My business, CharityBids, has found incredible success during quarantine writing and producing livestream events with some of the biggest names in entertainment. Many of these star-studded virtual events have been coordinated to provide PPE for U.S. hospitals in need. So far, CharityBids has donated PPE to medical workers in Seattle, LA, NY, and TX.
We’ve learned a lot through this experience. With my background, I have a unique vantage point from other charities running livestream fundraisers. I see things from more of a professional production perspective, and this is something I understand many nonprofits find difficult.
Here are 10 unique tips for livestream fundraising events:
Plan for a production.
You might not need staging, lighting, sound, draping, catering, or floral arrangements, but you’re still producing an event. In fact, the pre-production, theme, and planning of your virtual event is in many ways even more important than the event itself.
As people will not be attending physically, you will have to put more thought and effort into creating an environment for your guests that allows them to be excited in the time leading up to the event. This way, they all feel part of the same event once it begins.
For most our Zoom events, we have been working with themes. From the e-vite, to the packages we send to each of the attendees’ homes prior to the event, to the messaging and the video content prepared for the event itself, we try, as much as possible, to make everyone feel that they’re in the same “room” for the same event and cause. We’ve even supported a virtual Black Tie event which forced all of the guests to get fully decked out — for their first time in months – and they all felt, and looked, great!
And don’t assume all things will go as planned. Make sure you have the logistics under control. Do sound and lighting checks before the event, and make sure to do those checks in the exact conditions that they will be during your event. If a dress rehearsal is done during the day, and your event is scheduled to take place at night, you might be doing it wrong. The perfect sunlight could be gone, and you can find yourself in a position where the performer or presenter cannot even be seen by your audience. And once you’re Live, there’s not much you can do about it. If your physical event would have required a technical coordinator, your virtual event will for sure need (at least) one!
Make sure each speaker and/or presenter understands the timeline and has a backup script, just to be safe. They need to understand and know the full flow of the show, who is before them, who is up after them, and where they fit into the program.
Even if you have produced similar events, you never know what glitches you might run into with each unique event, and the more prepared everyone is, the quicker they can step in if needed.
Set up a virtual backstage.
This is one I don’t see nonprofits doing that I’ve found extremely beneficial. Depending on the platform you use, you must have a way of having panelists, performers, and others ready to go “on stage.” Some platforms offer this capability. Others, like Zoom, do not. However, you can set up a second Zoom session to run at the same time as your live Zoom session where everyone who is supposed to get onto your live event is “hanging out” with the producers and doing last-minute checks, and they can then change over to the live event’s Zoom session as soon as you are ready for them.
How well do you understand the technology you’re using? How well do you think your speakers and audience do? Make sure you are always one step ahead of them in terms of technological know-how. For example, you should know when to mute people’s mics, who to allow to be seen, and so on. Be sure to have a backup plan for when connections may be spotty, if there is a lag in communication, or something goes out of order. What do you do if your platform shuts off? How quickly can you turn to another platform and inform your guests of the switch? Have an email ready to send guests in the case of a mishap.
Encourage audience participation.
This includes sending custom backgrounds and encouraging interaction throughout the event. Remember, at an actual event, people are spending a lot of their time interacting with other attendees, chatting with friends, moving around the room, etc.
Other participation methods include comments, hand raising or calling on individuals. As an example, one would think that if Usher were attending a virtual event that he would, naturally, sing a song. We recently had him join a Zoom party, and instead of singing, he taught a dance to the audience and kept inviting people into the room, calling them by name, and commenting on their dance moves. Keep things interesting, try not to keep using the same audience participation ideas over and over again.
Keep it moving.
Unlike a live event, where you can feel the energy and see the audience’s reactions, you never really know what is happening on the other side of the screen. CharityBids put together a livestream event where they had over 20 performers and acts throughout a 2-hour program. We would never have done that for a live event (unless we were producing the Grammys), but we knew we had to keep things moving to keep people engaged. Nobody is going to sit through long speeches, videos, performances or presentations through a screen. It just doesn’t work.
Have a great host.
It may seem obvious to just stick with your nonprofit’s Executive Director or Board Chair, but if they are not compelling speakers, choose someone else. Don’t get me wrong, they should still show up at some point in the night and do whatever they do, but don’t have them be the host. Find a host that has high energy, a good sense of humor, and has a strong passion for your mission. Good comedians are a great option! Don’t forget to choose someone who can fill in and be on standby at any second to keep the audience engaged. Better safe than sorry in the event of a glitch or no-show.
Don’t assume that everyone attending is tech-savvy or familiar enough with Zoom to know how to behave, what to wear, and so on. You don’t want someone to walk out of the shower behind them or have kids yelling in the background. Make sure to tell guests before they attend the event what to wear and expect in terms of etiquette and participation, and share some tips, tricks and recommendations with them in finding the best location to set up so they can enjoy your event to the max!
Stay focused on your mission.
The bottom line is, without staying true to your charity’s mission and that being the purpose of the livestream event, tips 1-9 won’t matter. Of course, have fun and be prepared. But more than anything, stay mission-driven and ensure that you tell a compelling story as to why people should donate on your Livestream. Otherwise, you’re leaving funds on the table.
If you are on the fence about launching your first livestream fundraising event, just go for it! What do you have to lose? Any amount you raise for charity will be worth it.