This is a guest blog post and is posted with permission from Virtuous.
Across the nonprofit sector, organizations are coping with the changes brought by COVID-19. As we navigate through a time of social distancing, connecting with donors is still important for continued success, and when you’re moving your connection online, it’s crucial to create meaningful digital experiences.
Whether you’re replacing your big spring fundraising gala with a virtual event or taking a smaller donor cultivation event online, personalization and providing value to your donors are what make the difference. Here are 5 tips for creating a digital event that engages and inspires your donors.
Share Your Recording
These days, your supporters expect to access digital content on their own schedules. Just as the days of “appointment television” ended once we could watch an entire season of content on Netflix in a weekend, the idea that you have to actually attend the live session of a digital event to access it is fading. It’s routine to send recordings of webinars and meetings to the folks who couldn’t make it, and your supporters will expect it.
Think about it this way: When someone registers for your digital event, they’re telling you they’re interested in what you have to say. In some ways, that’s more important than whether or not they actually attend the live session. People miss events for reasons that have nothing to do with their interest— schedules conflict, things come up, especially right now. Record your event so that you can share it with everyone who was interested, not just the people who attended.
When you share your recording, you let your supporters engage on their own terms and timeline. That’s a convenience you should give them whenever possible anyway, but particularly during this time when everyone’s schedule is a little unpredictable.
Create Anonymous Q&A Options
The Q&A function of live-streaming and meeting software is great for discussion, making it a good addition to events like panels, workshops, webinars, and meetings. It makes the digital event more interactive and captures some of the energy that an in-person event would. If it makes sense with your event, go ahead and open up the conversation.
However, not every person will want to put their name on every question. There are many reasons someone might prefer anonymity, ranging from shyness to interpersonal issues. Sometimes someone will think a question is worth raising, but not necessarily want to get labeled as its advocate. If you want the most authentic engagement, give your participants anonymous Q&A options. It’s often a simple matter of checking a box to allow anonymous questions.
Include a Post-Event Survey
Just like an in-person event, in digital events the real relationship-building happens in the follow-up. That’s when you’ll learn how the event went, how attendees perceived it and what your donors really want.
Send a post-event survey immediately after the event ends to capture feedback when it’s fresh. Conducting regular surveys is a good fundraising habit to increase donor satisfaction, and while you can’t trust the results blindly, it’s an important data source. Donors are often ready to tell you what they want and how they feel, they’re just waiting to be asked.
You’ll have specific questions for your event, but make sure you include opportunities for attendees to express themselves with open-ended questions and long-form answers, along with multiple-choice or scale rating questions. You will learn more from a donor’s answer to, “How would you describe this event to someone who didn’t attend?” or “What was the most significant thing you learned from this discussion?” than “On a scale from one to ten, rate your satisfaction with this event.”
For more insight, consider adding questions like:
What most interested you about this event?
Was this event what you expected? Why or why not?
Now that you’ve attended this event, what do you want to know more about?
Did anything surprise you about this event? If so, what?
What elements of this event should we definitely keep for next time?
What elements of this event should we skip next time?
How would you describe Organization to someone who had never heard of us?
Target Your Topics
Today’s donors live inside highly personalized feeds, where they receive very targeted messages. Their time and attention are both at a premium. While in the past nonprofits could send a mass message to a general audience and have some success, that simply doesn’t work in this new world.
The more personal and targeted you can make your digital events, the better. Limit invitations to the people you think will be interested, determined by the data you’ve gained by making notes in your CRM and observing donor behavior. Narrow in on specific topics, and invite segments of your list, not everyone every time.
Possible segments to target include:
People who’ve attended similar events in the past
People who’ve expressed interest in the topic you’re featuring by opening your emails about that topic, responding to fundraising appeals that center it, or asking for more information about it.
Age groups or geographic groups, like a youth committee or donors who all live in the same region
People who share a social network
Try to get as personal as possible. For example, if you’re hosting a volunteer event, you can make it even more personal and relevant if you divide your volunteers into smaller segments, like by the programs they volunteer with or their geographic region.
Instead of trying to reach everyone with one big impersonal event, smaller events like an online meetup for volunteers from one town, or an educational webinar about a topic within the program they volunteer with appeal directly to people’s interests. When the digital event is very relevant, they’re more likely to register, attend, and/or watch the recording.
Evaluate Your Event
Just as you’d evaluate an in-person event after it was over, it’s important to measure your digital event’s performance in order to understand where to go next. Instead of trusting your general impressions, look for hard data, including:
Number of Registrants (How many people were interested in this event?)
Number of Attendees (How many people committed to this event? Was the time convenient?)
Number of Chats (How engaged were attendees?)
Content of Chats (What kinds of questions were they asking?)
Number of social shares (How did it resonate?)
Number of clicks on emailed recording (How did people engage after the event?)
Once you’ve compiled your data and your post-event survey results, look for the bigger picture. What have you learned about your supporters from this event? What kind of trends do you observe in the data? What might that mean for your next event, or next point of connection with your donors?
Deep, Personal Connections
One of the things we’re learning during this period of social distance is that humans find ways to connect, no matter what the barriers. An in-person meeting is not necessary to foster a deep, personal connection or to provide donors with a meaningful experience. With the help of technology, and informed by donor data, you can create digital events that are personal, relevant and inspiring for your donors.