In Virtual Fundraising, User Experience Is Key

Eufemia Didonato

Fans aren’t allowed in Fenway Park this season. But they’ve been able to virtually fill the park — … [+] and raise money for charity in the process. Getty Images It takes a killer event experience to motivate supporters to fundraise in the pandemic era. That’s the message I’m hearing time and […]

It takes a killer event experience to motivate supporters to fundraise in the pandemic era.

That’s the message I’m hearing time and again as I talk to peer-to-peer fundraising professionals about what’s working — and what isn’t — in the face of Covid-19.

Simply saying “We’re going virtual, please walk and ask for donations” is a recipe for disaster.

You need a hook — something that engages your supporters and captures their imagination.

This is true whether you’re working in peer-to-peer fundraising, or in other forms of virtual fundraising.

So how do you create inspiring, engaging programming during this era of social distancing?

I recently connected with five experts who make their living helping peer-to-peer fundraising professionals develop creative campaigns to learn how some of the nation’s most innovative programs have succeeded during Covid-19.

Here are their tips:

1. Reimagine a live event

Blackbaud’s Shana Masterson is seeing a number of examples of campaigns that are finding creative ways to engage participants in person.

“Some participants are ready to connect with others safely,” she says. “Traditional events can become car parades, socially-distant rides, or drive-in rallies.”

The Autism Speaks Walk, for example, gave fundraisers the chance to leave their walking shoes at home and participate in their cars.

Virtual gives you the opportunity to throw your old rules out the window and try something completely different.

2. Create mission moments

You don’t have to be in the same place to create emotionally memorable moments, says Erica Helphand of OP3.

During the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Virtual Overnight Experience, the nonprofit used photos uploaded to a hashtag to create a powerful, mosaic-style photo of virtual participants that was generated in real time.

“It was powerful, engaging, and showed that your participation really mattered,” Helphand said.

3. Explore exciting places

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute used its partnership with the Boston Red Sox to create a virtual challenge to “Fill Fenway” Park by buying tickets to a future game and having the proceeds of their sale benefit the Jimmy Fund.

Visitors could take an interactive tour of the iconic ballpark and virtually experience some of the park’s hidden gems, says Eventage’s Jen Junger.

Those who purchased tickets also were listed on an online tribute board and had their photos on a Red Sox-themed trading card.

The campaign has been a massive success — as it sold out all of Fenway’s 37,731 seats and raised more than $165,000 for Dana-Farber.

4. Use trackers

Many nonprofits have been experimenting with the use of virtual fitness trackers that help fundraisers log how far they’ve run, walked or ridden as a way to create challenges and help participants track their progress.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia used tracking technology to create a 31-Day fitness challenge that led to a 181 percent increase in fundraising compared with a similar campaign in 2019.

More than 1,600 fundraisers in 32 states took part in virtual challenges in which they ran, walked, or biked 31, 62, or 100 miles in May.

“People enjoy sharing their workout accomplishments, allowing them to connect that energy to your cause is always a win,” says DonorDrive CEO Marc Rubner.

5. Engage your super-supporters

Whatever you choose to do with your virtual campaign, it helps to build excitement early.

FrontStream’s Lucas VanGombos advises peer-to-peer pros to kick-start their virtualized campaigns by reaching out to your top fundraisers before you officially launch registration and invite them to start fundraising early.

“This gives your superstar fundraisers some extra attention and allows you to officially launch your event with some already-crafted great example of successful donation pages,” he said.

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