Why Virtual Events Should be Part of Your Fundraising Plan Forever

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If your nonprofit relies on fundraising events as a revenue source, the triumphant (if gradual) return of live events is inspiring hope. But as you put together your fundraising plan for the remainder of 2021 (and beyond), don’t forget all the lessons of 2020. A well-rounded fundraising plan will include virtual options for years to come.

Why Include Virtual?

We’ve all been waiting to get away from our computer screens gather with our peers. So why not ditch virtual altogether? In the short-term, virtual options:

  • Ensure that you don’t leave behind people who are later to get vaccinated, are immuno-compromised, or are generally more hesitant to step back into crowds.
  • Create a built-in contingency plan to manage shifts in event restrictions and residual uncertainty.
  • Bridge the gap for events with lower participant caps due to social distancing.

But it’s not just about 2021. There are reasons to include virtual options for the long-term, too:

  • Increase your geographic reach and encourage supporters to introduce friends and family to your organization regardless of where they live.
  • Offer more inclusive events that are accessible to supporters that are homebound, don’t have childcare, or otherwise cannot attend in-person.
  • Cultivate donors at all levels by providing a wider range of price points.
  • Expand event caps for space-limited events by providing overfill via streaming options.
  • Create low-overhead opportunities for supporters to engage with your organization.

Expand Your Supporter Base Through Virtual

Virtual Participants are Different from In-Person participants.

Participant ages for in-person and virtual events

The 2020 RunSignup RaceTrends Report showed that participants in virtual run/walk/rides differ from the participants who typically show up in-person. Virtual participants are older (53% were over the age of 40, compared to 46% for in-person events), and much more likely to be female (64% of all virtual participants, compared to 55% for in-person participants). In other words, offering a virtual option doesn’t reduce interest in your in-person options – it provides an opportunity to reach a new group of potential supporters.

Virtual Participants are More Likely to Share Your Event.

Social marketing tools like referral rewards and teams for run/walk/rides increase in effectiveness for virtual events. Team-joining increased, with 31.4% of participants joining a team when it was available, and referral rewards drove 17% of transactions. Why does that matter? Virtual participants are more likely to invite friends and family to participate with them, providing free marketing for your event.


There are two ways to incorporate virtual into your long-term fundraising plan. The first is through Hybrid Events, where you include a virtual option as an alternative to your live event. The second is a standalone event that is curated specifically for a virtual experience.

Hybrid Events

A hybrid event includes both virtual and in-person options, expanding your reach by including a larger range of supporters. Examples of events that work well with a hybrid format include:

A run/walk/ride

  • In-Person: one division for a timed 5K and one division for an untimed 1-mile walk, on-site a local park. Music and snacks to follow!
  • Virtual: complete a 5K or 1-mile run/walk anywhere in the world, and self-report your finish. The swag bag is shipped and bibs are delivered digitally.

A food festival

  • In-Person: local restaurants set up downtown for a festival that includes walking from booth to booth to try the best of each proprietor.
  • Virtual: curbside pickup for a limited number of takeout bags designed for enjoying at home

A concert

  • In-Person: a traditional musical performance in a local music hall
  • Virtual: an overflow ticket to watch from home via streaming service. Bonus: virtual participants can stay on for a Q&A with the conductor following the performance.

Standalone Virtual Events

A standalone virtual event is an event that is offered virtually only. Standalone virtual events are a low-overhead way to fill gaps in your event schedule and reach supporters who typically don’t attend your in-person gatherings. Options include:

Small Virtual Events for a small reach but a big, personal connection with supporters:

  • Cooking or cocktail classes via Zoom
  • Book club discussions
  • Virtual tour of a private section of a museum

Larger Virtual Events for engagement with more supporters around the country

  • Virtual Education Conference or Speaker Series
  • Virtual Challenges to walk 1,000 miles or read 10 books
  • Virtual comedy show with premier comedians

Start Strategizing

For inspiration, check out ten of our favorite virtual fundraising ideas. Or, for a deep-dive into the setup and best practices for fundraising through a virtual run/walk/ride, join our second edition of our Fundraising 411 webinar series coming up on Thursday, April 1st at 1:00pm ET.

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