Creating Effective Virtual Events for Nonprofits

Updated: May 7


As we continue navigating our new normal during the pandemic, organizations need effective and engaging ways to stay connected with their communities. Especially for nonprofits, this is a critical time to engage with people around your mission and get them excited about the work you do. One of the best ways to do that right now is through virtual field marketing events.


What is Field Marketing?


Field marketing is a marketing activity where people go out into "the field" to meet with clients or potential clients through in-person events. As a nonprofit, the term “client” can cover everyone from the people in your community who use your services to the individuals who donate to your annual fundraising campaign. Anyone who learns about your organization and wants to get involved in some way can be considered a client in this context. With the pandemic, in-person events have largely not been possible, so it’s important to be able to adapt what were previously in-person events to virtual ones.

What are the Pros and Cons of Virtual Events?


Pros:


• There’s no need to find (or pay for) a space for your event.

• There is no set-up, take-down, or clean-up as is often required with in-person events (and no need to be out of the event space by a certain time).

• Similarly, travel time and expenses are nonexistent.

• You might be able to reach a new market that you wouldn’t normally be able to target.

• Virtual events allow for more flexible scheduling. You can potentially offer multiple sessions throughout the day, week, or month, which should make it more convenient for your target audience and increase their likelihood of attending.

• Attendees may have the chance to engage with your organization in a new way!


Cons:


• Typically, it’s easier to build excitement for an in-person event than for an online one.

• There’s less opportunity to offer tasty food and drinks, which guests normally enjoy.

• Depending on the platform you choose, it may be harder to get your audience to interact virtually

• It might take longer for people to register for the event. Since it is a virtual event and people do not need to plan for travel time, they may choose to wait until closer to the event to make a commitment. They also may not feel the same kind of urgency to register as they would for an in-person event.

• It can be difficult to come up with a good event concept that appeals to your target audience.

So, How Can You Make Virtual Events Feel More Personal?


As a nonprofit looking to connect with your community during this time, it’s important to be mindful of the reality of folks’ situations and plan accordingly. Not everyone has a quiet home working environment, "Zoom fatigue" is real, and many are juggling even more demands than before. So, how do you plan a successful virtual event?

Here are a few suggestions:


Keep it mission-aligned. As a nonprofit, people engage with your organization because, on some level, they are connected to your mission. Whether you’re an arts foundation, community serving organization, charter school, or environmental conservation group, everyone on your mailing list signed up to hear from you because they care about the work you’re doing. A virtual event is a wonderful opportunity to remind them why they support you and provide an update on the good work you’re doing this year.

Get your community involved. Instead of just focusing on what kind of event you and your staff can host yourselves, think about how to involve your community. If you’re an education nonprofit, can you invite some of your alumni to sit on a panel? If you’re focused in the arts, is there an artist in your network who would be willing to donate their time to do a live streamed performance or teach a virtual workshop? Think broadly about who you know, the community you serve and see how you can involve them in your event.

Keep it interactive. Give your audience plenty of opportunity to interact with the host and/or each other. For example, you could make breakout rooms so that attendees can get to know each other, or you could have a Q&A session where attendees can ask the host questions.

Take it offline. Not all virtual events have to take place 100% in front of the computer. If you’re a community-based organization, invite people to share how they’re interacting with you in real time. For example, if you’re a library you can invite your patrons to take a selfie with their favorite book they’ve read this month and tag you in it on social media. Each post counts as a raffle entry and at your next virtual event, you’ll draw a winner!

Leverage social media. Virtual events don’t have to be restricted to Zoom! Think about ways to engage your community across your social media platforms to drive interest for your event, or you can even try hosting your event on a social media platform. For example, if your nonprofit is a conservation group focused on local parks, try hosting a Facebook Live session that shows off the beauty of your green space. If your organization works with animals, try featuring one of them and their handler on an Instagram Live, and have your community join the session to ask questions and meet the critter in real time.

Take notes! As you gain some experience with your virtual events, record what worked best with your attendees and things that can be improved. That will help build success in planning your next one!

Whether your virtual event is an alumni panel or a meet-and-greet with a giraffe, remember that your attendees, whoever they are, want to engage with you and are excited to learn more about your work. Make sure you lead with your mission and focus on the impact you’re having in your community and beyond.

Happy planning!