During the fall semester, student programs across the country typically host various fundraisers to support their programs and activities. While community members want to support local programs, social distancing guidelines and economic disruption has impacted school fundraisers over the last year.
Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs often host multiple fundraisers to help teachers buy new supplies and tools, fund students to attend competitions and to help charities. This year, many CTE programs have had to cancel their fundraising plans due to the pandemic. However, it is not too late for CTE programs to host a fundraiser while abiding by social distancing guidelines.
We are about to enter the "season of giving," therefore, this is an excellent time for CTE programs to host a virtual fundraiser. For events initially planned for in-person, shifting online is undoubtedly a challenge. Understand, you may not fully recreate the event, but an engaging, online fundraiser is still possible. Keep the primary goal of the fundraiser in mind.
Begin planning by thinking of ways to reach fundraising goals through virtual tactics. Livestreaming, social media or a website may be helpful for the fundraiser. Prioritize communication throughout the fundraiser. It is especially important for everyone in the community, especially sponsors, to know what to expect, how to get involved and why their support is essential.
Consider the following questions before you begin planning a virtual fundraiser.
• Is this a public or private fundraiser? • Are tickets needed or registration? • What is our fundraising goal? • How will we engage the audience?
We have compiled a comprehensive list of tips for hosting a virtual fundraiser. Regardless of the fundraiser's format, the following tips will help your program plan a successful, virtual fundraiser.
1. Create a Clear Vision
Whether your program is creating a virtual fundraiser from scratch or reworking an in-person experience, a clear vision for the event will transition initial ideas into reality. Before getting started, take some time to formulate your "why." It is important to understand why you are hosting a fundraiser. The why should attract your target audience and sponsors. While crafting your "why," be sure to bridge the gap between your program and the community. The vision of the fundraiser should communicate your program's mission and impact.
2. Make a Detailed Plan
Virtual fundraisers often require less planning than an in-person fundraiser. However, it is important to have a detailed plan for the fundraiser by creating a budget, timeline, goals, event page and donation plan. Identify a well-defined target audience in your plan. Knowing your target audience is key to success and will help guide the planning process. When creating the agenda, highlight key themes and important points to interest your target audience.
If this is your first virtual fundraiser, it is recommended to begin planning no less than 4-8 weeks in advance. However, if the fundraiser is multiple days, it is recommended to start planning 12 weeks in advance.
3. Marketing the Fundraiser
Promoting fundraisers have always been important, but it's especially crucial for virtual fundraisers. Incorporate various marketing strategies into the planning stages for virtual fundraisers. Printed flyers may have a place in the marketing strategy; however, online marketing is often vital for spreading the word about virtual fundraisers.
When marketing fundraisers, consider the following:
• Call/Email local partners • Send marketing emails and reminders •Utilize social media channels • Consider using an event website • Create promotional materials
4. Explain the Impact of Donations
One of the most critical factors in fundraising is the wording used to ask for donations. Whether inviting sponsors to donate via email, on social media, over the phone or in-person, your wording impacts the response. The goal when asking sponsors to attend the virtual fundraiser is to be authentic and to build trust between the two of you. One way to earn trust is by being transparent about what the donations will fund. What is the impact of sponsors donating to your program?
Whether you are raising money for a trip, buying classroom supplies, or expanding the program, it is important to communicate the purpose to fundraiser sponsors and partners. Another strategy to help build trust is by sharing the goal of the fundraiser. For example, "We are hoping to raise $6,000 to ensure each of our students can attend National FFA Convention." Providing examples of the impact a donation entices sponsors to participate.
5. Practice with the Team
Even if your program has experience with virtual fundraising, it is advisable to do a mock fundraiser. A practice fundraiser will help programs prepare for possible difficulties, ensure the video and sound work and iron out last-minute details. Additionally, a practice helps performers work out any jitters and get comfortable in front of the camera. Invite a few sponsors to attend the mock event to provide feedback.
6. Engage the Audience
In today's technologically driven world, people are used to engaging and interacting online. During a virtual event, it is critical to plan ways for the audience to participate. Get creative to engage the audience and sponsors. Q&A sessions, surveys, polls and chats all create a sense of interaction. Regardless of the interaction, make sure to have opportunities for the audience to interact to create the best experience possible.
7. Follow Up and say "Thank You"
Following up with attendees is crucial after a virtual fundraiser. Sending follow up information is an excellent way for programs to stand out from others. Send a handwritten thank you card, an email or call each person to thank them for attending personally. During the initial planning stages, have a plan to follow up with each attendee. Make sure to gather the information needed to execute the follow-up plan. For example, if you plan to send a thank-you card, you will need their mailing addresses.
If your program hasn't pivoted and explored virtual fundraising strategies, now is the time. With the year-end giving season around the corner, now is an excellent time to plan a virtual fundraiser. Keep an eye on our blog for virtual fundraising ideas and events to keep revenue flowing while schools are navigating today's pandemic.