Yesterday I offered several practical recommendations for canceling and rescheduling your in-person events—how to make those decisions while maintaining relationships and avoiding losses to venue and vendor fees.

Beyond canceling events, though, is thinking about how you can take the events virtual.

Perhaps the most important thing (after calling your donors!) is to be creative. Don’t be afraid of reimagining what is possible in terms of personal engagement and fundraising.

It is possible to provide the same world-class event with a twist on the typical attendee experience. Some of these changes may even have positive, lasting effects on how we do business moving forward!

Here are seven ideas my team has been developing for how you might host an event in lieu of an in-person gathering:

  1. Moderated interview-style discussion – great for a panel of policy experts on a given (and perhaps timely) topic. Have a split screen with a moderator and 1-3 speakers for an open discussion. Keep the speaking portion under 45 minutes, followed by a live, interactive Q&A.
  2. Keynote presentations – great for VIP, high-level speakers such as Members of Congress or other elite personalities connected with your organization. Keep the main speaking time to 18 minutes or less, followed by interactive Q&A.
  3. Mini-webinar series – have subject-matter experts break down topics in 6-8 minutes increments, followed by robust Q&A for 20-30 minutes. Great for creating quick content for people to digest and repurpose on social media.
  4. Virtual conference – convert full-day or multi-day conferences into a virtual conference hosted over several days or weeks. Attendees can participate in segments of highest interest. Offer a combination of different types of programming (keynotes, conversations, and interactive discussions). You can host all the same panels, sessions, lectures that you would have done in-person—it’s just virtual and more spread out now.
  5. Demonstration webinar – provide a virtual demonstration for a target audience,  sharing resources you have available—such as resources for at-home education or anything useful that you can provide and walk audience members through.
  6. Sharable content – develop ideas with the goal to find ways to repurpose content for different audiences on social media platforms, in email marketing campaigns, and other tools at your disposal.
  7. Online Auctions – use a virtual bidding tool to auction off future engagement opportunities such as “spend a day at our headquarters” or “private meeting with a particular VIP or expert” or a complimentary registration and VIP experience at a future event. All of these auction items could be redeemable once the dust has settled.

When you are thinking about switching your event to being online, don’t forget to consider the following items:

  • Identify the right platform that is robust but easy to use;
  • Encourage audience participation through questions, polling, and surveys;
  • Use stories to personalize the data you are trying to communicate;
  • Identify co-hosts and sponsors to expand your reach;
  • Build an ongoing engagement that may live on past these uncertain times.

It is important to remember that disruption does not always need to be a negative. Disruption leads to innovation and opens each of our organizations to new opportunities we never thought were possible.

Don’t be afraid to explore big ideas and take risks—you would be surprised how willing our donors are to come alongside those new ideas.


For the next several weeks, Philanthropy Daily will be a resource for fundraisers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back daily for new articles addressing news about coronavirus and philanthropy and providing strategic and practical recommendations for weathering this storm as a fundraiser.

And please join us on Thursday afternoons at 2:00 eastern time for a webinar on “Fundraising During Uncertain Times.” American Philanthropic leadership and Philanthropy Daily authors are hosting a weekly webinar to discuss the impact of the pandemic on fundraising and to answer your questions. Sign up here.

The post Virtual events during COVID: reimagining canceled events appeared first on Philanthropy Daily.

Share with cohorts