Taking Your School Fundraising Event Virtual: A Guide

How to move from traditional to virtual fundraisers

In the past academic year, schools have taken a hard hit from COVID-19, forcing most institutions to transition to remote learning in order to protect the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff. Along with how to facilitate learning, schools are also considering different options for their fundraising.

If you fundraise for your school, you know that it’s a vital way to support your most important programs and provide your students with genuinely valuable experiences and a well-rounded education. For many institutions, fundraising revenue also helps support many of their overhead costs and improves the school infrastructure.

However, COVID-19 has likely put a pause on many traditional fundraising efforts. For one thing, while social distancing guidelines are key to protecting your school community, it also likely canceled many of your upcoming fundraising events.

As this recent school year came to a close for the summer, many actually pivoted their fundraising to the virtual realm in order to continue engaging donors and raise necessary funds.

To prepare for this coming year, putting a heavy emphasis on virtual fundraising is crucial in order to maximize all opportunities ahead.

Virtual events have been on the rise for a while now, and the current pandemic has only skyrocketed the need for them. While virtual alternatives are now necessary to fill the gaps in your fundraising revenue, planning and executing virtual events can be daunting for those who have never stepped into this space before. This guide can help you through planning and hosting a virtual school fundraising event through the following questions:

  1. What virtual event tools should I invest in?
  2. How do I best engage students, parents, and alumni?
  3. What are some top virtual school fundraising ideas?

Fundraising for your school is likely more important now than ever before. Taking your school fundraising event virtual is the best way to make sure your school and students stay supported. Ready to learn more? Let’s begin.

1. What virtual event tools should I invest in?

Before you start brainstorming virtual event ideas and planning it, you’re going to need a solid and dependable foundation of tools to support this endeavor. Virtual events are experiences entirely taken online, so you’ll need software and online tools to host and facilitate those engagements.

The types of tools you invest in can make or break your fundraising event. One of the downfalls of virtual events is the lack of face-to-face connections that often fuel charitable giving. Without these intimate engagements with your school’s students, parents, and alumni, it can be difficult to have a successful fundraiser.

By investing in high quality and comprehensive virtual event tools, you can better mirror traditional in-person events and engage attendees more personally.

While the tools you need will ultimately depend on the type of event you’re hosting, these are the essential ones that are sure to upgrade your tech stack for the long run:

  • Event registration tool. In order to invite and track your event’s attendees, you’re going to need a capable event registration tool. According to Regpack’s guide, important features to keep an eye on are those that ensure a form that is customizable and embedded within your website. This not only helps you collect key registrant data, but provides a smooth and seamless experience for your attendees.
  • Online donation tool. Your school is hosting an event for a reason, and that reason is fundraising. In order to raise money, you’re going to need a tool to facilitate the online giving process. Make sure you can customize your donation form for the event campaign to ensure you capture the right information. Ideally, your online donation tool and event registration tool are a part of the same software system. This way, you can see all the families who have signed up as well as who out of those have donated.
  • Integrated payment processor. To process both ticket purchases and online donations, it’s crucial to have a secure and safe online payment processor to help process all transactions. An integrated payment processor is your best bet for security and convenience. Protecting your attendees’ information is crucial, so ensure the tool you choose is PCI-compliant or certified. This article can provide more context to the types of online payment software you should look for to maintain the highest level of security.
  • Live streaming tool. To bring life to your school’s virtual fundraising event, consider investing in a live-streaming tool. This way, you can share moments in real-time and actively engage your participants. Look for a tool that also allows for attendees to actively engage with reactions or live questions/comments.
  • Video conferencing tool. Similar to live streaming tools, video conferencing tools allow you to share your event with attendees in real-time. This way, you also get to see your attendees faces. With a video conferencing tool, you can set up intimate breakout sessions during the event for small group discussions between supporters.
  • Marketing and communications tool. Because virtual events are purely an online experience, your attendees might have a few questions about how to set up your virtual event and best navigate it. Additionally, having a dedicated tool to manage your marketing efforts is vital if you want to spread the word of the event to your target audience.
  • Data analysis tool. With all your engagements occurring online and through your tools, you’ll also be collecting a lot of data. Having a data analysis tool can help sift through that data to compile reports and give you key insights about how to improve future school events.

Having a reliable arsenal of virtual event tools will only prepare your school for success now, and in the long run. After all, virtual events might be commonplace even way past COVID-19’s impacts. Investing in these tools as early as possible and before the next academic year starts is your best bet.

2. How do I best engage students, parents, and alumni?

As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges to virtual events is the lack of face-to-face engagement. This can cause a disconnect between you and your supporters. However, by using your top virtual event tools, you can fill those engagement gaps and still effectively interact with students, parents, and alumni.

To ensure you don’t miss out on any key points, the engagement tips are broken down into the following:

Before the event

In the days leading up to your virtual event, it’s crucial that you maintain consistent and valuable communications with participants.

For one thing, this might be the first virtual fundraising event they attend. It’s likely that some of your attendees will have questions about the tools and system, so make sure you get any troubleshooting out of the way early on. Before this, you should of course test the tech with your own team to ensure you can answer any questions.

In order to optimize those communications, make sure you can:

  • Segment your audience. Segment your virtual event attendees by key data points. For instance, if you have current students and alumni both participating in your school’s fundraising event, segment those groups and create targeted content for them. This way, your email communications are more personalized and you reduce the risk of sending irrelevant information.
  • Automate personal details. When an email is not personalized, 52% of consumers say they’ll just ignore the content. Using your attendee data and your communications tool, automate personal details like their name and registration status.
  • Schedule communications in advance. Because of the nature of this event, you should be sending out reminder emails and other important updates before the big day comes. However, sending a reminder email many months before the event is likely not the best. With your communications tool, schedule your reminder emails a week before the event and in the days leading up to the event to save you time in the future and ease worries now.
  • Communicate your fundraiser’s goal and progress. There’s something very motivating and inspiring about having a specific goal and knowing you’re getting closer and closer to it. Make sure to communicate and publicize your school’s fundraising goal, whether it’s with a fundraising thermometer or with consistent email updates. To further ensure goals are met, consider outlining the specific impact of suggested donation amounts. For instance, say you have a fundraising goal of $10,000. Provide gift amounts and describe its effect, like $250 will provide 30 books to the library and $500 will update gym equipment.

Remember that consistent and personalized engagement leading up to your big event will only prepare you and your attendees for the big day and keep them interested throughout. Take a data-based marketing approach and leverage the above tips.

During the event

How to keep your attendees engaged throughout the event is a common question that many school fundraisers have. With a virtual event, it’s even more challenging, as each participant is not located in the same place. What are the best ways to keep them interested while there’s a screen in the way?

In order to mimic the face-to-face interactions in your traditional school fundraising events, maximizing your use of your live streaming tool and video conferencing tool is key.

This way, attendees can experience the event in real-time.

To further engage them, consider these tips:

  • Periodically ask survey questions to keep attendees active
  • Use breakout sessions so that attendees have dedicated time to talk on a more personal level
  • Allow attendees to ask questions or make comments in real-time
  • Post a fundraising thermometer so that attendees can see the status of the campaign and to motivate them to give more.

Using the tools in your tech toolkit is your best bet to maximize digital engagement and keep attendees interested.

3. What are some top virtual school fundraising ideas?

Now that we’ve discussed the tools you need and the engagement strategies you should practice, it’s time to brainstorm what kind of virtual fundraising event you want to host for your school.

The best event for your school depends on what age groups you cater to, the audience you’re targeting, and what you’re raising money for. Basically, the perfect fundraising idea will be dependent on your unique situation.

A quick and easy way to find out which one might be the most profitable is to look at past events and identify the ones that were the most successful. Then, consider how feasible it is to transition that event into a virtual one.

Taking inspiration from 99Pledges’s school fundraising ideas, we’ve compiled a list of some events that would be perfect for the virtual space:

  • Pledge fundraiser. Collecting pledges online from supporters is a great way to raise money while also staying socially distant.
  • Virtual read-a-thon. Ask your students to read a certain amount of books. If they reach specific goals, encourage family and friends to donate in support! This is a great way to raise money while keeping your students actively engaged.
  • Online talent show. Host a talent show, but entirely online! Using video conferencing software, ask students to sign up to showcase their talents. Then, attendees to the virtual talent show will pay a ticket price to view it!
  • Virtual raffle. Selling raffle tickets is a great way to raise money. Even better, it’s totally feasible online! Ask supporters to buy raffle tickets for a big prize and use a random number generator to pick a winner.
  • Virtual movie night. Hosting a movie night can keep students occupied while you’re also fundraising for your school. Collect funds through movie tickets, and then set up a livestream of the film of your choice.
  • Online auction. Auctions are a great way for schools to raise some money while providing attendees with an engaging and fun experience. Online auctions are just as exciting, and can be pulled off with the right online bidding tool or platform.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraiser. Many schools find great success with peer-to-peer fundraisers. All it takes is a group of volunteers to fundraise on your school’s behalf through their own social networks! Consider asking students to participate, as they’re likely some of your most social media-savvy supporters.

In order to pick the idea that will maximize success for your school, it’s worth it to take a hard look at your specific fundraising goals and what you hope to accomplish with the revenue. From there, you can choose a fundraising idea and start planning with full confidence.

Taking your school fundraising event virtual is a daunting task to many, especially if you’ve never done it before. However, taking the time to explore this option is crucial if you want to continue fundraising during the upcoming school year. It’s still unclear whether remote learning will be the norm moving forward, or if some hybrid virtual-in-person system will be created. Having the necessary resources and tools for virtual events on hand will set you up for success. Good luck!

Guest Author Bio Asaf Darash, Author

Asaf Darash, Founder and CEO of Regpack, has extensive experience as an entrepreneur and investor. Asaf has built 3 successful companies to date, all with an exit plan or that have stayed in profitability and are still functional. Asaf specializes in product development for the web, team building and in bringing a company from concept to an actualized unit that is profitable.

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