even better if it has a way to show progress toward a goal. If you have social channels that have live video, use those too.

2. Communicate

Whether you already have registrations to an event like Gigi’s Playhouse did and you’re moving that event online or you’re starting from scratch with an online event, be sure to communicate all of the necessary details to your donors. Remember, they want to participate. Make it easy for them to do so. Provide location information, just like you normally would, but now it’s a URL instead of physical address.

3. Focus on replicating the most personal experiences

Part of what makes events so successful is that VIP experience you can offer your donors, and the experience your donors can offer to their colleagues on behalf of your organization. Think about ways you can do that special part online. Can they buy upgraded tickets for exclusive experiences that their regular gift wouldn’t include? Can you connect your donors to a celebrity, like Farm Aid does with their musical artists? Are you able to replicate the gala table atmosphere with smaller, more intimate rooms for your guests to meet and convene online to encourage others to donate?

4. Take advantage of the new format

Since Gigi’s Playhouse took their walk/run online, they needed a way for everyone to be able to measure their distance. This spurred an innovative partnership with Strava, an app for runners. This unique collaboration, which would’ve never happened before,opened their organization up to a new audience, regardless of location, while also helping them execute their event online. Farm Aid began promoting their events and live streams online, resulting in new opportunities to work with other organizations that will further spread their mission.

5. Prepare for the future

We all look forward to a time when concerts and fundraising events are once again safe and part of our normal activities. We don’t know when that time will be, but we do know that online events are a powerful tool whether or not you have a live event. They can serve as a replacement or as a supplement as needed. Both Gigi’s Playhouse and Farm Aid have shared that their fundraising amounts for a handful of virtual fundraisers over the past few months have approached, met, or even exceeded their offline amounts. These online experiences have proven to be effective and audiences are more receptive to them then originally anticipated.

To learn more about shifting your in-person events to online experiences, join us in this upcoming webinar.

How to bring your (usually in-person) events online
June 25th – 9am PT


About the Author

Piper Sullivan, Salesforce.org

Piper Sullivan is a Product Marketing Manager for Fundraising at Salesforce.org. She is passionate about helping nonprofits embrace technology as a way to connect with supporters in meaningful ways. Prior to Salesforce.org, Piper helped The Salvation Army modernize their fundraising philosophy and tools after having gained key marketing insights and a user experience focus at Apple. Her background has been in entertainment, marketing, and tech for over a decade. She resides in Chamblee, GA with her husband, Patrick.