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How to Host Engaging Virtual Events

March 29, 2021
A group of diverse business colleagues participate in a virtual staff meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic. An African American businesswoman participates in the virtual event from her office.

At least for now, Zoom is the new hotel ballroom. Nonprofit professionals are learning how to translate the ambiance and energy of in-person fundraising events to remote gatherings. It’s unlikely that virtual events will fully replace in-person events in the long run, but fundraisers say they expect some events to remain virtual even after it’s safe to gather together indoors again.

Fundraisers have appreciated the often lower overhead costs for virtual events. And with many organizations waiving ticket fees to online events, they’re generally cheaper for supporters to attend. What’s more, charities can reach more donors around the world — not just those who are local to the nonprofit.

During the past year, the Chronicle has talked with nonprofit fundraisers, event planners, and consultants about how they’re making virtual events special. The biggest challenge is to make them feel entirely distinct from virtual meetings, experts say. That means keeping them short and sweet — think sit-com length, one fundraiser told me.

Mixing live and prerecorded elements also helps build energy around the cause and keep attendees on the edge of their seats. And add some whimsy — dance parties, wacky outfits, and interactive games have all been popular with attendees.

For more tips on how to design an engaging virtual event, check out our collection of resources below.

  • Fundraising

    7 Tips For Hosting Better Virtual Fundraising Events

    Fundraisers expect the bulk of their events to continue happening online as the Covid-19 pandemic stretches on. The Chronicle asked experts what they learned about hosting virtual events in 2020 and how to make them even more successful in the year ahead. Plus, a checklist for virtual-event presenters.
  • Virtual Events

    A Checklist for Virtual Event Presenters

    First impressions matter — even if they’re virtual. Catalyst, a nonprofit dedicated to workplace equity for women, created a checklist for speakers at its virtual events.
  • Fundraising Events

    How 4-H Turned a Fundraising Dinner Into a Virtual Event

    Because the national council’s expenses were lower, the group met its net fundraising goal. Just as important, it found a way to connect with corporate supporters and attract some new donors.
  • Ask an Expert

    Ask an Expert: How to Host Engaging Virtual Fundraising Events

    A nonprofit CEO, an events director, and a fundraising consultant specializing in events answer reader questions.
  • Fundraising

    Virtual Events Have Gotten Mixed Results

    Some nonprofits have used digital gatherings to win donations and attract new supporters. Others, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, say the benefits don’t justify the time and work involved.
  • Fundraising

    Virtual Events Helped Charities Meet Fundraising Goals

    In a new survey, 42 percent of respondents said their charity will hold an event in 2021 that features both in-person and online activities.
Read other items in this How to Host Engaging Virtual Events package.