VIRTUAL EVENTS THAT INSPIRE – 6 tips for fundraisers to create virtual events and webinars to connect with your supporters

This article is all about how charities or fundraisers can create virtual events to inspire to supporters to help you build closer relationships, and in due course, grow income.

Here are my 6 tips for fundraisers to create virtual events and webinars to connect with your supporters.

1. Decide to make it exciting / enticing, not ‘just a webinar’

My first point is, right from the start, I wouldn’t think of it as being a ‘webinar’, because webinars will sound a bit boring and uninspiring to you and everybody else.

Right from the start, define it by the experience you want people to get from this event, rather than the technology or the channel by which you’re communicating it. So for instance, you might think of it as a Virtual Project Tour, or there’s an environmental organisation I interviewed who’ve been running some really successful Round Table Events where people can get access to discuss key environmental issues with their leaders. So right from the start, how you position this to yourself and others will affect, how well you execute the project. 

2. Be clear on the purpose. Income or, more likely, more conversations?

Secondly, I would say that it’s really important to get clear on what the purpose of this event is.. Whilst it is true that some organisations have been making financial asks during and at the end of one of these events that have been succeeding – I cite one in my ebook, “Power through the Pandemic”, that has been getting good financial results – on the whole, my advice is, this tactic lends itself better to a relationship building purpose rather than one which makes income for your charity during the event itself. 

All things being equal, my key advice is to use it to create more conversations. And measure its effectiveness in those terms.

So aim for virtual conversations, both during the event and to set up follow up conversations between you, the fundraiser and the supporters, rather than seeing the success of this event as “How much money did we raise through the asks that we made at the event?”

3. Design it to meet the need to connect, as well as inform.

Understand that people will be showing up as much for the sense of connection and feeling close to your charity, and to leaders of your charity, or to the frontline people doing the work for your charity, as much as for the information they might say they’re interested in. Design the event with this in mind, so that, for instance, they feel heard and recognised, rather than only talked to.

Understand that that’s one of the key things you’re bringing to people if they join this kind of an event, and therefore you’re more likely to give that experience of connection and community and involvement to them. 

4. Give it a name that entices them to book on and show up. For instance, use the feeling and / or identity they want in the title.

If you want people to show up and for your colleagues to get excited about it, take care with the name and strapline of the event / event series.

And following on from what I just said, there’s one animal charity I interviewed for my ebook that calls their webinar series, ‘An Inside Scoop With…’ And you might equally include in the title, the identity that your supporters have or want by supporting your organisation.

So for instance, there’s a well known cancer charity that has a giving club or patrons club called The Catalyst Club. So they’re signalling to people who want to think of themselves as catalysts… ’this is the club for you’. In what way might you signal a particular identity that your kind of supporter aspires to or has, and that helps them know that this is the kind of event that they should be showing up to? Or, or indeed, make sure you include a desirable feeling, (such as the feeling of getting exclusive information) in the name of the event. 

Crucially, I’m saying, don’t give it a boring title that is internally focused! Get insight into your supporters how they think and why they support you, and signal and respond to those ideas in the name of the event and the strapline of the event. 

5. Make sure the fundraiser is visible, building relationships.

If you are going to do one of these, and you’re the fundraiser, don’t do all the project, managing and then step back from the event itself. If we’re agreed that a key objective is for you to get closer relationships and have more conversations with your supporters, then do your utmost to be involved. 

From studying what other charities have been successful in this area, I really recommend that you chair or MC the event. You don’t have to be the subject matter expert, but be the initial face that welcomes people, how it will work and that you’re going to be able to help with follow up questions after the event and so on. 

Then you introduce your chief exec, or your head of head of programmes or whoever, all the while you’re doing that, you’re positioning yourself as an important contact to your supporters. 

You’re increasing the likelihood that they know you, and will come back to you and want to talk to you again, to get help to do with supporting this organisation. 

There’s an animal charity that I interviewed for my e-book and you can listen to her in Episode  of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast, as well, when I talk to a brilliant fundraiser called Linda. She’s achieved fabulous results by organising this virtual event series. Right from the start when she emails people to invite them to the event, she’s asking if they’ve got any questions. And people are emailing back wanting to talk to her. She also mentions an example of one donor who could not attend but requested a recording of the event. When Lynda followed up, this led to a conversation with this important donor, the first she had with the charity in 18 months. So these extra conversations all stem from Lynda positioning herself as a key part of the webinar set up. 

6. Consistency counts. Start with a ‘pilot’ but aim for a series. 

This might be the first time your organisation’s doing an event like this. So initially, consider it as a pilot,  but I really think your medium term plan should be to run a series of these, not least because you’ll learn a lot the first time and then the second one will be twice as good. 

Also, if you study the work of people like Grant LeBoff, who’s a brilliant, modern-minded marketeer, in this day and age, even before the pandemic, the organisations that in the last decade have been growing their businesses are those that proactively and relatively regularly create content. Not content that repeatedly asks for sales / donations, but content that in and of itself is interesting, useful, desirable to your supporters or customers. 

If you can just do the first inspiring virtual event, to prove to yourselves that it works, then I suggest you start a series of of these events happening, be it once a month or once a quarter or whatever is manageable.

The more you’re doing that, you’re attracting people towards your organisation and the ones who are already warm will get more inspired to, in due course, want to talk to you one to one, and to give.

So those are my six top tips if you’re looking for ways to deepen relationships with supporters:

  1. Decide to make it exciting / enticing
  2. Be clear on the purpose. Income or, more likely, more conversations?
  3. Design it to meet the need to connect, as well as inform.
  4. Give it a name that entices them to book on and show up. For instance, use the feeling and / or identity they want in the title.
  5. Make sure the fundraiser is visible, building relationships.
  6. Consistency counts. Start with a ‘pilot’ but aim for a series.

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