Four Best Practices for Successful Virtual Events
BARBARA A. MILLER, CPA
Virtual events were originally intended to be a short-term replacement for traditional fundraisers. But, almost two years after the first COVID-19 lockdowns, many not-for-profit organizations are still relying on them. The good news is that some overall best practices for not-for-profit virtual events have emerged from the pandemic. Here are some ways that your not-for-profit organization can make the most of your next virtual event.
Related Read: Watching Costs Is Always a Smart Investment
- Prioritize Donations Over Registration Revenues
Even the best-run virtual event cannot duplicate the glitz and glamour of, for example, an annual charity ball. Moreover, the costs of virtual events are far lower. The ticket price, if any, should reflect these realities. But, that does not mean that the revenue opportunities necessarily have to suffer.
By offering an affordable admission fee, you can encourage greater overall generosity. For instance, you may attract people who would normally be turned off by a high admission fee, but are willing to pay a lower fee and then make a donation on top of that. Your registration should include the option to obtain certain perks for an additional donation, anything from branded merchandise or early access to an online auction catalog, to exclusive access to panel discussions.
- Revamp Your Format
Attendees likely will be sitting in front of a computer or phone in solitude during the event. Many people are “zoomed-out” at this point and their attention spans are shorter. So, single sessions should not run more than an hour, including audience Q&A. If your event runs longer, try to build in intermissions between sessions. You also might consider holding a series of virtual events, rather than a one-time, multi-session event. One potential benefit of this approach is a higher sponsor interest.
Whether you go with a one-time event or a series of sessions, consider using breakout sessions to connect with your attendees. The networking and connections that happen in smaller groups at in-person fundraisers can take place in chat rooms. Digital breakouts let people get to know each other and share ideas, while reducing the potential for boredom.
Do not be afraid to get creative. While the speaker/listener format can be very informative, there are other ways to make the event more fun. What about a virtual 5k? A virtual tour? An online auction? An online concert, trivia or other games?
- Do Not Neglect Tech
We have all heard about or experienced some virtual meeting “fails” by now. You get audio but no video, video or sound of horrible quality, the speaker’s audio or video freezing (or both), attendees dropping in and out, or similar snafus.
As the event organizer, you need to invest in top-notch technology. Cameras, microphones and streaming software designed for live streaming are essential. Provide remote speakers and moderators with tip sheets that explain everything they need to know about camera setup, lighting, sound and how to access the event. It is also helpful to have a rehearsal, dry run and/or tech test prior to the event.
It is a good idea to provide attendees with solutions or work-arounds for technology lapses at the beginning of each session. Are there simple trouble-shooting steps they can take? Is there someone that they can contact at the organization for help? Can they dial-in for audio only?
- Opportunities Do Not End with the Event
The conclusion of the live event is not the end of an organization’s opportunities to connect with its donors. Of course, you always should follow up with attendees afterward. But the feedback on what did and did not work for them is especially valuable for novel situations such as virtual events. You also can give attendees a limited window of time to view the event again, with a link on the screen enabling further donations.
Event recordings can be leveraged to generate additional interest, too. Posting video clips or recaps can draw in even more people. The ongoing exposure will make sponsors happy and could result in more donations.
Here to stay
Virtual events will probably remain a part of fundraising efforts for many not-for-profit organizations long after things “return to normal.” The practices outlined above can help you maximize your results.
JEFFREY L. CHILES, CPA, MST
Number of U.S. not-for-profits nears 2 million
The most recently released Internal Revenue Service Data Book, which covers the federal fiscal year running from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020, shows that the United States has about 1.8 million 501(c) organizations. That includes 1.4 million religious, charitable and similar organizations, 79,050 social welfare organizations and about 62,000 business leagues.
The IRS collected $1.2 billion in unrelated business income tax (UBIT) in 2019 and $944 million in UBIT in 2020 from tax-exempt organizations. It received 1.6 million tax returns and other forms from these groups in 2019 and 1.4 million tax returns in 2020. The agency audited 1,417 Forms 990, 990-EZ and 990-N in 2020. About 93% of the almost 96,000 applications for Sec. 501(c) status in 2020 came from religious, charitable and similar organizations. Just over 89% of all applications were approved.
Why not-for-profit organizations are asking for more labor data
More than 250 national, state and local not-for-profit organizations and individual researchers have submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor requesting the release of quarterly data on not-for-profit employment and wages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides regular quarterly workforce data to other industries. But, according to the letter, the not-for-profit sector must “either purchase this information or wait years for it.”
The letter was a joint effort by the Aspen Institute’s Nonprofit Data Project, Independent Sector, the National Council of Nonprofits and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. It notes that the not-for-profit sector is estimated to have lost more than 1.6 million jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The direct release of not-for-profit job data by BLS, it says, “could help policymakers make informed decisions and help the sector to recover.”
Employee volunteering down, donations up
A report from YourCause, a unit of Blackbaud, on trends in employee philanthropic behavior reveals that employees were more engaged in giving than volunteering in 2020. But, both were down compared to 2019.
The news is not all bad. For example, the median employee donation increased by $447. Companies with up to 1,000 employees (the smallest size included in the report) had the highest average employee donation amount at $2,414 and the most average volunteer hours per employee at 18 hours.
The volunteer engagement rate of the smallest company size is about four times higher than the largest company size (19.31% vs. 4.48%). Companies with more than 100,000 employees fall below the overall engagement rate (combined giving and volunteering) of 11.47%, with a rate of 9.96%.