Planning and Executing a Virtual Event: Post from the Front Lines
November 14, 2020
Year-End Fundraising in a Pandemic
December 17, 2020

Resistance to Virtual Events Gone after Record-Breaking “Ask” Breakfast

This week, we have a guest blogger! Welcome to Kristin Candella, Executive Director and CEO of Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity. We’ve been talking about virtual events lately and Kristin offered to share Fort Collin’s Habitat’s incredible success with their recent We Build Breakfast. Here’s what she has to say:

I was a late adopter of the Blackberry when it first came out and said I would NEVER schedule a meeting in this way and now my dependence on my device to capture my calendar, contacts, and life is laughable.

I feel like virtual events are going to have a similar trajectory for me, something to resist and then something to embrace because they simply work. 

As many non-profits moved toward virtual events this year, I felt the resistance rising within.

I held this idea that fundraising is about asking and should only be done in person – especially with a mission-focused ask event where connecting is everything.

Then we held our virtual We Build Breakfast and raised over $110,000, surpassing our highest-previous result by $35,000!

Why did it work? The Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity team got serious about seeing the opportunities and the limitations of the format and “designed” with those in mind.

Here were our Top 5 limitations and how we turned them into opportunities:

Limitation: People can’t gather, connect, network.

Opportunity: People CAN do “watch parties” via Zoom and connect to watch our video event and interact. This allows different audiences a chance to connect with different board, staff, and table captains who share interests. For instance, our faith & global engagement director held a watch party with 45 faith-based supporters. She offered a customized “ask” at the end of the party, directing them to a separate link to give in a restricted way.

Limitation: People can’t hear live testimonials and be inspired to give in the same way.

Opportunity: People CAN experience the “Show” of “Show & Tell” better than in a ballroom.  For instance, if a Habitat homeowner talks about what their neighborhood means to them in a video format, they can bring you along to play on the playground with their kids. With the right videographer, you can fine tune the message, edit, add photos, B roll, visuals, and hit every right note in the speeches utilizing as many takes as you need.

Limitation: People may not sign-up for a virtual event because they don’t know what to expect or are “Zoom-ed” out.

Opportunity: People CAN attend for only 30 minutes and they CAN attend at any time from any location, even wearing pajamas. We marketed the event as a “short and sweet” experience that would honor the participants’ time.  While creating the urgency of an event is crucial to get folks to register and attend, the video asset remains, so you can continue to encourage those who have a time conflict to join when and how they please. We also let everyone know that their camera would be off—they simply could watch, and this alleviated any stress to look and be presentable that morning.

Limitation: Without physical space there are not as many ways to thank corporate sponsors.

Opportunity: People CAN be recognized virtually in a variety of creative ways and they CAN get more engaged when you share a bit of vulnerability about the needs of the organization. We had companies’ step-up in unexpected ways. A local construction company decided to help us by inviting their industry partners to create a “Builders Match” so that every individual donation would be matched. They reached out on our behalf to their contacts knowing that the pandemic has affected our organization in numerous ways. This “Builders Match” meant that almost half of the proceeds were committed prior to the day of the event, and the virtual platform granted every sponsor the visibility they wanted.

Limitation: Connections are more difficult to make when you can’t meet.

Opportunity:  People are really interested in connecting, want to give in ways that make impact, and they can be reached if you are willing to put in a little more effort. Rather than inviting folks via social media and sharing an event, ask each of your board, staff, table captains to send individual invitations to one person at a time, sharing personal reasons for their own involvement and why they thought of inviting the particular guest. It takes more time, yes, but most people say the number one reason they don’t give is that they were not asked.  In this day and age, it is more important than ever that we ask and share our why.

I will always be a late-adopter of technological solutions because I think the magic of connection happens best across the table, but I am grateful that generosity is still finding a way to flow where it needs to go.  Also, I am not yet ready for a Zoom gala, though I also have heard they really work. Dancing in my living-room in a ballgown, no way.  It’s all professional tops and pajama bottoms for me right now. 

Thank you, Kristin!

You can check out Fort Collins Habitat for Humanity’s We Build Breakfast video here.

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