Fundraisers are often at the core of a non-profit’s calendar. It’s a chance to bring together donors in a meaningful way and accelerate towards an organization’s fundraising goals. As we’ve seen in the last two years, we’ve had to adjust our traditional in person fundraising events to the virtual space bringing with them many great benefits, but also some challenges to be prepared for.

Last month, BB Events hosted the 2021 Annual Hand to Hand Fundraiser with our long-time partners, Project Open Hand. This was our third time working with the organization, but first since the pandemic. As such, the gala was adapted to be a hybrid event, integrating both an in-person luncheon held at the historic Fairmont Hotel and an online component using Givesmart to stream the event to those unable to attend the event in person in San Francisco.

As with their previous fundraisers, the live auction was one of the highlights of the afternoon offering a variety of exciting packages from gourmet dinners hosted by Project Open Hand’s executive chef, Adrian Barrow to tours of Tuscany.

Project Open Hand Hand to Hand Virtual Fundraiser


The Benefits of Virtual Fundraising

The transition to virtual platforms across the events industry is undeniable. From virtual meetings to digital programs, the more we can adapt to new technologies, the more prepared we can be for what’s next. In this case, using a virtual fundraiser felt like a natural evolution of this successful Hand to Hand Fundraiser, paving the way for greater innovation in the time to come.

However, this year, the greatest benefit in our virtual fundraising came from the ability to extend participation beyond who was in the room. That meant those who were unable to or uncomfortable with attending in person could still be a part of the event at no risk to the health and safety of everyone involved. It also allowed us to market the event to a broader audience outside of our usual Bay Area and collect valuable leads through their digital registrations to follow up with them after the event. This is particularly beneficial for the long-term goals of a non-profit.

Moreover, in our commitment to hosting more sustainable events, it helped to minimize our environmental impact of the event. We removed the need for single-use materials like bidding paddles and recording sheets. Moreover, with less people traveling from afar to our event, this, in turn, gave the City a bit of a breather.

The Challenges of Virtual Fundraising

As with any new technology, there were risks to mitigate with virtual fundraising.

Their benefits do not outweigh the knowledge of whether an event’s target audience are receptive to the change. You have to be prepared to bring your audience along the digital journey whether they are well-versed in technology or not. For Project Open Hand, their marketing team sent communications to their audience with instructions on how to use the platform so they can be prepared on the day of.

Engagement can also be impacted by the virtual element – as anyone who has spent time on video calls recently can attest to. The virtual audience doesn’t easily connect with the environment of the live event so it’s important to engage the at-home audience so they feel a part of the experience too. Planning a virtual or hybrid event is like planning two separate events which means two distinct experiences – that means two hosts, two communication methods, different food and beverage and different entertainment.

Our Top 5 Tips to Hosting a Virtual Fundraiser

Hosting the virtual fundraiser for Project Open Hand was definitely a learning experience for BB Events as we continue to evolve our hybrid event offerings. And in our learnings, here are our top five tips for when you’re planning your next virtual event:

1. Ensure instructions are communicated well

There is a learning curve on virtual fundraisers for all attendees and event planners alike. Clear communication before and during the event will help mitigate any confusion and help the fundraiser run more smoothly.

If any apps need to be downloaded or pre-registration needs to be completed, ensure that attendees can do so before the event. Send them instructions on how this will work beforehand. But reiterate these instructions throughout the event so everyone is ready and raring to go when you kick off the auction!

2. Choose the right digital bidding platform

Selecting the right virtual platforms are as important as finding the right venue for your event. It needs to be able to handle the specific capabilities of your event and target audience.

For Project Open Hand, we chose GiveSmart – a digital bidding platform that supports year-round giving as well as event-specific fundraisers. Their focus on community partners meant that they were a trusted partner when working with a non-profit like Project Open Hand. Moreover, the customizations and support team best understood our client.

For more tips on how to pick the right virtual event platform, check out BB Event’s guide here.

3. Increase the WiFi bandwidth at your venue

There’s nothing worse than the internet cutting out when everyone is trying to donate money! Work with your event venue to ensure that they are using a secure, strong, dedicated network. This will also ensure that any live stream or media that you are playing during the event operates seamlessly.

4. Have an on-site technical team to troubleshoot

No matter how well you prepare, tech issues often arise. Having dedicated people who understand your virtual platform and are able to navigate common technical problems will put your attendees at ease. And don’t forget to have someone looking out for your virtual audience too to deal with any issues they may have online!

5. Generate hype on-site to drum up the energy

The excitement of live auctions are often the magic ingredient to getting people more excited about your cause and more willing to open their wallets to donate. So it’s important to foster this energy, particularly when you have to account for people being on their phones throughout.

With Project Open Hand, we had the charismatic, ‘hypeman’ Franco Finn as auctioneer and the exuberant Renel Brooks-Moon as MC. Their energy is often a highlight of previous auctions, but particularly helpful in bringing together both our virtual and in-person attendees. Moreover, we had volunteers move throughout the venue with pom-poms to celebrate the wins of our donors and create the live auction spirit that we needed!

Volunteers holding pom-poms for virtual fundraiser with Project Open Hand

Planning your next fundraiser and want to include a virtual audience? Use these five tips to guarantee your best results. Or get in touch with Becca and the team and we’ll help you spark change for your non-profit.

Photos courtesy of Chloe Jackman. For more, visit our gallery here.