Do virtual fundraisers work? Will anyone donate to my nonprofit during this crisis? If you've been tossing in your bed all week long, trying to find answers to these questions, then you shouldn't worry anymore. Because we've got the answers:
- Yes, virtual events work.
- And yes, people are willing to donate to your cause right now.
But you don't have to take our word for it.
Instead, you can learn from nonprofits that have made the quick shift from in-person to virtual fundraising events. So in this blog post, we discuss organizations that didn't only transition in record time, but also exceeded their fundraising targets.
MEET THE NONPROFITS
1. O'DEA HIGH SCHOOL
With a focus on raising boys to excel academically, athletically, morally and religiously, this 97-year-old high school has a long list of notable alumni. It's located in Seattle, has a population of about 423 young boys and provides over $1 million in financial aid yearly.
2. SEATTLE COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
This school helps smart children achieve their potential through a special curriculum that maximizes the child's nature to learn through inquiry and curiosity. 75% of their teachers have a master's degree or higher qualification and around 13% of their 377 student population receive financial aid.
3. VARIETY of IOWA
Since 1975, Variety has raised over $100 million to support children who're vulnerable, critically ill, poor or have special needs in Iowa. To achieve their goal, they provide grants to more than 90 nonprofit children organizations and sponsor hospital fees for children. They're a part of Variety - the Children’s Charity International which has impacted more than 100,000 children in 13 countries.
4. THE RONALD MCDONALD HOUSE CHARITIES OF THE COASTAL EMPIRE
Established to help families manage the demands of caring for their ill children, this nonprofit served more than 3,400 families in its Ronald McDonald Family Room program in 2018 alone. It also served 2,700 children in its Ronald McDonald Care Mobile program in South Carolina among many other successes.
THEY SHARED THE SAME CHALLENGES
Just like you, all the nonprofits featured in this blog post were affected by the coronavirus and recent restrictive measures. Firstly, their motivating needs either persisted or increased once the lockdown started. So canceling or postponing their fundraisers wasn't a realistic solution. Secondly, they needed to transition quickly from an in-person to a virtual event if they wanted to still hold the fundraiser.
In fact, O'Dea High School had only five days to pivot! Canceling their auction wasn't a great option, according to Mara Bray, the school's Advancement Manager, because they were trying to provide financial aid from the event's yields; a need that wouldn't disappear with a lockdown.
Meanwhile, The Seattle Country Day School had two weeks to pivot.
And Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire's' race event, which is still scheduled to hold in April, had to be transitioned within a few weeks too.
HOW THEY ORGANIZED THEIR VIRTUAL EVENTS
1. THEY LEVERAGED VIRTUAL FUNDRAISING TECHNOLOGY
Once they realized that they were in a race against time, both O'Dea and Seattle Country Day School turned to MaestroSoft. Since they were already using a version of the software - the MaestroWeb Plus option which digitizes the organization of in-person events - they only had to upgrade to the MaestroWeb Premier version which enables them to manage virtual auctions.
The upgrade took only 60 minutes, saving them weeks or days which would have been spent in transferring the data from offline to online. And because they used Maestrosoft, both nonprofits had access to many flexible features, making it easy to pull off any kind of online fundraising event.
2. THEY COMMUNICATED CONSTANTLY WITH STAKEHOLDERS
When pivoting to a virtual event, there's a lot that can go wrong. Without effective communication, stakeholders like board members, sponsors, donors, volunteers, and employees might have different expectations of what you're trying to achieve. This can sabotage fundraising success.
That's why effective communication is integral to a successful virtual fundraising event. And all our featured nonprofits prioritized it.
For O'Dea, this meant discussing the intricacies of canceling their in-person events with vendors and offering to convert their sold-out event tickets to donations or refunds. They saved $90,000 in event management by going virtual and converted 99% of their tickets to donations - only 6 people asked for refunds.
They also got the approval of board members, informed the O'Dea community and alumni across the nation, and distributed a lot of social media content to foster a "positive, fun and engaging" narrative.
Like O'Dea, Seattle Country Day School maintained regular interaction with its stakeholders. A combination of communication tactics - website and email announcements, video marketing, etc. - was integral in creating a sense of urgency around the virtual event.
At Variety of Iowa, Peer to Peer fundraising was the preferred tactic. So their success hinged on effective and personalized interaction with volunteers, also called VIPs. Therefore, talking with each volunteer and understanding them was a crucial part of their plan.
And the team at Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire, also determined to benefit from the situation, met with their Sponsors to discuss the advantages, not limitations, of pivoting to a virtual race event. They convinced all their sponsors that virtual constituted an opportunity to benefit more, even during the lockdown. As a result, they retained all their sponsors.
3. THEY CONQUERED SPACE, TIME AND CREATIVE LIMITATIONS
Virtual events present nonprofits with new opportunities to break traditional limitations and exceed fundraising targets. All the nonprofits featured here maximized this benefit.
Firstly, they attracted contributions from donors residing in many different states. Some of O'Dea donors weren't in Seattle while participating. Some were in Hawaii! Secondly, they could exploit the time. In fact, Variety's P2P fundraiser is still ongoing and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of The Coastal Empire's race is set to hold for three days - during the Easter weekend - not the usual one day.
Virtual events also present creative opportunities. Nonprofits, by answering questions of how to replicate in-person event formats on the internet, can break creative barriers and reap higher yields. Our four nonprofits used different fundraising tactics to achieve their goals.
For example, O'Dea organized a virtual silent auction, a super silent auction, and a Fund-A-Need while the Seattle Country Day School held a virtual Raise the Paddle. Variety used an online peer-to-peer campaign and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of The Coastal Empire is set to organize a virtual race during the Easter weekend.
Three of the featured nonprofits - O'Dea, Seattle Country Day School and Variety of Iowa - have exceeded their targets and the team at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire are confident that they'll meet similar successes.
O'DEA HIGH SCHOOL
- Target: $660,000
- Total Raised: $679,748
- Conclusion: Target exceeded.
SEATTLE COUNTRY DAY SCHOOL
- Total Raised: $238,000
- Conclusion: Target met. Still updating results.
VARIETY of IOWA
- Total Raised: Over $200,000
- Conclusion: Target exceeded. Still updating results.
For additional information on these success stories, please watch our latest webinar recording free. It features Mara Bray, the Advancement Manager at O'Dea High School; Bill Sorochak, the Executive Director at Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Coastal Empire; Jay Fiske, the CEO, Chairman and Founder at MaestroSoft and David Blyer, the CEO and Cofounder of Arreva.
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