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3 Ways to Engage Attendees at Your Next Virtual Fundraiser

Virtual events offer nonprofits the ability to attract wider audiences at a lower cost than traditional in-person events. But it’s more challenging to keep attendees engaged when they’re in front of a computer screen with myriad distractions. Recently, we spoke with teams at four organizations that hosted successful virtual or hybrid events to hear how they captured and maintained interest throughout their event program. Take a look at the three essentials they recommend and consider them for your spring virtual event!  

1. Attention-Getting Content

Engaging program content tops the list of effective ways to get and keep attention. Content that’s interesting and entertaining as well as educational and motivational will help attract audiences. What’s most effective will depend on the interests of the attendees, so be sure to take your audience into account when brainstorming ideas. 

The team at Fondation Enfant Jesus (FEJ), a non-governmental organization empowering local communities in Haiti, hosted a fundraising concert with the theme of “Celebrate National Children’s Day 2021 with FEJ.” Brian Carlson, Director of Operations at FEJ-USA says the concert was designed not only to engage donors, but also to expose people to the organization’s work who weren’t previously aware of it. Because the founding director knew a lot of Haitian, Haitian American, and Haitian Canadian musicians, a concert was an ideal concept. The event featured a mix of pre-recorded and live content to make it feel more like a fully live event.

Arts, Hearts + Philanthropy (AHP), which provides a platform to amplify awareness and calls to action that tackle global challenges. The organization partnered with Deepak Chopra to create Love in Action, an event to raise awareness and relief aid for the  COVID crisis in India. Dale Godboldo, Host and Co-Founder of AHP, explains that the event’s live video featured several speakers, including Deepak Chopra, who shared insights and led the attendees in a meditation, which kept attendees engaged. 

2. Add a Silent Auction

Any component that allows the audience to actively participate will increase engagement. A silent auction is an ideal way to get attendees participating in a fun activity while simultaneously raising additional funds. And auctions are simple to add to any virtual event as long as you have good event technology to support it. 

The Texas Botanical Gardens & Native American Interpretive Center, focused on providing rich educational experiences and preserving and showcasing the rich prehistoric and environmental aspects of rural Central Texas, includes a silent auction in its annual Prairie Experience. Savannah Early, Garden Manager, shares that the key to a successful auction is to maintain engagement with high-interest auction items, using strategic starting bids that are appropriate to your audience. 

3. Include a Celebratory Element

Celebrations always add energy to an event — even more so if the focus of the celebration is something that’s especially meaningful to attendees. Celebratory elements can engage staff as well as attendees, making them feel a sense of increased connection. Celebrations may take a variety of formats, including appreciation events, virtual parties, and events celebrating a special achievement. 

HealthWorks for Northern Virginia, a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center that provides excellent and affordable medical, dental, and behavioral healthcare in its local communities, created an online celebration of service. The event was timed to coincide with National Health Center Week and focused on showcasing the work they’ve done to provide extra programming and services related to the needs generated by the pandemic. Lisa Knapp, Director of Development & Communications, says that the team wanted to engage employees in addition to supporters, so they hosted a spirit week building up to the event that energized team members.

Focus on Your Audience to Create Engagement

Ultimately, attracting and keeping attendees’ attention comes down to knowing your audience. What gets your supporters excited? What do they enjoy? What are their favorite ways to participate in a virtual event? Understanding the answers to these questions will help you identify components that will resonate with your attendees and motivate them to engage.

Published: February 25, 2022

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