COVID-19 has forced every business and industry to rethink how they serve their audience.
While many industries are struggling to adapt their business model in the “new normal”, events have arguably had one of the hardest times. The events world banks on large crowds of people being together, which is near impossible right now.
That’s why virtual events have become such an appealing alternative. They are a way to safely bring people together in the interim while being significantly cheaper to run.Goodbye space, decor, and food costs!
But how do you execute this? And how do you do it well?
To answer these questions, Wild Apricot put together the 2020 Virtual Events Research Report. We talked to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations to see how they are finding success in the new virtual event space – and how you can learn from them to find similar successes.
In this article, we’ll break down some of our top learnings from the report and share practical tips to apply each of these learnings to your own non-profit.
About the 2020 Virtual Events Research Report
Now more than ever, having a nonprofit digital strategy is key. In fact, the majority of businesses have to plan on a digital-first basis right now, and nonprofits are no exception.
However, virtual events are so new for a lot of organizations, making it hard to find tips or stats on online events to serve as a guideline.
That’s where the 2020 Virtual Events Report comes in. The report is packed full with insights on what organizations are doing today for virtual events, and what you can do better based on their learnings.
To get you started, here are some tips straight from our report.
Top 8 Tips for Virtual Event Success
Feeling ready to host your first Zoom conference? Want to throw a “thank you” gala for your amazing volunteers? Just realize that you have to throw these events to stay top of mind?
Whatever your reasoning, here’s what you need to know for how to host a successful online event!
1. Just Do It – Because the Majority of Nonprofits Are
If you don’t throw virtual events, you may be missing out on the chance to speak to your audience. More and more nonprofits are looking to throw virtual events as 2020 goes on, so if you choose not to, you’re leaving yourself out of the audience.
Let’s look at the numbers – 42% of organizations surveyed for the 2020 Virtual Events Report ran virtual events in 2019 and earlier 2020, with an additional 42% planning on running these events later in 2020. That means that the number of organizations planning ritual events has doubled this year.
You may be hesitant, especially if it’s a new experience, but sometimes you just have to go for it! In fact, when asked to share some advice for other organizations wanting to run virtual events, more than one survey respondent said to “Just do it!”.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
It may sound cliche, but it’s true – especially when you’re using new technology you may not be comfortable with!
Throwing your conference online is a lot more technical than your weekly FaceTime with friends. Here are some of the areas you’ll want to practice:
- Block some time to practice setting everything up online as if it was the real event – from turning your laptop in and getting plugged in to closing off the virtual room at the end
- Practice letting people into the virtual “room” and doing some basic commands in it. Make sure you know how to mute everybody (this will come in handy as you give a presentation!)
- Do a trial of facilitating a Q&A. Have your team come in as “guests” so you can practice with real spectators – this helps recreate how the event will actually feel, versus just practicing alone.
The more practice you get, the more confident you will feel! Virtual events are new to everybody, so people have been forgiving, but that isn’t an excuse not to practice. One respondent to the survey spoke to this when they said, “people aremore forgiving of mistakes, but do your best to prepare for the common issues”.
The extra time you give yourself can make a huge difference!
3. Revisit Your Budget – Virtual Event Success isn’t Expensive
It’s time to put budget fears to rest if that’s a big barrier keeping you from running your first, second, or third virtual event!
And when you consider virtual events don’t require a large space, decor, as many event staff, or catering, it’s no surprise these end up with a smaller bill at the end of the night.
In fact, 84% of organizations surveyed that had already run virtual events said they spent less on these events than their in-person equivalents.
However, you’ll also have to keep in mind that while these events are less costly, there also is less revenue to be generated – nearly a quarter of surveyed nonprofits did not make any revenue from their online events in the last year.
However, this doesn’t mitigate the importance of online events! They keep your nonprofit top of mind.
Some of the main costs you’ll have to consider for online events include:
- Premium streaming service: If you want to host a large group on Zoom, you’ll have to pay for a premium plan. The free service has time and guest caps
- Speaker costs: It may be less to have speakers join you when you mitigate the travel fees, but there are still some charges associated
- Gifts: Some larger virtual events are mailing attendees “gift bags” that they would receive at an in-person event. If you choose to do this, you’ll have to consider costs associated
4. Promote Donations
Believe it or not, a lot of online events completely skip this. If you’re putting the effort in to throw a virtual event, make sure to promote your organization and ask for donations.
This is also a huge part of generating revenue – most organizations rely on ticket sales and completely neglect this, which is a lot more difficult in a virtual environment.
While you can charge for tickets, you’ll want to make sure you’re not neglecting to ask for donations for your cause. After all, if they’re joining you for an event, chances are the attendees support your cause as much as you do.
Share this donation link anywhere and everywhere – in emails beforehand promoting the event, on registration pages, social media, or the thank you email post event. The more chances people have to stumble across this link, the more likely they are to click the donate button.
In fact, people may donate more than they would if it was just a ticket price. When you ask for a blank donation, you give them the opportunity to donate more than you may think.
5. Promote the Same Way You Would an In-Person Event
If it’s less costly to run, maybe reallocate some of that budget to promotions!
This part of events stays the same, whether it’s virtual or in person – people need to know about it. If they don’t, how can you expect attendance?
Pull out the same stops you would to promote your events that were in person! Share the news about your virtual event on social media to increase awareness, send out an email blast to current donors, and see where any traditional advertising methods may make sense still.
6. Focus on Value
If people are attending your virtual events, chances are they’re hoping to get something from it. Before you throw any events, you’ll really want to think how you can add value, even virtually.
Without value, why are people attending?
One huge way to add value that is actually easier with virtual events is getting some big names to drop into a Zoom call! This has been a huge trend across the country as a way to turn virtual meetings that may not have huge engagement into something people talk about for weeks after – have you seen Snoop Dogg join syllabus week? Chances are, you wouldn’t have in 2019!
Not only will this wow your attendees, but it’ll definitely have them talking about your event with people in their network. Win win!
7. Don’t Doubt Yourself
You’ve practiced, found unique ways to add value, and promoted to your event proudly. Go into the event with confidence, even if you’re still trying to figure it out.
In fact, over half of organizations who threw online events felt that they were successful and hit their goals, despite just over 30% of organizations feeling they would be before they tried.
This means virtual events tend to be more successful than you think. There’s just the nerves of trying something new – which is totally normal!
Here’s some ways to minimize those doubts:
- Practice, practice, practice. We went over this earlier, but can’t stress this enough
- Keep reminding yourself that it’s a learning opportunity. Nothing is perfect the first time, and just think about how successful the next event will be with everything you’ve learned!
- Have trusted team members help you. You’ll feel more confident going into it with a team you trust behind you
And if you’re still worried, you know what they say: fake it until you make it.
8. Engage with Attendees
One of the major things people miss right now is feeling connected. People understand that this has to be the new normal right now, but it can still be hard. This is why virtual events have to go the extra mile to ensure people feel connected to.
This feeling of being engaged with is the key to virtual events! After all, isn’t that a huge part of attending events?
In fact, not finding ways to engage with your virtual event attendees can cripple your success. We found that while 10% of people felt their events were not successful, those who didn’t try to engage with their attendees were 150% more likely to be unsuccessful.
Here are some ways to make sure you’re engaging:
- Ask attendees beforehand what they hope to gain from the event. You’re making sure they feel heard right away, and knowing what they expect can help you build a more successful event!
- Leave time during your event for questions or comments. You don’t want attendees to feel like they’re just being talked at
- Ask for guest opinions after the event. Did they like it? Where can you improve? Your guests will know you care about their experience and you’ll receive valuable tips on how to improve next time
No matter what you try, you just have to try! Virtual events at this scale are new for everybody, and any and all experience is a great learning opportunity.
If you want to learn a little more before diving into your first event, you can download our full 2020 Virtual Events Report for free today!
Tatiana Morand is the Content & SEO Manager at Wild Apricot, the a membership management software for small nonprofits, associations, and clubs. When she’s not creating content to support nonprofit success, she’s checking out new cafes and brunch spots in her hometown of Toronto.