virtual fundraising event

This map for conducting innovative fundraising events is something virtual plus something more than another dry, isolated Zoom meeting.

Most Christian colleges know their fundraising strategies must change as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns, but few know exactly how to respond.

The pandemic has come during a time when many schools were ramping up their fundraising efforts to cash in on record levels of charitable giving in the U.S. How many donations has been unrealized at your Christian college because in-person fundraising events have been cancelled or severely limited due to social distancing rules?

All is not lost.

Highly innovative and cost-effective strategies to fundraising in this era of social isolation are available. This article will help you retool your school’s development function with an effective, pioneering, and budget friendly strategy called the Donor-Driven Virtual Awareness Event.

The End of Face-to-Face Fundraising Events As We Know Them!

Events-Driven fundraising events have been suffering from chronic issues for some time. And now, in an era of social distancing, they will likely fade away with rare exception for these reasons:

  • They are often stale, overused, and vulnerable to unforeseen occurrences.
  • They are counterproductive to building long-term relationships with donors.
  • They keep fundraising transactional and technique-focused.
  • They create unintended consequences and increased risk.
  • The upfront costs keep rising and often have questionable ROI.
  • Many are out-of-step with younger, more sophisticated, and often skeptical donors.
  • They may “bruise” new relationships and offend existing donors.
  • Most important, they are now off-limits due to social distancing.

If you have successful in-person fundraising events and can find a way to keep attendees safe, stick with them … just don’t let them drive your philosophy of fundraising in the future. Instead, it is time to fully embrace a Donor-Driven approach.

What Is Donor-Driven Fundraising?

Donor-Driven means determining how you can help donors achieve their philanthropic goals, fulfill their personal Christian values, or continue their family tradition by making an investment in your school. Donor-Driven also means “earning the right” to ask for a major gift by first making them aware of your Case for Support.

This approach is a breakthrough from events-driven techniques that are typically all about your school and not the donor.

Donor-driven fundraising builds long-term relationships with donors by transforming the concept of giving from a transaction into an investment!

So, how do we do this?

10 Steps to Conducting a Virtual Donor-Driven Awareness Event!

Below is a step-by-step process for how to conduct a Virtual Awareness Event typically lasting 60–75 minutes and held on a Saturday evening:

  1. Begin by inviting donor prospects to learn about your Case for Support from the safety of their own home or office withoutasking them for money! And be sure to engage your EXISTING donors in every aspect of planning; they know best what will appeal to new donor prospects. Use eVite, EventBrite, or similar service to send invitations, secure RSVPs, and manage communications.
  2. Establish a strong host committee, and put their names on the invitation to capture interest and build credibility.
  3. Use Zoom or similar meeting platform for all aspects of planning and conducting the event.
  4. Ask your board and existing donors to serve as Table Sponsors, and have each of them invite 3–5 couples from their circle of friends to the virtual event.
  5. Provide Table Hosts with support and rehearse the program online, if needed.
  6. Introduce the Case for Support to invitees with a hardcopy mailed to each couple, in advance.
  7. Design a creatively-themed, scripted program with an event MC / Zoom facilitator.
  8. Ask each Table Sponsor to cover the cost of the meals for their invitees using a service, such as DoorDash or GrubHub to deliver the meals.
  9. Ensure a fun, inspiring, and entertaining program with their complimentary meal: for instance, tell your story, use testimonials, show video, keep it moving, allow for small group discussion using the breakout function on Zoom, etc.
  10. Be sure to highlight throughout all communications that this is NOT a fundraising event. You have not earned the right to ask someone for money who is just learning about your Case for Support. If you do ask for money, you run the risk of offending potential donors and receiving nothing. Or, they might give $100 as a “go-away” gift, when they actually have the capacity to invest $25,000 if you would just take the time to cultivate them, starting with the Virtual Awareness Event.

Post-Event Cultivation

Follow up is key to continued cultivation.

Ask the Table Sponsors to send a personalized letter to each couple they invited, which will thank them for participating and let them know to expect a call soon. This is a great way to engage board members who are fearful of asking for money but likely served as Table Sponsors.

Next, the Table Sponsors will call each of their couples to find out what they thought about the event, the Case for Support, and to answer any questions they may have. During the call, the Table Sponsors should offer the couples another opportunity to learn more about your school and its mission with any or all of the following cultivation activities:

  1. Offer them a virtual tour of your campus or to meet staff, faculty, and students.
  2. Ask if they would like to hear a planned virtual lecturer or observe a virtual class.
  3. Invite them to attend a virtual staff, faculty, or student meeting.
  4. Offer them a virtual lunch with a group of faculty or students.
  5. If possible, invite them to a virtual graduation, church service, or ceremony.
  6. Perhaps you might even invite them to attend a virtual Board meeting.

This cultivation process cannot be rushed. Eventually, some couples will part ways while still being champions of your school. In fact, simply hosting a Virtual Awareness Event will likely be newsworthy and increase your credibility as an innovator and raise your visibility as a school worthy of support. This heightened awareness will help to persuade some attendees to become lifelong donors.

To recap, the goal of any Donor-Driven fundraising effort is to first invite donors to learn about and, ultimately, become passionate about your school and its mission.

The motive is to build a cadre of loyal investors who are committed to your school because you are helping them achieve their philanthropic goals, fulfill their personal Christian values, or continue their family tradition by investing in your organization—and no pandemic will change that fact!


  • John Curtis

    John Curtis is president of Integrated Organizational Development (IOD). IOD provides analysis, insight and solutions for the capacity building and fundraising challenges of Christian Higher Education! [email protected]

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