Virtual Events Mythbusting for Fundraisers

Key Takeaways

Fundraisers are still struggling to get a handle on virtual events and produce the best virtual events possible. While best practices are being developed, there are a few misconceptions that have been proven to be ineffective.

  • Myth #1: Virtual events can completely replace in-person events.
  • Myth #2: Goals should stay the same. Attendance and revenue won’t change.
  • Myth #3: You need to higher a big production company to produce a successful virtual event.
  • Myth #4: We don’t need a script. It will make us sound inauthentic.
  • Myth #5: All the money we raise will come in during the actual event.


Hi there. I’m Jessica Cloud. I’m your Fundraising Success Coach with Humanitru. Today, we’re going to tackle a topic that I think is on a lot of fundraisers minds, and that’s how to produce the best virtual events possible. So, I’m actually going to go through five beliefs about virtual events, some of which I held early in the pandemic.

And, I’m going to bust those myths for you and tell you how it really works with virtual events and how you might need to adjust your expectations and your planning process for virtual events. So, stay tuned and we’re going to jump right in.

Okay, so let’s jump in and talk about virtual events. It was almost exactly a year ago that the school that I fundraise for as vice-president for advancement had to quit all of our in-person events. And, that included everything that was commencement, our new student orientation, it included donor recognition and alumni relation events.

It also included our monthly chapel. And, small and large fundraising events, which is what I’m sure that you’re most interested in. Now, I believed a lot of things about how virtual events could or would operate when we started this, but over the course of a year, I’ve learned that I was wrong about certain things, and I’m still learning.

So, I’m not going to tell you the best way to do virtual events. Some things worked for certain organizations and others don’t, but I can tell you some things. That I’ve learned as we’ve progressed through the pandemic and learn more. So, myth number one, virtual events can completely replace in-person events.

Nothing needs to change except the catering bill. Well, unfortunately you have to think about your offerings in a completely new way. Virtual events are not as social for the attendees, and therefore, they’re kind of not as fun. So, you really have to think about your value proposition to folks because they’re going to decide whether or not they’re going to attend because everyone has Zoom fatigue.

Everyone’s really tired of being on the computer at this point, and no one is really less busy than they were pre-pandemic. So, you are fighting for folks attention in a whole new way. So, you need to bring something to the table that adds value to the attendees life, whether or not they give.

Myth number two, it’s related to myth number one. Goals should stay the same. Attendance and revenue won’t change. I had this belief, I went into our first big fundraising event, which usually happens in June, and it’s normally a breakfast, and we have between 150 and 250 folks in a room. And, we’re doing live presentations and some video. I thought we could just translate this to a webinar and, you know, we would get the same amount of people and you know, the revenue wouldn’t change.

We would still bring in what we expected from those events. And, it’s just not that easy. Again, you are competing for people’s attention. You are also, you’re not doing a live event. That’s just in one time zone. So, you’re trying to find something that works for folks. Sometimes across time zones nationally.

And again, Zoom fatigue is real. Your attendance is not going to be the same. You may need to offer multiple iterations of the same event to give everyone in your constituency an opportunity to come and participate. And, turning attendance into revenue. I’m not going to lie. It’s tougher with a virtual event.

You know, just, I thought you could throw the giving link in the Zoom chat at the appropriate moment during the ask or the pitch of the presentation and that folks would absolutely click that and make their gift right away. I’d say it’s actually not that easy. You really have to do a lot of work in terms of video and email, follow up and getting folks engaged after the event.

Number three, you need to hire a big production company to produce a successful virtual event. This is not one that a belief that I held myself, but I saw a lot amongst fundraiser chatter in Facebook groups and different kinds of places. I saw people hiring lots of these companies and recommending, you know, online production companies.

You can absolutely DIY a very successful virtual event. You’re probably gonna need a little video editing experience, and you’re going to need to really play around with Zoom or whatever video conferencing platform you’re using, but you can, and you probably should produce these events yourself. It’s going to come across as much more personal and you need to be involved in every aspect of it, but don’t be scared of the technology. It’s not that difficult. And, you can do this stuff in house.

Number four. We don’t need a script. It’ll make us sound inauthentic. I’m a big fan of scripts in fundraising anyway, so I didn’t never exactly held this belief, but I have heard folks say that, that they want to come across in these virtual events as being very authentic, organic, and honestly, you don’t just need a regular script like you would have at your lectern at an in-person event. You need a script that pulls together folks that are in multiple locations and coordinates, not only what they’re saying to your crowd, but also all the technical aspects, who to spotlight at different points during the during your event.

And, then also when to record, when not to record, how are you letting people know when to use things like the chat and the Q and A. So, you have to incorporate all of those technical aspects and directions into your script. I recommend doing that and color coding. What folks are actually saying versus actual technical directions, almost stage directions for your Zoom or other virtual event.

And number five, here’s the big one. All the money we raise will come in during the actual event. I actually believed this going into some events. I thought, wow, again, they’ll just click that link. If we throw it up in the Zoom chat, and it’s just not that easy, you really need to have a program for how you’re going to follow up with folks.

How are you going to get them on to the event and remind them that it’s coming and how easy it is to log on. How you take them on a journey through the event and then post event, how you do your follow-up and direct them to your landing pages where they can make a gift.

So there’s not always going to come in during the event. You need to give yourself a nice long tail after the event to get all of that revenue in, and again, make sure your goals are adjusted so that they’re reasonable for the. New environment that we find ourselves in. So, you absolutely can do this. We’ve produced some really meaningful and wonderful virtual events at Starr King.

And. I know you can get out there and do it, but just keep in mind those five myths that we busted today about virtual events. And, if you have any tips of your experience of putting on a virtual event, and especially a virtual fundraising event, please comment below and let us know what you’re doing that’s working out there.

About Jessica Cloud

With over 20 years of fundraising experience, Jessica has worked for the Starr King School for the Ministry, The University of Southern Mississippi Foundation, The University of South Carolina, RuffaloCODY, and the Libertarian National Committee. As a consultant, Jessica provides her fundraising services to nonprofits and higher education organizations. You can find her at Real Deal Fundraising.

Jessica Cloud, CFRE, MA
Fundraising Success Coach