Data-Driven Virtual Fundraising Events: A Step-by-Step Guide

Guest post written by Kelly Velazquez-Hague, Director of Content Marketing, OneCause

Data-driven strategies are the norm in practically all aspects of fundraising today. Learning more from your data and investing time in tracking the right metrics can make a huge difference for your organization. This extends from your campaigns to your marketing efforts to your donor stewardship strategies. 

And with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts upending business-as-usual for the entire nonprofit sector, the need for data-driven strategy is more pressing than ever before. Virtual engagement is the new necessity, but hosting virtual fundraising events is brand new territory for most organizations.

Planning a data-driven fundraising event has always been beneficial for boosting your overall fundraising effectiveness and improving donor relationships. Now, it’s also a smart way to safeguard ROI when you’re already feeling untethered in a brand new virtual space. As naturally tech-centric undertakings, virtual events are thankfully very easy to anchor with data-driven strategies.

By building your strategies around what you’ve already learned from past events, you can encourage:

  • Higher attendance during the (in-person, virtual, or hybrid) event.

  • More donations and engagement with your mission during the event.

  • Focused event strategies that create more meaningful engagement with donors.

  • Increased online interaction with your event’s marketing materials.

In today’s competitive fundraising environment where nonprofits are fighting for the attention of donors in an extremely crowded online space, fundraisers can leverage donor data strategies to their fundraising advantage. 

If you haven’t yet explored your virtual event options, now is definitely the time to get started. Virtual fundraising events are flexible and easily adapted to all kinds of missions, audiences, and contexts. For a complete walkthrough of the essentials, including ideas, examples, and tech tips, check out our guide to virtual fundraising events.

For now, let’s walk through the basic process of planning a data-driven fundraising event. These tips are equally applicable to classic, in-person events as today’s virtual gatherings, so they should give your team a solid foundation of the basics of data-driven planning. Let’s dive in.

1. Review your fundraising event track record.

Before moving ahead with planning the specifics of any fundraising event, start by reviewing your organization’s past performance. If you’ve already implemented data management strategies or systems into your planning processes, you can examine your data from past campaigns and filter down to specific metrics. 

Use your historical data to answer:

  • Does our donor base respond well to specific types of fundraising events?

  • Are there areas where we’ve historically fallen short in our planning?

  • How do our marketing strategies perform in the lead-up to a fundraising event?

  • Do our volunteers have a positive experience at these events? Do our processes need updates to incorporate virtual volunteering?

These insights into the performance of past events are still useful for virtual contexts. If you’re planning your very first virtual event, take a few additional steps to gauge your audience’s receptiveness to remote engagement. Look at other online engagement metrics, like social media engagement, to “see around the corner” and get a sense of how heavily you’ll need to promote and explain your virtual event.

Access to past fundraising performance is at the heart of data-driven event planning. It can help inform your team about what types of events your organization should focus on and how to improve your overall results going forward.

2. Determine your goals for the event.

Next up, it’s time to set concrete goals for your upcoming event. It’s important to be as specific as possible in setting your fundraising targets. Typical success benchmarks for fundraising events include:

  • Total donations made during the event (sorted by average donation size, donor demographics, etc.)

  • Year over year revenue or engagement improvements for annual events

  • New donor or attendee acquisition

  • Donor or attendee retention over your last event

The exact goals you set for your event will depend on many factors, so it’s important to layer in your historical data with current budget needs and larger organizational priorities. Set your goals by fundraising stream to ensure you have concrete targets to aim for. This will go a long way to keep your strategies focused and effective.

For virtual events like online year-end galas and auctions, your different revenue streams might involve registration fees, add-on purchases, auction bids, and online donations.

If your CRM isn’t designed specifically for nonprofit organizations, make sure it’s configured to track nonprofit-specific metrics like the ones above. However, working with integrated virtual fundraising software that includes built-in livestreaming tools and bidding capabilities will drastically simplify this process for virtual events since all of your engagement and donation data will be generated and reported together.

3. Set the perfect date and time for your event.

Look at the dates and times of your past events, and compare them to the attendance numbers and fundraising totals from each event. Consider these questions:

  • Which days of the week show the highest event turnout? The lowest?

  • Do mid-day or evening fundraising events attract more donors? Which time attracts more high-level donors?

  • What types of donors are each event type attracting?

  • Are there seasonal attendance trends to be aware of as you plan your next event? For year-end events, be prepared to keep a (hopefully) larger than usual audience engaged. 

For virtual fundraising, you definitely should still pick your date and time strategically. If you’re asking supporters to take time out of their busy schedules to tune in, make sure it’s a convenient time. For instance, Friday and Saturday evenings are an ideal pick for virtual galas.

On the other hand, some virtual events occur over a span of several days, like virtual auctions that culminate in a live-streamed gala. Think carefully about how long your bidding window should be open to maximize engagement without draining your audience’s attention. 

This exercise ensures your event schedule is actually attracting and converting the donors and donations needed to hit fundraising goals. Balance your goals and your donors’ preferences to find the right time slot for your next event.

4. Define your target audience.

Every donor has a unique set of motivators. They give to events they like and to causes that tap into their motivations before, during, and after the fundraising ends. Understanding how to ask for support depending on their motivations goes a long way to boost results and strengthen your relationships. The main idea isn’t necessarily to create an exclusive event but rather to ensure the donors who are most relevant to your event’s goals feel motivated to attend and engage. 

It’s important to remember that every event you host should have a specific donor persona in mind to increase your likelihood for success. Which donor persona you choose to target with each event will depend on that event’s goals. 

Here’s a fairly basic example: the purpose of year-end galas (both virtual and in-person) is typically to steward relationships with mid-range and major donors. This means you probably wouldn’t build your strategies entirely around attracting a large number of small, one-time donations like you might for smaller-scale engagement events. 

However, remember that accessibility is a major benefit of virtual fundraising events. Anyone can join in from the comfort of their home or on-the-go, so don’t deliberately exclude any segments. Instead, use audience segmentation strategies primarily in your marketing efforts. Who do you definitely want to be sure sees and attends your event? Tailor your invitations and messages to them while still ensuring that anyone who wants to can join in the celebration.

On the flipside, if one of your next event’s main goals is securing new donors, you wouldn’t devote all of your marketing efforts to promoting the event to existing donors and email subscribers. You’d instead focus on new outlets, like social media, to reach new audiences.

5. Focus on your event’s digital marketing.

Digital marketing is essential for promoting any fundraising event today, regardless of its specific goals or target audience. This is especially critical for virtual events because competition for your donors’ attention online has gotten fiercer than ever.

There are a number of best practices to consider:

  • Create a dedicated site or page for your event, especially if you’re offering online ticketing and registration options for guests. For virtual events, create a centralized digital event center that contains everything your attendees need to both improve their experiences and simplify the marketing process.

  • Develop a multichannel approach, using multiple online outlets to attract potential attendees and direct them towards a central registration tool.

  • For events with relatively wide audiences, devote plenty of attention to social media, encouraging donors and potential attendees to engage with your content and invitations.

Multichannel digital marketing strategies are extremely important today, particularly with the rise of peer-to-peer style campaigns which rely on social media. 

To promote a large-scale virtual event, we recommend recruiting ambassadors to power your peer-to-peer efforts. These volunteers will heavily promote your event to secure donations and registrations in the weeks leading up to it. Their personal touch, backed up with your team’s support and guidance, can be an extremely effective way to boost turnout and engagement, especially when prizes for top ambassadors are added to the mix.

Wrapping up

Incorporating these core steps into your fundraising event planning process will go a long way to boost bottom-line results and reinforce your relationships with the supporters who matter the most. However, before diving headfirst into your next event, it’s essential that you have the groundwork prepared. 

This is more important than ever in the era of virtual fundraising. Fully-online events are a brand new undertaking for many organizations, so having the right tech and data management strategies in place early will be key. That way, by the time you’re ready to launch your virtual event, you’ll be well equipped to keep benefiting from the valuable engagement data that it generates.



About Kelly
Kelly Velasquez-Hague brings over 20 years of fundraising, nonprofit management, and sales/marketing experience to her role as the Director of Content Marketing for OneCause. As a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Kelly manages all of the company’s content strategy and execution. She is passionate about empowering great missions and loves that her current role allows her to continue to help nonprofits reach new donors raise more funds for their cause.

Site Design & Development North Star Sites