On 10 March 2021, the Spektrix Global Fundraising Team hosted a roundtable discussion titled ‘Fundraising Events in the Digital Space’ as a part of our 2021 Philanthropy Series, which includes roundtables and webinars to connect a network of fundraisers across Spektrix clients.
Attended by 51 Spektrix users across the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and the United States, the roundtable was a space to share ideas and experiences with fundraising events that have been held virtually throughout the past year and into the future. We kicked off with presentations from MCC Theater in New York, NY, who hosted a virtual version of its annual MisCast gala in June 2020, and Tron Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, who hosted a virtual raffle and celebration in autumn 2020. After learning about these exciting events, we opened the room to discussion and questions from all attendees to share more about their plans and experiences with virtual events.
Here is some of what we learned from the session:
Successful virtual events come in all sizes
Through all of our presentations and questions, it became clear that virtual events come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can serve a number of purposes for organizations. Events can take shape as large annual galas and benefit concerts with substantial fundraising goals, but can also be smaller and more intimate events with more focus on cultivation and connection with patrons. In one example, MCC’s MisCast was viewed over 220,000 times over a four day period - generating thousands of donations and many new patrons for the organization, showing the vast reach a large-scale event can have.
On the other end of the spectrum, another client described their post-show salon conversations where donors can discuss streamed events with staff and artists. Sometimes only a small handful of donors attended these salons, but all attendees expressed how much they appreciated the opportunity to be involved. Many participants in the roundtable highlighted how happy patrons were just hearing from their favorite theatres - as one attendee at Tron’s raffle put it, “What a joy to see you yesterday - hope to be back in the Tron soon!”
Digital programming helps expand demographic reach
Another huge benefit of virtual events is the increased demographic reach they can have. Proximity to the organization’s physical location is no longer an issue, and invites can be sent to customers far and wide - MCC had 60% of its MisCast donations come from donors outside the region, including a number of gifts from international donors. And once these customers have connected through their first event, they can be further cultivated and solicited for future events and gifts. Virtual events also cater very well to a younger demographic, a coveted group of patrons and donors, who can find these events more accessible to join and more affordable than traditional in-person benefit events.
Participants did note that “Zoom fatigue” could contribute to some patrons choosing not to attend, but overwhelmingly, the benefits of being able to reach new patrons and strengthen relationships with existing customers make virtual events a key part of the stewardship calendar. Tron Theatre shared another patron response from the raffle night: “Just wanted to thank you all for a wonderful night, I still can’t get used to Zoom, but I’m grateful for the option” - proving that technology isn’t always a blocker.
Offering a variety of price levels maximizes attendance - and contributions
Hosting a combination of free and paid events throughout the year helped organizations reach the largest number of patrons who can then choose what events fit their interests and budget. With a larger annual fundraising event, having an accessible ticket price paired with higher price gala-style packages and perks helps offer experiences tailored to the customer’s giving level.
Many users had also had good experiences of asking for donations at free events - setting up a free ticketed event paired with an add-on donation ask at checkout becomes a “give what you can” style event, turning a cultivation event into a revenue event as well. And as Tron Theatre’s Raffle Night showed us, the price of entry can go beyond just a ticket to an event, with patrons buying virtual raffle tickets that gained them access to the party and made them eligible for exciting prizes.
The future of virtual fundraising events
With all of the success organizations have seen with virtual events, it's clear that these events - or some sort of virtual component to many events - will stick around even as in-person spaces reopen. Not only do virtual events allow patrons to participate however they feel safest, but they open attendance beyond an organization’s location and typical age bracket. There is a ton of data to leverage from attendance and donation revenue, including geographic location, age demographics, etc. when planning future events and building new patrons into a solicitation plan.
But one of the best sources of information on an event’s success are the attendees themselves. Periodically, whether after each event or a few times throughout the year, send surveys to your patrons asking what they like and don’t like in events. Use smaller cultivation events to gather ideas directly from donors around what interests them and what they’re likely to attend. And most importantly, start asking patrons about their feelings on returning to in-person events as you get ready to start planning events.
The overall consensus from the roundtable attendees was that no matter the scale, organizations which held virtual events were very glad they had - and patrons who were invited and attended were equally delighted (if not even more so). Not only did events raise funds, but also strengthened connections with current supporters and reached entirely new prospects to engage with in the future. Embracing virtual events in whatever form they work for an organization proves to have massive tangible and intangible benefits.
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Ellie Engquist is Fundraising Team Manager at Spektrix