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Are you still trying to figure out how to virtually engage your members and fundraise during our current climate? Learn how to use technology to your advantage and go virtual with these tips.
2020 has forced membership organizations to learn how to operate in a completely new environment.
Due to the pandemic's restrictions, many organizations have felt a hit and struggle to hit their financial goals, keep their members engaged, or continue helping their communities.
Gone are the days of organizing meetups, conferences, and fundraising events — or at least ones that take place in person.
Instead, this year has left us finding ways to stay engaged and grow under unprecedented times.
As the year continued, more people became accustomed to this “new normal.” We found ourselves working remotely, finding new online entertainment, kids began distance learning at home, and online shopping came to our rescue.
For membership organizations, one of the best ways to harness the power of technology has been to start hosting virtual events.
That’s because, in this era of social distancing, they’re one of the only ways membership organizations can continue some semblance of life as usual and support and engage their membership base.
Whether you’re already a virtual event pro or are still hesitating about dipping your toes in the water, here are a few suggestions to take your virtual events to the next level!
1. Get creative with your events.
There are many types of virtual events, but they’re not all created equally. Attend some for yourself to determine what works best for you and your members.
For example, do you specialize in helping the community? Try live streaming what you’re up to, or do a live stream fundraiser where you can engage with your members and answer questions. Webinars and virtual conferences are great events for organizations that offer knowledge or solutions to their members.
More creative ideas are running an online auction to raise money or getting your members and/or donors out for a virtual 5K that can be done around their neighborhood or on the treadmill at home.
2. Learning the timing of events.
While you could run as many virtual events as you have in-person events in the past, you will need to consider the learning curve for both you and your participants. Start with a few different events to see what worked and what didn’t.
From there, you will find the sweet spot for your organization. You also want to remember that while many of us are at home, you don’t want to overwhelm your members with event after event (Zoom fatigue is real!). You’ll also want to be sensitive to the economic strain many are experiencing right now too.
3. How to host a virtual event.
There are many different solutions that you can use to host virtual events, depending on your goals. Intuitive, affordable, and cloud-based webinar tools like Zoom or Google Meet are fantastic for smaller conferences, and familiar platforms like Facebook and YouTube offer fantastic live streaming options. For a more dedicated virtual event platform, there are options like A2Z Events.
These platforms have advanced features that come in handy when hosting a wide range of bigger online events, such as real-time reporting, immersive content, and flexible customization options. However, keep in mind that their complexity makes them more difficult to set up and use. There are also a variety of virtual fundraising platforms that you might choose to use to complement your event.
4. Keeping your attendees engaged.
Networking is a big part of in-person events. Keep up that idea of “working the room” with open discussions, Q&A sessions, polls/surveys, and more as part of your virtual event as well! You will also want to offer a way for members to communicate with one another throughout the event, such as discussion boards or live messaging.
Speaking of communication, you’ll want to make sure your attendees are prepared for your event. The more they know going into it, the less they will be overwhelmed or shy. This isn’t just an adjustment for your organization, it’s a big adjustment to your members too, so keep that in mind during the planning process. Offer instructions and “what to expect” emails leading up to the event to make sure your members will get the most out of it and be more likely to participate actively.
5. Study best practices for a successful event
Help the success of your event by ensuring you are aware of best practices from other organizations that have already done the work. Work out any kinks ahead of time by doing test runs before the big event. This will help eliminate any tech issues that are bound to arise. You should also lay down ground rules for your attendees and relay them in the emails mentioned above to assist in the etiquette and timing of breaks.
Another best practice worth mentioning is to leverage a variety of media for your event. An in-person event doesn’t consist of a bunch of people in a room looking at each other, and your virtual event shouldn’t either. Offer text, videos, photos, graphics, and even gamification to increase engagement.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? There’s no need. Many organizations have already done the work for you as 2020 comes to a close. They’ve seen what works, what hasn’t, what challenges they didn’t expect, and other key information to set you up for success. All of this can be found in Wild Apricot’s 2020 Virtual Event Research Report for Membership Organizations, which was recently released.
As an affordable web-based software company created especially for associations, nonprofits, and other membership organizations, Wild Apricot knows what it takes for organizations to run successfully. Download their report now to learn what other organizations have to say about what they hoped to achieve with their events, how they attracted new attendees, general advice from those that have been there, and more. The report also drills down costs to run an event, ticket costs, and generated revenue.
It doesn’t seem like virtual events will be going away anytime soon, so it’s best to embrace them as soon as possible to help your cause and your members. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start brainstorming on how you can keep your members and donors engaged by hosting virtual events — and learning what’s already worked for other organizations so you can follow in their footsteps!
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