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Shifting your events online during COVID-19

Screenshot of the opening frame of a recording of the webinar Shifting Your Events Online During COVID-19. Moderator Elizabeth Zevada can be seen in a frame to the left of the slide.

As nonprofits were considering if and how to transition events to online platforms, Nonprofit New York, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), and Candid came together to share their experiences with the sector. The goal of the webinar, hosted by Candid on May 20, 2020, was to continue the conversation on how we are all adapting to a new format of working and delivering on our missions. We hope the lessons learned below will help organizations make more informed decisions on their events. You can also watch the video for free on GrantSpace.

Online fundraising

As with any fundraising campaign, you must have a communications plan to ensure you are reaching your audiences. In response to COVID-19, many nonprofits have had to put together fundraisers with minimal planning time. HIP partnered with other organizations to conduct Altisimo Live! a livestream benefit and online fundraiser hosted on GivingTuesdayNow, May 5. Jen Meehan, associate director of communications at HIP, says that consistently reminding HIP’s constituents about this event was essential—staff members coordinated their social, email, and personal networks in the days leading up to and during the event. Working closely with HIP’s marketing and communication staff was vital to reminding viewers during the event that the purpose of Altismiso Live was to raise funds, not purely provide entertainment.

In addition to coordinating within your organization, Jen recommends:

  • Having a simple URL that your constituents can remember to make the messaging more effective.
  • Creating intimate moments that demonstrate the impact of your work to your donors.
  • Making sure that your webpage and servers can handle an increase in traffic to your website or donation platform. The last thing you want is for a donor not to be able to process their donation.

Annual meetings and conferences

Voting

Membership organizations must hold specific governance meetings with their members to remain in compliance in the states where they are incorporated and where they operate. Nonprofit New York had several items members needed to vote on. Taïna Sanon, Nonprofit New York’s membership director, mentioned during the webinar that “proxies are everything!” Sending proxies out as early as possible is key; members need time to receive, sign, and return their consent to have a proxy. Consider an online form and online signatures to help expedite the process.

Sponsorships

Virtual conferences present a great opportunity to engage your sponsors in a new way. If you have long-standing partnerships, bring some new ideas to them. You’ll also want to consider what features are available through the platform you have selected for your conference.

Here are some opportunities you can invite your sponsor to participate in:

  • Host a virtual networking session.
  • Introduce a panel or kick-off a meeting.
  • Include a short video to be played at the meeting.
  • Send or be included in the event’s follow-up email.
  • Host a digital booth (if your platform allows it).

Although your sponsor will not be interacting with attendees directly in most cases, creating an environment in which the sponsor feels engaged and can participate is key.

Event focus

Panelists recommended “focusing on the purpose and not the platform” that your event will be hosted on. If the purpose is the “guiding light” for planning your conference, then your attendees should be able to get the same thing out of the event that they would in person. One of the main purposes of HIP’s annual conference is to provide a space for attendees to network. To accomplish this goal, HIP set up small thematic sessions that attendees could sign up for ahead of time. By limiting the number of attendees for each of these rooms, HIP helped participants create genuine connections with peers who share similar interests.

Training

Transitioning a learning experience from in person to online requires more than simply identifying a platform. You may find yourself redesigning the training to ensure that your attendees meet the learning outcomes you set out.

To recreate high-touch engagement in the virtual setting, Chris Bunting, Candid’s curriculum design manager, and the rest of our team have leveraged the interactivity that our online platform allows. Some examples include:

  • Using breakout rooms to facilitate networking and peer-to-peer connection. In Candid’s virtual workshops, we have randomly paired learners to discuss icebreaker questions and broken participants into small groups (four-five people per room) to provide feedback on completed exercises.
  • Using the chat and polling features regularly as tools to gather questions, get a sense of the room, and find volunteers to unmute themselves to share their experiences.

HIP has found that interactivity can create a participatory learning session and receive attendee feedback to improve the content.

For Candid’s three-week virtual boot camps, we posted assignments in weeks 1 and 2, which allowed learners to get direct feedback on their work from an expert Candid instructor. HIP also created a digital workbook that could be filled out by learners in real time and included small exercises as homework. This practice helped maintain continuity between sessions and allowed learning to take place outside of the training time.

Webcams, microphones, and chat are great tools for engaging a smaller group. For larger events, such as a webinar, managing these features can become a distraction for the group. In these instances, we have found it useful for participants to submit questions ahead of time. It is also important to “divide and conquer” to ensure that there is enough staff support for each of the sessions. Doing so will help ensure that attendees can remain engaged throughout the session.

Prepare your staff

Shifting to new online platforms also means teaching your staff how to use the technology. Junueth Mejia, HIP give program manager, says that right now, “Technology needs to be your best sidekick.” So share any infographics, short videos, or guides that will help users familiarize themselves with the online platform you have chosen.

Nonprofit New York and Candid both have external presenters for some of their trainings. Offering a practice session to familiarize the presenter with the platform can provide a sense of relief for anyone who may not be used to teaching online. Creating safe spaces for presenters and staff to practice on the platform is key to creating a successful online event. Additionally, short videos can help communicate key messages to stakeholders. They can help your content stand out and allows you to stay connected.

Accessibility

As we adjust to working online, Alexa Salamé, learning and resource manager at Nonprofit New York, reminds us to think of what we can do now that we could not do before. Creating online programming is a great opportunity for many organizations to make their content more accessible.

Accessibility can take many forms, but a few things to keep in mind include:

  • Having the option to call in over the phone as well as joining through VOIP.
  • Creating slide decks that are visually accessible and easily navigable by screen-readers.
  • Recording and transcribing your event.
  • Using images that feature diversity and equity.

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