The global outbreak of COVID-19 has put unprecedented restrictions on conferences, fundraisers, and other events that enable nonprofit organizations to meet their financial goals and keep their members engaged. To overcome the challenges associated with social distancing, some nonprofits have already embraced technology to host virtual events, and others should follow their lead as soon as possible to keep moving toward their mission.
What Is a Virtual Event?
A virtual event is an organized gathering of people that takes place online instead of in a physical location. Examples of virtual events include online meetings and virtual conferences, virtual networking events, webinars, and live-streamed fundraisers.
While it’s certainly true that virtual events existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, their popularity has skyrocketed in recent months as nonprofit and for-profit organizations alike have been forced to reduce social contact to protect themselves and others.
Benefits of Virtual Events for Nonprofits
The benefits of virtual events for nonprofits extend far beyond keeping members and donors engaged. Here are five important benefits all nonprofits should be aware of:
- Wider reach: Since virtual events can be easily attended by anyone, they allow nonprofits to engage far more attendees than in-person events.
- Cost-effective: It can cost a lot of money to organize even a moderately large in-person conference. Virtual events remove some of the biggest expenses that drive up overhead costs, including venue reservations, catering, event space setup, name tags, and transportation, making them cost-effective.
- Easier to organize: As we’ve just mentioned, there’s a lot that goes into organizing in-person events. Modern solutions for hosting virtual events are easy to use, and they make it possible for hundreds of attendees to effortlessly join from anywhere.
- Sharable: One great thing about virtual events is that they can be recorded using screen capture software and shared online to raise more awareness. On the other hand, expensive camera equipment is necessary to record in-person events, and not all nonprofits can justify its cost.
- Scalable: Virtual events can seamlessly scale from just a few attendees to thousands. This means that a nonprofit can grow its member or donor base without the restrains of the physical world to meet its financial goals as quickly as possible.
How to Host a Virtual Event?
There are many different solutions that nonprofits can use to host virtual events. Some of these solutions are developed specifically to address the needs of nonprofit organizations, while others are used by organizations across many different sectors.
Dedicated virtual event platforms like Accelevents, 6Connex, vFairs, and Pathable provide a whole host of advanced features that come in handy when hosting a wide range of online events from conference educational sessions to virtual fundraisers, such as real-time reporting, immersive content, and flexible customization options, but their complexity makes them more difficult to set up and use.
Charity nonprofits should definitely pay attention to virtual fundraising software solutions, which simplify the creation of digital fundraising campaigns. Examples of popular virtual fundraising software solutions include Double the Donation, Charity Engine, and OneCause.
Also worth mentioning are live streaming platforms like Vimeo, Youtube Live, and Facebook Live. Such platforms can be used to stream an in-person event to a global audience, and they allow for real-time collaboration and interaction.
Best Practices for Hosting Virtual Events
It’s one thing to implement and start using technology for hosting virtual events, and it’s another thing to make virtual events enjoyable for attendees.
Here are three simple tips for making virtual events feel as good as in-person events:
- Do a quick test run: The last thing you want is to encounter easily avoidable technical or operational issues during a virtual event. It doesn’t matter if the virtual event in question is a small video conference or huge fundraiser, it’s always a good idea to do a quick test run before going live to ensure a smooth experience for all attendees.
- Set ground rules: To make attendees feel more comfortable during a virtual event, it’s worth introducing some ground rules for etiquette. That way, attendees will know what they should and shouldn’t do during the virtual event. Explain when attendees will be allowed to speak (if at all) and don’t forget to schedule breaks so that everyone knows when it’s time to get another cup of coffee.
- Encourage audience participation: Most tools that can be used to host a virtual event allow attendees to actively participate in real-time, and nonprofits should always strive to embrace all opportunities for audience engagement to make the virtual event feel more enjoyable and rewarding. Examples of audience engagement include live Q&A that allows attendees to upvote favorite questions, polls, and real-time contributions in the chat box. It’s also possible to unmute all or specific attendees and let them speak freely, but this form of audience participation is usually not suitable for events with hundreds of participants.
With these three tips—quick test run, ground rules, audience participation—virtual events can become memorable experiences that leave their attendees just as energized as in-person events.
The novel coronavirus has forced the entire world to embrace digital technology in order to keep on turning. Instead of waiting for things to go back to normal, nonprofits should welcome digital transformation with open arms and keep their members or donors engaged by hosting virtual events.