The following post is a guest contribution from OneCause – a nonprofit fundraising and auction software company.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed how organizations of all shapes and sizes engage with their members, supporters, and partners.
You’ve likely already shifted many of your association’s strategies to the virtual sphere when it’s made sense for your organization. Virtual events have quickly become a necessity for associations and nonprofit organizations alike, and they can be an effective way to engage members, keep up your important conversations and initiatives, and raise non-dues revenue. But has anything fallen through the cracks or been lost in translation?
For organizations that are new to virtual, online-only events, one core aspect might be missing from their virtual engagement strategies: effective follow-up.
Following up with event attendees and growing engagement has always been essential for strengthening your base of support, but it’s now more important than ever. As disruptions and uncertainties rock practically every sector of the economy, maintaining close ties with members, growing non-dues revenue, and boosting retention will be critical for associations like yours.
At OneCause, we specialize in online auction and virtual strategies and software for fundraising organizations. We’ve seen firsthand how adapting with the right tools and tactics can help nonprofits not only engage but grow their bases of support despite ongoing challenges.
However, follow-up is one element that can be easily neglected when working with new strategies and tools for the first time. Here are a few follow-up and retention best practices we recommend to any organization that’s hosting or planning a virtual fundraising event:
- Immediately follow up with attendees
- Closely review your event’s performance
- Identify key participants and contributors
- Offer attendees new ways to engage
Whether you’re planning your next virtual event or have already hosted one or more virtual events, these best practices can strengthen your entire strategy going forward. Let’s dive in.
1. Immediately follow up with attendees
This general best practice was likely already a part of your regular engagement strategy, but it’s worth repeating. Immediately follow up with event attendees and donors to express your gratitude, outline their next steps, and simply keep your organization on their minds.
Over the past several months, your team’s plans were probably canceled or radically altered due to the pandemic. This has probably led to the challenge of reallocating event budgets and other resources in response to these changes. If resources were shifted towards virtual engagement, don’t let your hard work and investments go to waste! Quick follow-up after virtual events is the first and most basic step towards boosting retention from one engagement opportunity to the next.
After a virtual fundraising event, consider these ways to follow up with attendees:
- Automate donation receipts and thank-you messages. If you’re using dedicated fundraising software, automated email capabilities should be included. If not, don’t let this task fall by the wayside! If you can, use automation to personalize the names and messages to help build deeper engagement.
- Send a post-event survey. Feedback on your virtual events will be invaluable as society continues to adapt to online-only engagement. Immediately after an event is the best time to get fresh thoughts and opinions from members.
- Provide engagement and virtual volunteer activities. Offer attendees new ways to continue engaging with your organization after the event ends. We dig deeper into this point below in tip #4.
- Promote your next virtual event. If your virtual fundraising event went well, this is the perfect time to encourage attendees to check out and register for your next event. Include a link to your next event’s micro-site or registration page, and consider offering a special perk or registration discount to repeat attendees.
Digital communication has been increasingly central to association member engagement and retention strategies over the past decade, and if there’s ever been a time to lean heavily into digital engagement, it’s now.
Immediate follow-up with event attendees, typically via email, is an essential part of laying the foundation for continued engagement. This is particularly valuable if your attendees generously gave to your organization during a virtual fundraising event.
2. Closely review your events performance
If your organization is already well-versed in using data to guide your event strategies, make sure that good habit doesn’t get lost in the shift towards virtual engagement. Reviewing your performance, strengths, and opportunities for improvement is a critical part of the event follow-up process. Plus, it’s essential for improving your strategies over time.
Additionally, while associations often host conferences and other professional events, fundraising or engagement-centric events might be a newer experience for your team, so be sure to take the same strategic approach to data collection and analysis as you would other types of events. Using dedicated event planning tools will be essential for generating and reviewing data from your virtual events.
Start the performance analysis process by setting appropriate goals and KPIs before the virtual fundraising event begins. For a virtual fundraising event, your organization might look to metrics like:
- Overall revenue generated by the event
- Cost per dollar raised
- Event-specific metrics, like total bids received during an online auction
- Event attendance and engagement
- New attendee acquisition
- The number of repeat attendees from your last event
- Online engagement with your event’s marketing materials
Each of these metrics can provide invaluable insights into the performance of your virtual event strategies, helping you shape your future plans based on the effective strategies used at this event. If you’ve sent post-event surveys to attendees as part of the follow-up process, make sure their responses are compiled and thoroughly analyzed, to uncover potential opportunities for improvement.
If your total event revenue from an online auction is lower than expected, you can drill down to find the total bids received or revenue generated per item. Then, if you find that any number of items received few or no bids, you can further analyze the specific starting prices and minimum bid raises that you set for them. If your pricing strategy was off and engagement decreased as a result, record that insight and incorporate it into future virtual auctions. For a complete walkthrough of this process, check out the OneCause guide to auction item pricing.
By looking closely at how attendees engaged with your event and how that relates to your overall performance, you can continually improve your virtual events to provide a better experience and generate more non-dues revenue over time.
3. Identify key participants and contributors
In addition to reviewing your event’s performance and specific elements that may have helped or hindered reaching goals, reviewing engagement at the individual level is another important part of the post-event follow-up process.
This step will look a little different depending on the specifics of your particular virtual event, but the idea is to identify any attendees who made a significant impact. This could include any attendee who:
- Made the largest donation during a virtual fundraising event
- Placed the most bids or won your big-ticket auction items
- Was the most engaged with your event’s sessions
- Engaged early and often with your event’s marketing materials
- Went out of their way to share your event on social media
Identifying these highly-engaged and generous attendees during the follow-up process has a few important benefits.
First, it lets you conduct more personal outreach to the participants who made the most difference for your event. For fundraising events, this would definitely include attendees who made sizable purchases or donations. If you rely on support from high-level donors, this process is invaluable for your future prospect research efforts. Do some additional research on highly-engaged attendees to help guide your development team’s efforts. We recommend this DonorSearch overview of affinity to give markers to look for while researching your virtual attendees.
Additionally, take a close look at online engagement before your virtual event. Supporters or members who effectively served as online ambassadors to promote your event and secure more registrations will be valuable volunteers to reach out to again.
More generally, identifying key attendees is also useful for refining your outreach strategies over time. By finding the participants who engage deeply with your events and are motivated to give to your organization, you can take note of their shared characteristics and develop types or personas to target in the future.
For example, if your key attendees all have similar histories of engagement with your organization, focus on them when promoting your next event. Segment your contact list or member database by historic engagement markers, like previous event attendance or length of membership, and develop a tailored promotional campaign to reach them.
4. Offer attendees new ways to engage
After initially following up with your virtual event attendees and studying your performance data, take some time to consider ways in which you can ask participants to deepen their engagement with your organization.
For virtual fundraising events, other avenues for engagement might include:
- Registering for your next event if it’s been fully planned and finalized
- Making a separate donation or setting up a recurring donation to support your work
- Signing up for a virtual volunteer opportunity
- Renewing or upgrading their membership
- If eligible, requesting a matching gift from their employer on any donations made during your event
Incorporate this strategy into your post-event follow up and other marketing communications. Consider your event’s target audience or average attendee. What new opportunities for engagement will be most appealing to them? Tailor your messages and new requests based on their histories of engagement and generational demographics.
Remember that you may offer one of a number of different ways to stay engaged based on how each individual attendee interacted with your virtual event.
For instance, if you’ve planned and hosted a charity auction, how each participant engaged with your auction should inform the new opportunity for engagement that you promote to them. Big bidders and winners from your event should be funneled towards growing their impact, while attendees who didn’t place any bids over the course of your virtual auction might rather engage by making a smaller donation, following you on social media, or volunteering.
The main idea is to actively encourage more engagement, and not to just hope that the positive experience of your event was enough to keep attendees engaged with your organization.
Planning and hosting virtual events is a fairly new undertaking for many organizations, including associations branching out into new methods of generating non-dues revenue. However, remember that the same best practices for in-person events around follow-up and retention still apply.
By incorporating these virtual follow-up tips into your event strategies, you’ll see increased attendee retention and boosts in engagement, shoring up more support for your organization in these times of disruption. Best of luck!
Joshua Meyer brings over 14 years of fundraising, volunteer management, and marketing experience to his current role as the Director of Marketing for OneCause. Currently, as a member of the OneCause sales and marketing team, Josh manages all of the firm’s marketing efforts. He has a passion for helping to create positive change and loves that his current role allows him to help nonprofits engage new donors and achieve their fundraising goals.