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Producing a Successful & Stress-Free Virtual Event: Interview with Brian Carlson

Fondation Enfant Jesus (FEJ) is a non-governmental organization empowering local communities in Haiti and caring for the country’s most vulnerable children. The organization’s programs include nutrition, healthcare, vocational training, agricultural development, literacy, and clean water initiatives. 

FEJ had hosted many in-person events prior to the pandemic, but the team realized they needed to transition to a virtual event in 2021 due to the pandemic. The event served to raise awareness, generated over $16,000 in revenue, and attracted new donors to the organization’s cause. We sat down with Brian Carlson, Director of Operations at FEJ-USA, to learn how his team made the event a success.

What was the concept for your virtual event?

The theme was “Celebrate National Children’s Day 2021 with FEJ,” and it was a fundraising concert designed not only to engage our donors, but also to expose people to our work who weren’t previously aware of it. The founding director of our organization came up with the idea. She knew a lot of Haitian musicians—Haitian, Haitian American, Haitian Canadian—who she thought would be interested in participating. We had a mix of pre-recorded and live content that gave it a live feel.

What would you say were the most important components that resulted in its success?

Having the Network for Good event platform had everything we needed built into it. When we first started talking about doing a virtual event, we had a producer in New York who was helping us with actual production—he does live stream events all the time, so he could take care of the technical part of making the Vimeo or YouTube stream. But the first thing he said to us was, “Well, you guys have to figure out how you’re going to accept donations and where you’re going to direct people, and all that.” 

Right about this time was when Network for Good was launching the virtual event platform, and we realized that all we had to do with it was plug the streaming link into our fundraising page. The platform really made it feel more like an active event, even though a lot of the program was pre-recorded. It was nice to see the stream of chats going, people commenting about why they donated and what they appreciated about the organization and the program, the musical pieces. It wouldn’t have been nearly as dynamic without the chat. 

And the platform made it easy for donors. I don’t think we would have been able to get nearly as many donations if it had been a convoluted process for people who were watching.

Your team did raise a nice amount! Yeah, we came out with $16,000 from 67 different donors, and about half of those were new donors. It was a great event!

Based on your experience with this event, what advice do you have for other nonprofits who are planning a virtual event?

The first thing is that you need to have engaging content. Everyone has limited time, so you want to make sure your event is an attractive way to spend time. For our event, we had all these really talented artists, and the music was really amazing. But the content could be anything that people will value, appreciate, or be entertained by. 

The second thing is to be really clear about the messaging around what you’re asking attendees to do. I don’t know if we actually did that as well as we could have. Our live hosts did share the impacts of our programs throughout the event. But I think next time we’ll be more clear on exactly what we want people to do during the event—to make a donation, because our tickets were very low-cost and we weren’t trying to raise money via the tickets. 

Another thing I think we would do differently is to pursue sponsorships. We’ve done that with our golf tournaments and then featured the sponsors in the program. We could do that with the virtual events as well, but we just started a little too late for this event. But it’s something I’d recommend.

In what ways did you use the Network for Good events platform as part of your event? What did you find were the most beneficial features?

Most valuable for us was the fact that everything is integrated on the screen—we had the live stream right next to the chat and the donate button. It made it really easy for us so we could focus on the content and actually pulling the event together. And it was nice to have the ability to put text information right there on the same screen as well—we had all the details about the musicians and alternate ways to donate right there underneath the video that was streaming.

The interactive elements that made it feel live were also really beneficial. I like the donation scroll, for example. I think people really appreciate being able to see the donation scroll as people contribute. And then the live chat service allowed us to thank people as they were making donations—we were actually able to interact with people as it was happening.

Also, the integration with the software made it easy because we didn’t have to go back and enter the information after the fact. The VIP ticket sales, all the registrations, donations—all that was tracked directly into the software. It’s all in one place, which makes it easy.

How would you say Network for Good has impacted your success overall?

If we hadn’t had the Network for Good event platform, it would have been much more challenging, we would have had to spend a lot more time trying to patch something together ourselves, and I think we might have lost donors along the way. The convenience of it allowed us to focus on the work to promote the event and pull it all together. And then, like I said, since it’s integrated with our Network for Good database already, it helps us to stay engaged with those people that got connected with us through the event. And we feel like our success is really tied to the number of people that we can get engaged in the mission. 

Do you have a virtual or hybrid event coming up? Let Network for Good help

Published: March 18, 2022

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