2020 Overview – Part Two

Amy Phillips

2020 Virtual Pioneers = 2021 Virtual Pros

They say fortune favors the brave. We say it favors those who act. If your org made the pivot to virtual fundraising events in 2020, you should be thinking about 2021’s event. As a matter of fact, if you DIDN’T make the pivot to virtual, but DO want to raise funds in 2021, then start thinking about how you’ll go virtual. We’re always thinking about it! We produced and executed many amazing virtual galas (VGs) in 2020, and since we’re a data-driven company, we paid very close attention to what worked and what didn’t in this wild new environment. Donors are watching, too. Now that they’ve seen a few VGs themselves and know what they’re all about, their expectations are higher. And since we love innovation, and the virtual format is still relatively new, we’re coming up with all kinds of fun and effective new things to try in the coming year. Read on and see if you’re not inspired to come up with a few of your own. 

Process Makes Perfect

We learn a lot from each and every VG we produce. (Sound familiar? We looked at our in-person events through the same lens – what went well, what didn’t, what we should do more of, what we might want to try, and even what we should NEVER try again. One thing that hasn’t changed with a virtual format – the importance of fantastic storytelling. Our data tells us that people give more when they’re familiar with your org’s mission and they know all about the great things you do for people, places and/or animals. Great storytelling takes on even more importance in a virtual format. A huge thing we learned while producing VGs in 2020 is the importance of fantastic visuals – imagery, video, graphics – the works. Even if viewers are watching with the sound down – or off, you can make your VG look incredible! We’re not just talking about brilliant videos, but also graphics – both full-screen and lower thirds. Customized graphics add even more gravitas. Picture your logo flying all over the screen, attracting eyeballs the whole time! We certainly hope folks watch with the sound up, but even if they don’t, with great visuals, they’ll know exactly who is benefitting from this fantastic VG they’re watching.

In addition to our trusted data, we learn a lot from donors themselves! We solicit feedback from them like it’s a cold drink of water in a desert. Then we take that feedback and improve our VGs based on what they liked, didn’t like, what made them want to give even more, and just in general what they delighted in seeing on the screen! Impressed, happy donors not only give more, they act as mission ambassadors educating their circle about the amazing work you do and subsequently, become lifelong fans of your work. And if you’re taking our advice about keeping your VG viewable after the initial live stream, anyone will be able to watch it again. And again!

Ticket Prices

Some orgs are just not comfortable charging a ticket price for a virtual event as they mistakenly believe there’s little or no value for the donor to warrant a ticket price. We get it. But you can justify a ticket price if you sweeten the deal by offering food, drinks or VIP experiences. Perhaps folks willing to pay a VIP ticket price can have meals delivered while folks who pay for a standard ticket pick theirs up. Or maybe some forego a meal altogether for a lesser price. It’s a party in a box that can be imagined and executed in so many ways. 

Typical ticket prices for in-person events cover not only the cost of food, but if they’re priced strategically, they’ll also cover or nearly cover the cost of hosting the event itself (including venue, talent, decor and more). Virtual events, though typically about 20% less cost than in-person events, still have costs associated with putting them on. And we should all be thinking about offsetting those costs in some way. 

Still not super comfortable charging a ticket price for a virtual event? How about asking for a suggested donation – and allow the donor to choose what they’re willing to give? VGs do still have expenses and this is a way for you to recoup some of those costs, so you keep more money to fund your cause and fulfill your mission. Now that VGs are not brand-new, and viewers have higher expectations for the content and messaging, we suspect – at the least – a small donation will be standard practice for VGs in 2021. 

High-level Home Involvement

Getting viewers to your virtual event is important. Keeping them there is critical. What can you do to involve folks at home other than encourage their involvement in the chat? First of all, integrate chat responses right into your live stream. Comment, respond and talk directly to viewers. It really helps make them feel like you’re right there with them. Raffles and incentive drawings are tried-and-true methods that keep folks’ interest. You can also hold contests and encourage viewers to vote with their wallets – adding a low cost revenue stream – win. win. Buying votes is not frowned upon in the fundraising world! It’s fun and leads to further engagement – and you know what that leads to – more open wallets! Another way to make folks at home feel like they’re a part of the action – encourage them to use social media, tagging and relevant hashtags! It’s a little more labor-intensive for your tech team, but when viewers take selfies of themselves enjoying the show at home then see that selfie they JUST took show up a little later in the live VG – SO FUN! Visit with viewers during the live stream – acknowledge their presence. They’ll reward you with donations – take our word for it! We’ve seen it. 

Location, Location, Location

With the creation of the Marquam Livestream Team Studio, geography has become irrelevant for us when fundraising. Virtual fundraising events have expanded reach, leveled the playing field and increased equitable access to the world of galas and fundraising – which before did sometimes feel a bit elitist with ticket prices sometimes so steep they prevented well intended donors from even considering attending. We now have everything you need to execute a live virtual fundraising event or gala. We broadcast live from our studio. 

Want to innovate even further? Let’s take this to the next level and stream from a different location – a house party? Venue? A beautiful garden? A fabulous display of lights? What can you dream up? We have all the right partners and vendors to make your dream a reality.

Think Outside the Ballroom or Live Stream Studio

Your fundraiser doesn’t have to be a formal VG with an emcee and an auctioneer in a studio, introducing videos and acknowledging donations coming in. We’re a full-service production studio. Whatever you can dream up, we can pull off! Does your annual fundraiser include an activity? (Schools, are you listening??) A fun run? An art ball? Students selling something to friends and family? Let’s turn those activities into virtual activities. For example, in December, we took a long-standing tradition – a holiday home tour – and turned it into a virtual holiday home tour allowing the community to take part – from home – in a long standing tradition. It was a lot of fun and very successful for our client – who, BTW, asked for a small suggested donation to offset production costs. We didn’t hear any complaints about that – folks were just happy to be able to carry on the tradition, albeit in a new way. And we were delighted to help them do it! Your annual fundraising activity can absolutely become a virtual event in 2021. Do you have ideas on how you want it to look and feel? Reach out – we’ll help you make it happen!

Graphics are Great. CUSTOM Graphics are Gold!

Remember. Virtual is a different format. You’re now producing a TV show. Make it look as professional and polished as you possibly can. Custom graphics are becoming more of a “must have” with VGs nowadays. Donors no longer see virtual as groundbreaking. Therefore, they have higher expectations. Motivate them to watch, engage, participate and most of all DONATE! Your best chance for this is to make your show stand out. Make it look just as good as any TV show out there. You can do it! And custom graphics are worth their weight in gold.

You want to raise money in 2021, right? Then it’s time to start thinking about pivoting your event to virtual if you haven’t already. Let’s start planning your VG! We can not only fill those coffers that may have taken a hit in 2020, but we’ll be creative and have a lot of fun doing it. Reach out! Let’s change the world together.

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